Thursday, January 27, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In Parshas Yisro we learn of Kabolas HaTorah in Parshas Yisro. Following the makkos in Mitzrayim, Kriyas Yam Suf and the gluyim the Jewish people had experienced there, klal Yisroel was ready to become the Am Hashem and receive the Torah.

It is most interesting that the Parsha which deals with Matan Torah carries the name of Yisro and not something more descriptive of that world-shaking event. It is also intriguing that the Torah interrupts its account of the Jews’ journeying in the Midbar and reaching the apex of their journey at Midbar Sinai, to tell the seemingly tangential story of Yisro’s arrival.

The parsha should have continued where it left off at the end of Parshas Beshalach, when the Jews had miraculously crossed the Yam Suf and received the Mon, were rescued by Hashem’s intervention in the battle with Amalek, followed by the next leg of their journey that took them to Midbar Sinai to receive the Torah. Why is the flow of the narrative interrupted with the story of Yisro’s arrival?

What lessons are implicit in the narrative of Yisro that justifies its insertion after the description of kriyas yam suf, prior to Matan Torah?
The parsha begins with the words “Vayishma Yisro” - And Yisro Heard… Rashi quotes the Gemorah in Zevachim which asks what it is that Yisro heard that prompted him to come. The Gemorah answers that he heard about Kriyas Yam Suf and Milchemes Amalek. Upon hearing of those events, he left his home in Midyan and came to meet Moshe Rabbeinu in the Midbar.

Obviously, Yisro was not the only one who heard about Kriyas Yam Suf and Milchemes Amalek. One would imagine that there were few people who hadn’t heard about these two earth-shattering events. Why did these miracles galvanize only Yisro?
The question entered my mind as my young son Ari was going through his parsha sheets at the Shabbos table. Question number 23 was, “How did the whole world find out about Kriyas Yam Suf?” The answer, as we all know, is that every body of water and every gathering of water anywhere in the world split at the time that the Yam Suf split. Whoever witnessed this miraculous suspension of nature was no doubt stunned by it.

People the world over wondered what had happened to cause the phenomenon. Thus it did not take long for word to get around that Hashem had split the Yam Suf to enable the Jews to escape from Mitzrayim.

Everyone knew about it. Everyone was impressed, even awed. Some might even have been inspired. The entire world might have been nispa’el, but it was for a mere moment, not long enough for the miracle to impact the heart. A fleeting impression was all they experienced and they quickly returned to their old habits of thought. They reverted back to being exactly the way they were before they awed by the power of Hashem.

The only one who heard about Kriyas Yam Suf and Milchemes Amalek and was affected to the core of his being by these events, was Yisro. He was the only person in the entire world who was so overcome that the experience transformed his life.

The pesukim recount, “Vayichad Yisro…” And Yisro rejoiced over all the goodness that Hakadosh Boruch Hu did for the Jews and rescued them from Mitzrayim…And he said ‘Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the Gods… And he brought karbanos to Hashem…”
No one else came to Yisroel in the Midbar saying “Atah Yodati Ki Gadol Hashem,” everyone else remained mired in their pagan beliefs.

This is why the Torah interrupts the chapter of the Bnei Yisroel’s sojourn in the Midbar to tell the tale of Yisro’s arrival. A prerequisite for Kabolas HaTorah is to let the experience of Hashem’s majesty so envelop the mind and the senses that it forces a person to draw closer to Torah and G-dliness.

Torah demands that when we see unnatural occurrences in the world we become spiritually aroused in a lasting way. Divine acts are intended to teach us the power of Hashem. Torah demands that a “Hisorirus” last for longer than a day or two. Torah demands that we always seek to learn and grow.

That was the lesson of Yisro and that is why his parsha was placed before Kabolas HaTorah. That is why the parsha of Kabolas HaTorah is named for Yisro, the convert.

But it is not enough to stand up and take notice; we’ve got to do more than that.

The Torah recounts that Yisro noticed that Moshe Rabbeinu was teaching Halachos and judging the Jewish people from morning until night. Yisro advised Moshe that the system was improper. He urged Moshe to set up a well-functioning court system where other people would adjudicate the simpler cases and the more difficult ones would be brought to him.

Yisro told Moshe that the present system where he was busy all day paskening all the shaiylos was too difficult for one person and would end up destroying him. He advised him how to choose competent judges to whom he would teach the Halachos so that they would be knowledgeable enough to educate the people of them.

He urged him to get Divine approval for the new system and thus be able to function optimally.

