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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Yisro

"And Yisro rejoiced over all the good which Hashem had done for Yisrael." (18:9)

Rashi cites the Talmud Sanhedrin 94a which suggests that the word alludes to the word, prickles. The reference to prickles could have one of two connotations. They might be prickles of joy, indicating that Yisro was overwhelmed with happiness. Alternatively, they could be prickles of distress. Although Yisro was filled with happiness for the Jews, he still felt uneasy over what had happened to the Egyptians. Chazal go on to say that one should neither humiliate a gentile, nor speak disparagingly in the presence of a ger, convert, even up to ten generations after his conversion. Horav Yecheskel Levenstein, zl, notes that Chazal recognize a strong innate attachment to one's roots, to the point that ten generations later one might still be sensitive to a negative reference to his biological ancestors. Certain traits remain inherent in a person's character, unaffected by time or superficial environmental changes.

Horav Levenstein continues to posit that if we learn of tzaros, afflictions, which our brethren in another part of the community -- or anywhere in the world -- are enduring, we are responsible to act on their behalf. If we do not feel a strong sensitivity towards them, it is not simply a deficiency in the middah of chesed. Rather, it represents a blemish in our personality, a lack of human decency. A person should have a natural

inborn attachment to his own people. If he does not, if he has somehow divorced himself from his heritage, then he is not a mentch! He is missing that ingredient which determines his ability to be an adam, a connected human being.

"And the father-in-law of Moshe said to him, 'The thing that you do is not good. You will surely become worn out - you as well as this people that is with you... Now listen to my voice. I will advise you and may Hashem be with you.'" (18:17,18)

Yisro, Moshe's father-in-law, gave him advice which was included in the Torah, setting the standard for the entire judicial system in Klal Yisrael. Was this advice so unique that Moshe could not have thought of it? Why did Moshe not suggest appointing officers for individual groups? What happened to the zekeinim, elders, who probably had served as magistrates in Egypt?

Horav Avigdor Miller, Shlita, establishes two reasons for Moshe's initial reluctance to employing the old system - in which appointed magistrates rendered decisions instead of Moshe himself. First, the original code of laws had been based primarily upon human logic, a system which would now cede to Divine dictate. This change in directive would effect a transformation in everyone's lifestyle, a transition - which Moshe predicted would present difficulties. Moshe would train new judges, imbuing them with a different type of approach - Torah logic. Everything was to be framed by a new form of reasoning, one that would supersede any previous form of human dialectic. This plan motivated Moshe to take the unusual step of temporarily proclaiming himself the sole interpreter and adjudicator of the law, until others that he had trained were ready to establish their new roles.

Second, Moshe's goal was to teach the people to govern themselves without coercion from higher authorities. To be a mamleches Kohanim, a nation of priests, means that the people have an inborn nobility, conscience and self-esteem. It was not Moshe's intent for Bnei Yisrael to be scrutinized by a system of magistrates unless it was necessary. A nation of "priests" should be predisposed to self-government.

Yisro once again countered pragmatically. Moshe would be correct in establishing a system of self-government if these people had not recently begun to live by a totally new and unfamiliar set of laws. These people had previously been permitted to eat whatever they pleased, and to perform labor during all seven days of the week; they were not prepared to obligate themselves to these new laws in a vacuum. They required encouragement and supervision in order to prepare to become a great and noble nation. Moshe understood all of this. Hashem gave Yisro the honor of voicing that which Moshe himself understood.

"I am Hashem your G-d Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt." (20:2)

The Kuzari explains why Hashem identifies Himself as the one Who took us out of Egypt, rather than as the Creator of the universe. The Exodus was a phenomenon that was clear for all to see. Hundred of thousands of Jews witnessed this unprecedented break with the course of natural events. While everyone was aware that there had been a creation, no man had been present. It, therefore, makes sense to refer to an event that would have greater credibility in the eyes of man.

Horav Yaakov Neiman, zl, offers an interesting response to this famous question. He claims that it simply is not necessary for the Torah to inform us that Hashem created the universe. After all, who else could have created it? Surely we did not create it! He cites the Chafetz Chaim who relates an analogy in the name of the Dubno Maggid. Two people were traveling together when one checked his wallet and discovered that his money was missing. Immediately, he grabbed hold of his companion and demanded that he return his money. "Why do you accuse me?" screamed the companion. "What proof do you have that I stole your money? Did you see me in the act of stealing?" The victim responded emphatically, "Why do I have to produce proof? Who else could it have been? Obviously I did not steal from myself. By default, it must have been you."

The same concept applies to Brias Ha'Olam, the creation of the world. Man did not do it, so it makes sense that Hashem was the Creator of the world. When we are addressing the areas of human endeavor, we are making ourselves vulnerable to problems. We might forget about the "Hashem factor" in the miracles which we perceive. People often overlook Hashem, forgotting that it was He Who wrought the miracles, He Who brought about the healing, He Who saved us from disaster. It was necessary for Hashem to declare to Bnei Yisrael, "It was I Who took you out of Egypt," in order to ensure that we do not err in believing that human intervention was responsible for Yetzias Mitzrayim.

"For in order to elevate you Hashem has come." (20:17).

