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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Yisro

Yisro heard...everything that G-d did to Moshe and to Yisrael, His People, that Hashem had taken Yisrael out of Egypt. (18:1)

The Torah records the various events that Bnei Yisrael experienced from the time that they left Egypt until they accepted the Torah. Parashas Yisro is juxtaposed upon the chapter that recounts the giving of the Torah. Chazal dispute precisely when Yisro joined the Jews. Some commentators believe that he arrived prior to the giving of the Torah. Others claim that Yisro came after the Torah had been given. We may question the position of Parashas Yisro according to those who contend that Yisro came after Matan Torah. Why does the Torah record his arrival prior to Matan Torah if, in fact, he came later? Even according to those who maintain that he came before Matan Torah, why is it necessary to interrupt the story of the Exodus in order to tell us about an individual who visited the Jews in the desert?

Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, asserts that Parashas Yisro is the culmination of the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt. All of the nations heard what happened to Egypt. All of the nations trembled and were afraid. Yet, not a single gentile, not one pagan, was willing to change his lifestyle. They listened, and returned to life as usual. No one was prepared to join the Jews, except for one person--Yisro. Is that not remarkable?! So many heard and saw so much--but none of them was willing to change. The effect of the miracles was temporary. Yet, we Jews celebrate and relive the Exodus annually as if it had happened during our lifetime. Why? What makes us different? The Torah distinguishes us. Had we not received the Torah, the entire experience would have waned and dropped out of our minds, despite its intensely inspirational nature. The impression which was engendered by the miracles would have been short-lived. The experience has been eternalized only through Torah study. The Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea with the ensuing incredible miracles, and the overwhelming revelation of Hashem became permanently imbued into the spiritual fiber of Klal Yisrael when we accepted the Torah.

Thus, Parashas Yisro is appropriately placed in a position in which it gives closure--as far as the gentile/pagan world was concerned--to all of the miracles that Klal Yisrael experienced! One gentile understood and accepted the lesson of the miracles. Only one gentile left his home, rejected his idols, and joined the Jews. Only one--and the parsha is named for him. With Yisro's act, the Exodus in the eyes of the gentile nations came to a close. Then the Torah was given. We understand that without the Torah, the greatest miracles might be forgotten.

Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, took Tzipporah, the wife of Moshe, after she had been sent away. (18:2)

When Moshe took his family with him to Egypt, it was Aharon who felt that they belonged back in Midyan in a safe, secure environment. Enough people were suffering in Egypt. Why add more people to the list? Yisro was now bringing his daughter and grandsons to reunite them with their father. Why does the Torah refer to Tzipporah as "the wife of Moshe"? Since she was traveling with her father, the Torah should have referred to her as "his (Yisro’s) daughter." Horav Elchanan Sorotzkin, zl, comments that Tzipporah is referred to as Moshe’s wife for a specific reason. Parashas Yisro enjoys a position of status in the order of the parshios of the Torah. Yisro is situated between the battle against Amalek and the giving of the Torah. Thus, an important lesson can be derived from Yisro’s emergence on the scene with Moshe’s wife and sons.

A Torah leader devotes his entire being to the needs of Klal Yisrael. There is no day; there is no night; there is no wife and children; there is no personal life--everything belongs to Klal Yisrael. Indeed, if, while Moshe was engaged in ministering to the needs of the Jewish People, his wife and children were considered a hindrance, they, regrettably, took a "back seat" to the nation. It then becomes the nation's responsibility to provide for their leader’s wife and children. If the leader cannot provide for his family because of the overwhelming demands of his position, then it becomes the people’s obligation to compensate.

This was Yisro’s message to Klal Yisrael: He was coming with Moshe’s wife--their leader’s wife. Did anyone consider asking, "What about Moshe Rabbeinu’s wife? Is someone taking care of her while Moshe is sacrificing himself for us?" It was Yisro--the priest of Midyan, who taught Klal Yisrael the critical lesson that leaders also have families, and that they need to support their families. They cannot be ignored. If the leader, in the call of duty, must totally devote himself for an extended period of time to the needs of the nation, then the nation must see to it that their leader’s family is not doubly forsaken.