Yisro was a newcomer to the Bnei Yisroel’s camp. He wasn’t the first person to see what was happening to Moshe Rabbeinu. Everyone saw that Moshe was consumed all day long with Dinei Torah. Anyone could have figured out that is wasn’t a normal situation. Anyone could have figured out a more effective system that would allow Moshe Rabbeinu to spend his time more productively. Anyone could have realized, as Yisro did, that Moshe would become exhausted from the grueling regimen and unceasing pressure.

And that is exactly our point. Everyone saw it. Anyone could have realized where it would lead, but no one did anything about it. It took Yisro to internalize what he saw and to do something constructive about it.

So often the urge is to turn the other way and make believe we didn’t see. People don’t want to get involved; people don’t want to get their hands dirty; people want everyone to like them; but that is not the way of Torah and it is not the way to get a parsha in the Torah named for you and achieve immortality.

Yisro saw, Yisro cared, Yisro spoke up. Hakadosh Boruch Hu and Moshe Rabbeinu accepted his proposal.

Yisro didn’t act impulsively, he didn’t act on his own; he spoke respectfully to Moshe and asked him to verify if his suggestions were on target.

In Torah we are not afraid to ask, to suggest, to advise; but we do so with humility and always with respect. In the words of Chazal, “Torah Hi V’Lilmod Ani Tzorich.”

That is another reason the parsha of Yisro’s arrival and advice was introduced to us before the parsha of Kabolas HaTorah. It is because Torah demands that when we see something wrong happening, we should not sit on the sidelines. We should act. Torah demands that when we see something which has the potential to embarrass, impose hardship or weaken our Rabbeim, we speak up.

Torah wants us to be pro-active, not passive onlookers. It is not sufficient to learn Torah and to be knowledgeable in all its laws. We have to care for others and look out for their benefit. We can’t just conduct ourselves as though we were spectators at a show with nothing better to do than criticize the production.

Yisro spoke up and saved Moshe from becoming physically exhausted. The Torah honored him for this worthy deed by naming the Parsha for him. This is why the lessons imparted by Yisro’s deeds are inserted into the narrative describing the supernatural events leading up to Matan Torah.

Yisro taught us that everyone has the potential for greatness to the point of being worthy of having a parsha in the Torah named for him. One must care enough to notice what is going on around him, draw the right conclusions and try to remedy the situation.

A tsunami kills 250,000 people and everyone around the world trembles. A bomb blows up in Yerushalayim and Jews around the world shake. The World Trade Center towers are destroyed and people say the world was changed forever.

But then, very quickly, Olam K’Minhago Noheig; everyone goes back to exactly the way they were before the disaster struck. The apathetic, ho-hum, so-what-else-is-new mentality is one of the scourges of our generation.

We, Am Yisroel have to be different. We have to take these reminders to heart. We can’t just sit on the sidelines, we have to step up to the plate and take action. We can’t be indifferent to abuse in our community; we can’t be unmoved when we see suffering. We can’t shrug off responsibility and say let someone else worry about it—it’s not my concern.

Every one of us has the ability to improve the world around us. Each of us can reach out and help people who need a handout of time, money or sympathy. We can all help others get through the day. We can all bring meaning and caring to the lives of our neighbors, friends and fellow Jews. If only we cared, if only we tried. If only we took Yisro’s example to heart.

So this Shabbos when we stand in Shul listening to the Kriyah of Parshas Yisro; when we read the story of Yisro’s arrival…When we read how the Bnei Yisroel stood at Mount Sinai K’ish Echod B’leiv Echod and said Naaseh V’nishmah, let us resolve to do what we can in the spirit of the Torah, to spread goodness and kindness in the world. To battle evil and the apathy that permits evil to fester and grow.

Yisro taught us that we can all make a difference. Let’s learn his lesson for our own good and for the benefit of all mankind.

Monday, January 17, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Last week I had the opportunity to go to Eretz Yisroel for a few days. The trip was successful and offered me a welcome break as well as some profound lessons that made it even more worthwhile.

For some reason while there I paid more attention than I usually do to people around me, listening to them, watching them and trying to learn something from them.

The Mishna states Eizehu Chochom Halomeid Mikal Adam. As with all teachings of Chazal there is so much to learn from following their precepts.

Let me introduce you to a couple of the people I met along the way and share what I learned from them.

A year ago I was introduced to Rabbi Menachem Gold from the town of Afulah in Israel. The son of a long-time Young Israel rabbi from Hempstead, New York, he grew up as a regular kid on Long Island, graduated the Yeshiva of South Shore and moved to Eretz Yisroel a few years after his Bar Mitzvah. His is the only American English-speaking Chareidi family in that town.