The word "nasos" is translated by Rashi as "to elevate." The fact that Hashem Himself has revealed Himself to you will elevate your position in the eyes of the nations. The Rambam and Ramban translate the word "nasos" as "to test." Hashem has come to test Bnei Yisrael. They differ, however, in regard to the time of this trial. According to the Ramban, the emphasis is upon the present. Hashem is telling Bnei Yisrael, "At Har Sinai, you were thoroughly prepared to meet Hashem. You had no doubt concerning His sovereignty. Now we will see if you will pass the test. Will you observe His mitzvos? Will you love Him? Will you repay His kindness to you?" The Rambam, on the other hand, feels that the test will occur in the future. The unprecedented events which took place on Har Sinai, the unparalleled experience of which Bnei Yisrael were a part, should have galvanized their trust in Hashem, so that they will be able to overcome the challenges of the future. Nothing should be able to undermine Bnei Yisrael's faith in the Almighty.

According to the Rambam, the experience has strengthened Bnei Yisrael, tempering their faith. They should have developed the fortitude to withstand all challenges to their faith.

The Ramban posits a different idea. His statement, "Will you repay His kindness to you?" implies that we owe loyalty to Hashem. Without a sense of hakoras ha'tov, appreciation and gratitude, we have no relationship with Hashem. Horav Yitzchok Hutner, zl, derives a fascinating lesson from the Ramban. We have always placed hakoras ha'tov among the fundamental character traits that a decent human being must possess. A noted axiom of Chazal is that "derech eretz kadmah la'Torah," character development, moral and ethical behavior, are pre-requisites to Torah study. Gratitude to Hashem is no different. Before one can properly study Torah, he must be refined in middos. Hakoras hatov to Hashem should be no different.

We glean a more profound aspect to this expectation from the Ramban. Hashem arranged the revelation at Har Sinai as a test to see if Bnei Yisrael would repay His kindness to them. Harkoras ha'tov is not simply a character trait - it is the foundation for establishing avodas Hashem, it is a pre-requisite for serving Hashem. Indeed, Hashem brought about the entire spectacle of maamad Har Sinai as a test, to assess Bnei Yisrael's level of gratitude. If they are lacking in their sense of appreciation, then their relationship with Hashem will accordingly be inadequate.

"And wherever I permit my Name to be mentioned I shall come to you and bless you." (20:21)

It is significant that this pasuk follows immediately after the Har Sinai experience. No code of law, regardless of man's acquiescence, will be binding - unless he views that law as the direct result of the spiritual foundation of life. Horav Moshe Swift, zl, cites the Talmud Succah 53a which quotes Hillel's interpretation of this pasuk. "If you will come into My House, I will come into yours." Hashem tells Bnei Yisrael that My relationship with you is not merely a reward. It is the product of a natural sequence of events. If you will come to Me - I will come to you. If you will mention My Name and make Me the basis of your life, I will reciprocate with reward and blessing.

Horav Swift continues with an exposition on the concept of prayer, indicating the appropriate approach toward reaching Hashem via the medium of prayer. The essence of prayer is not merely supplication. Rather, prayer represents the establishment of a relationship between man and Hashem. It shapes the spiritual basis of life. It is the foundation upon which one builds his day. Prayer used to be a uniquely spiritual experience in which one could pour his heart out to Hashem in praise, in joy and in sorrow. Through the vehicle of prayer, we have brought Hashem into every aspect of our lives. Morning, afternoon, evening, Shabbos, Yom Tov, the various milestone occasions of the life-cycle, all these are included in our Siddur. Our prayer book is our guide in offering praise to Hashem during all the moments of our life.

Regrettably, prayer has taken on a new form. It has become self-centered. We petition Hahsem when we are in need. We pray with kavanah, proper intention, only when we need something from Hashem. We complete our prayers and wait to see if they have been effective. Jewish prayer means much more than praying for health during moments of illness, peace when we are at war, sustenance when our situation is bleak. Prayer is the communion between man and Hashem. Man offers praise as he proclaims the sovereignty of Hashem. He feels "good" knowing that he has just spoken to his Creator. He has poured out his heart to Him, rendering praise as well as supplication. He has, however, communicated for the primary purpose of relating to his Father in Heaven. Hashem asks that we come to Him, and He will then respond to us. Only after we establish a relationship, can we petition for favors.

1. What motivated Yisro to return to Midyan?

2. On what day of the week was the Torah given?

3. In which case does Hashem punish for the sin of idol-worship even three or four generations later?

4. Were there any Jews who were physically challenged during Matan Torah?

5. From where did the Shofar that was blown on Har Sinai originate?

6. How does one fulfill the mitzvah, "Remember the Shabbos to keep it holy"?

7. Where was it permitted to pronounce the Shem Ha'Meforash?


1. Rashi says that Yisro returned to convert the rest of his family. His sons, however, stayed with Bnei Yisrael.

2. On Shabbos Kodesh.

3. If the children continue in the evil ways of their parents.

4. No, everyone had been healed.

5. The left horn of the ram was sacrificed by Avraham Avinu during Akeidas Yitzchak. The right horn was put away and will be blown to proclaim the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

6. We recite the kiddush, which describes the holiness and glory of Shabbos.

7. In the Bais Ha'Mikdash.

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