The Ohr Ha'chaim Ha'kadosh writes that Yisro was given singular eminence. This was to demonstrate that in the gentile world intelligent people can be found who are exemplary in their profundity and ability to address mundane issues with clarity, cogency, and perception. Indeed, Yisro noticed things and gave advice in areas that were overlooked prior to his arrival. This suggests that Klal Yisrael was not elected to be the Chosen People as a result of demonstrating greater intelligence than other nations, but simply because Hashem wanted us.

Horav Sorotzkin presented this idea in 1934 during an address in support of Torah scholars. He said that it is incumbent upon us to be sensitive to the needs of our leaders. They are human beings with personal lives and families. They have concerns, and they must provide for their families--just as we do. The difference is that they place Klal Yisrael’s needs above and before their own. He makes a compelling observation. We study Rashi; we marvel at his insight; his commentary is the pathway for understanding Torah and Talmud. Does anybody ever think about who Rashi was? Where did he learn? What were the physical conditions under which he wrote his commentary? Who was his family? Were his material needs provided for? We do not know--but the secular historians have probably researched all about Rashi and other Torah scholars, for that matter. They are concerned about the factors surrounding Rashi, the human being. So should we be.

When we go to a great tzaddik for a brachah, do we ever ask ourselves, "Does this great tzaddik have anything to worry about? Are his wife and children well?" We regrettably are concerned only about our personal needs and view the tzaddik as being available to provide for us. It is important that we concern ourselves about the welfare of our gedolim as much as we want them to be concerned about us.

Yisro rejoiced over all the good that Hashem had done for Yisrael, that He had rescued it from the hands of Egypt. (18:9)

The word "oso," which usually means, "him," is translated as "it," referring to Klal Yisrael. Yisro rejoiced over the nation’s good fortune in being rescued from the dread hand of Pharaoh. The Maharil Diskin, zl, takes a novel approach towards explaining the word "oso," which implies a timely lesson for us. He suggests that Yisro was, in fact, referring to himself. He realized that Hashem had actually also saved him from the same fate suffered by the Egyptians. Yisro remembered quite well that he was one of Pharaoh's advisors. When the issue of the Jewish problem arose, Yisro had the courage to protest by running away. He made a statement with his action--one that would have cost him his life had Hashem not "intervened." He was grateful to the Almighty -- in retrospect -- as he saw the tragedy of which he would have been a victim.

Do we ever think about the various situations in which Hashem intervenes on our behalf? How often are we about to enter into an "unholy" alliance -- or undertake an endeavor of dubious repute, when at the last second, we either change our mind or "something" just happens to preclude our participation? Not everyone is so fortunate, but those that are should be grateful to Hashem for protecting them.

Yisro said, "Blessed is Hashem Who has rescued you from the hand of Egypt and from the hand of Pharaoh." (18:10)

Yisro offers praise to Hashem for Klal Yisrael’s good fortune in being rescued from near destruction. The Mechilta views this statement as a critique of Klal Yisrael, saying that Yisro was the first to praise Hashem with the words, "Baruch Hashem." We must endeavor to understand what was inappropriate about Klal Yisrael’s previous expressions of praise. Did the Shirah that they sang at the Yam Suf constitute a less appropriate praise to Hashem than the words, "Baruch Hashem"? Shirah is communal praise, employed when the congregation assembles to express gratitude to the Almighty in unison. Baruch Hashem is a personal form of gratitude which is expressed individually, exclusive of a group. Klal Yisrael was criticized because each member did not offer his individual gratitude. Yisro was the first one who expressed his personal gratitude.

Why did the Jews wait to express their gratitude collectively? Did something impede their individual hodoah, expression of gratitude? Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that the nature of people is to thank Hashem for His favor -- after it has been completed. Once a person has completed his task, been healed from illness, succeeded in any given endeavor, completed his trip, he expresses hodoah to Hashem. One does not stop in middle of a trip to offer praise to Hashem. Consequently, Yisro was able to praise Hashem, because, as far as he was concerned, the trip had ended -- he had arrived. Klal Yisrael, on the other hand, were still en route. Their trip would end when they received the Torah. That was the purpose of Yetzias Mitzrayim, exodus from Egypt. While this logic seems to be a rationale for Klal Yisrael’s behavior, it does not justify it. They should have expressed their individual feelings of gratitude after each miracle.