On the way to Tiveria, I saw an exit for Afulah and asked the driver to turn off. We found our way to Rabbi Gold’s school, knowing he’d be pleased to see some American visitors. Rabbi Gold is an amazing person who is doing tremendous things in that city. Working with Lev L’Achim, he has almost 300 children enrolled in his elementary school. He tells us that all the students come from non-religious homes, but when you look at them you don’t see that. When you look at the kids what you see is a group of precious Yiddishe neshamos on the path to Torah-true lives. Each has his own unique story, we are told.

Rabbi Gold and the staff of the school, which operates under the Chinuch Atzmai and Keren Nesivos Moshe umbrella, are so successful in what they do that they will soon have to create a high school for the graduates as there is no religious high school in town for them.

He is undaunted as he discusses the difficulties ahead. The school operates in cramped, but neat, clean and well-lit quarters. He says they hope to undertake the construction of a proper school building and is confident that Klal Yisroel will support the endeavor.

He seems like such an ordinary person, but at the same time, far more determined, driven and successful than most. Who else would live in a town like Afula, so far from a Torah center, dedicating himself to ensuring that there will be generations of good Jews returning to their roots? The difficulties of living there are many as are the trials and tribulations of building a mosad haTorah, but he is a happy person who takes pride in his accomplishments and looks ahead to even greater goals.

We leave there amazed at what one determined person, armed with siyata d’shamya and willpower, can accomplish.

We went there to be machazeik him, but left mechuzak ourselves, determined not to let stumbling blocks prevent us from doing our utmost to accomplish good in this world. We see once again that a positive outlook, combined with dedication to Torah, overcomes all obstacles.

We traveled on to Tiverya, Tzefas, Naharia and Netanya. There we met my good friend and Netanya resident, Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin. He was late and explained that he had spent the day in Yerushalayim with his wife and their son Yossi who was born with spina bifada. The day was spent taking Yossi through the yearly battery of tests administered by an array of doctors, each one specializing in one or other of the various disabilities which plague Yossi.

Yossi is a very special boy and despite his handicaps, has always attended regular yeshivos. Today he is a 16 year-old star talmid in the Mir Brachfeld yeshiva in Kiryat Sefer.

But the battery of tests was not why Rabbi Sorotzkin was late. He had heard about a family in Yerushalayim to whom a child was born with the crippling disease of spina bifada. He didn’t know them, but decided with his wife that once they were in Yerushalayim they should look the family up and pay them a visit.

He tells me this in a matter of fact way, not realizing how it reveals his giant heart. “I told Yossi to wait in the car and to come up after we were inside, when we call for him. We knocked, and when they opened the door to let us in, we felt as if we had come to a home where people were sitting Shiva. The mother and grandmother were sitting there crying. It was so sad. I sat there and spoke with them. My wife spoke to them—she is so special. She spoke about emunah and bitachon.

“Then we called Yossi to come in. When he entered the room, they were shocked. He joined the conversation and you could see the color returning to their faces. By the time we left, they were smiling and laughing. We had walked in on a shiva scene but when we left, it was as if they were at a wedding.”

He said it with a smile, but there was so much pain behind that smile.

I sat there and looked at him and thought how people tend to complain about all kinds of nonsense and focus on the things they can’t have or can’t do. We don’t know how to appreciate what we have. Here is my friend telling me how he sat for hours with people he didn’t know, giving them back their simchas hachaim and their hope in Hashem. So many of our problems pale by comparison—they are but stumbling blocks placed in our path which we can overcome by raising ourselves above them.

We learn from them, we deal with them; we smile and encourage others to do the same.

I stayed in the Prima Palace Hotel, formerly known as the Merkaz when it was owned by longtime Agudah Knesset member Rav Menachem Porush. He stills davens shacharis and eats breakfast there every morning. Someone came over to me and notified me that he had arranged for me to speak to him. “He’s 91 years old and has many stories to tell,” my friend said to me. “Maybe you’ll get something good out of him and it will be worth it.”

I wasn’t in the mood to hear old stories but the meeting had been arranged so I walked over to him and began listening to what the wizened old veteran askan had to say.

It turned out my friend was correct. Rav Porush indeed has much to say. At 91, he has been involved in klal work for some 70 years and has insights and valuable information on a variety of topics. With the gift of hindsight he can look back over those decades and tie things together, not looking at each incident by itself but in the context of a much broader picture.

While we were talking about the current political climate in Israel, he recounted an amazing tale.

“The day after the elections of 1977, I received a call from Menachem Begin. He told me that he would be able to put together a governing coalition. ‘Go to the Rabbonim and tell them that if your party joins with me, we will be able to turn back years of anti-religious governments.

“I went to Rav Shach and told him about Begin’s offer. He said to me that before I answer Mr. Begin I should make sure that it was numerically impossible for Shimon Peres to put together a coalition.