Horav Schwab suggests a second reason for Klal Yisrael’s inability to offer individual expressions of gratitude. The Jews felt that the individual as a part of the entity of Klal Yisrael should not serve Hashem personally, but rather collectively with the klal, congregation. They were not to separate themselves and do their "own thing"; they were part of the entirety of the klal and should adhere to the service of the klal. Yisro taught them that each individual has his own obligation to praise and thank Hashem for his personal triumphs and successes. Every Jew must offer thanks to Hashem for his individual favor and for that of the entire klal. Chazal critiqued them for not realizing this important lesson on their own.

These are the words that you shall speak to the Bnei Yisrael. (19:7)

Rashi cites the Mechilta that emphasizes the word "these." Hashem told Moshe to relate specifically what he was told -- no more, no less. We can understand insisting that Moshe not change what he was told to say in any form. Why would it be inappropriate for Moshe to speak a little more, if his words would result in his teaching more Torah. Was there a limit on what Moshe was to teach?

Horav Avner Okliensky, zl, comments that man’s purpose in life is to garner all of his resources and abilities in order to maximize his potential for the specific purpose of Torah study and mitzvah performance. If Hashem has granted an individual extraordinary acumen, he must employ it in the pursuit of Torah knowledge. If Moshe were to go beyond the parameters of Divine mandate, he might be teaching Torah to Bnei Yisrael, probably making it easier for them to grasp. He would be, however, depriving each individual from attaining his own potential. They would no longer toil to understand Torah. It would not be his own comprehension of Torah -- it would be Moshe’s! This is not what Hashem expects of a Jew.

And they stood at the bottom of the mountain. (19:17)

In the Talmud Shabbos 88 Chazal say that Bnei Yisrael did not merely stand at the foot of the mountain, but that Hashem lifted up the mountain over their heads, declaring, "If you will accept the Torah, it is good. If not, here will be your burying place." This implies that Hashem imposed the Torah upon us against our will. He threatened us with extinction if we were not to accept the Torah. Is this true? The commentators offer a number of explanations to lend insight to Chazal’s words. Horav Eliyahu Meier Bloch, zl, views the mountain over Bnei Yisrael’s heads as a symbolic lesson about what our attitude in approaching the Torah should be.

When Klal Yisrael stood beneath the mountain, they understood the meaning of the moment. They either accepted the Torah -- or they would die. This same idea forms the basis of perspective through which we are to view the Torah. One either accepts, studies and adheres to it, or his life has no validity or meaning. One who studies Torah as if it were just another intellectual pursuit, regardless of its profound nature, demeans the Torah. In addition, he will derive nothing from his endeavor. One who studies Torah because it is the lifeblood of our People, the blueprint of our lives, is sustained through his effort. Torah is a life-sustaining force that nourishes the Jewish soul. The Torah gave the Jewish people throughout the ages the strength and resolution to sacrifice themselves to sanctify Hashem’s Name. They understood that without the Torah, the mountain might as well have been dropped on them. The Torah gives meaning to life. Without the Torah, we have no life.


1. Who was Re’uel?

2. Who served the meal which Moshe made in honor of Yisro?

3. With what special attribute was Moshe blessed which enabled him to select the men who would be most suitable to be the judges?

4. In total, how many men did Moshe select to be officers and judges?

5. On what day of Sivan was the Torah given?

6. Who were the Kohanim during Matan Torah?

7. Why is it forbidden to cut the stones used in the Mizbayach with iron tools?


1. There is a difference of opinion if Reu’el was Yisro or his father.

2. Moshe

3. He accomplished this through Ruach Hakodesh, Divine Inspiration.

4. 78,600 men

5. This is disputed in the Talmud. The Rabanan contend that it was given on the sixth day of Sivan, while Rabbi Yosi holds it was given on the seventh day of Sivan.

6. The firstborn

7. Iron, the raw material used to make a sword, shortens life, while the purpose of the Mizbayach is to lengthen one’s life.


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