“There had been a threat to the arrangement which keeps religious girls out of the army and Shimon Peres was the one who worked out an understanding which protected girls from being drafted. Rav Shach told me that we must have Hakaros Hatov to Peres. ‘That comes first, Hakaras Hatov comes before everything,’ is what he told me.

“I sat down with a colleague of Peres and we worked the numbers every which way and it was evident that there was no way Peres could do it.

“Rav Shach told me to meet with Peres and tell him that we did the calculations and the numbers won’t work in his favor and therefore we will be engaging in discussions with Mr. Begin about the possibility of our joining his government.”

The rest is history.

Rabbi Porush had other stories to tell, but that one made the greatest impression on me. The Agudah’s entry into Begin’s government was a historic turning point for the religious community. Rav Shach was prepared to forgo it all out of Hakoras Hatov to Shimon Peres for something he had done years before.

Oftentimes we take people for granted; we do what is expedient at the moment without looking at the whole picture. Hakaros Hatov is such a simple, basic obligation, but so often we have no time for it. We don’t want to be burdened with feeling gratitude. It takes a Gadol and leader of the stature of Rav Shach to remind us that this is one of the highest priorities.

People look at politics as a dirty business where every man is out for himself, every politician is preoccupied less with the common good than with promoting himself. It’s all about what did you do for me today; it’s an opportunistic, dog-eat-dog world.

But Rav Shach taught a powerful lesson that day which we can all apply to our daily lives: everything else can wait, Hakaros Hatov comes first. Don’t take people for granted, don’t take advantage of people; don’t ignore the feelings of other people—even if their name is Shimon Peres.

If we would only stop and listen to the people who have been around for a long time and can draw on a wealth of life experience, we would no doubt learn something profound from them. But we are too busy running, coming and going that we don’t have patience for them. Slow down, take a deep breath and take the time to listen. You never know how much you will learn from the experience.


Friday night at the Kosel in 70 degree weather with thousands upon thousands of Jews surrounding you, davening in every dialect and singing all types of nigunnim, is a high you can get nowhere else. The feeling is indescribable to someone who has never been there. It is one place where every Jew feels as if they belong; no matter what nusach, accent or type of outfit. Standing there, even after you’ve finished davening, you are glued to the sights and sounds and have to be prodded away. It is as if the heart and soul of every Jew pull them to this spot.

And how can you describe the shtibalch of Zichron Moshe to someone who has never been there? How do you describe the feeling of walking through the streets of Yerushalayim trampling on Garinim shells? People of all ages walking in front of you, behind you, alongside you….seeming to have not a single care on their minds. They are all Shabbosdik, through and through. The cars, noise, buses, taxis, beeping, hustle and bustle have vanished. Shabbos reigns supreme.

Before I knew it, Shabbos was over; I was rushing to the plane and was back at work. But I hope I have learned something from my trip.

You don’t really have to fly off to Eretz Yisroel to learn to listen to people. You don’t really have to travel so far for inspiration. But sometimes it is only when you get away from your usual surroundings that your brain clears enough to be open to new lessons. There are many good people all around us, but sometimes you only appreciate them when you have traveled halfway across the world.

There are people doing great things; leading courageous lives and telling enlightening tales on this side of the ocean as well. There are great Batei Midrashim and great halls of Torah and Tefilla in this country, too. We just have to open our eyes and hearts to appreciate them.

Look around at the people in your shul and Bais Medrash, you’d be amazed at how truly good some of them are. Pay attention to the person running your child’s school, he may also be a hero. Your friends also face down difficulties and rise above them; let them know that you appreciate their struggles and when they need you, be there for them.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Take Them With You

by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

In Parshas Bo we read how Moshe Rabbeinu repeatedly implored Paroh to permit the Jewish people leave the land of bondage.

After several plagues, the king relented and said he would let the men travel a distance of three days to bring a few korbanos and then return.

But Moshe was not satisfied. He told Paroh, “We will go with our young and with our old; with our sons and daughters.”

Moshe Rabbeinu’s response to Paroh brings to mind the Gemorah in Masechta Chagigah which discusses the mitzvah of Hakhel; the gathering of Klal Yisroel - men, women and children - at the Bais HaMikdosh.

The Gemorah poses the obvious question: what purpose was there in bringing small children to the Bais Hamikdosh? What possible benefit could there be from having toddlers running around there? What can infants gain from an experience they can’t participate in and will soon forget?

Rav Elozor ben Azaryah answered that the purpose in having children come is Leetain S’char L’mevi’eihem - to give reward to those who bring them.

A hint of what that means can be discerned from the words of Tosafos who comments that the practice of bringing small children to shul is based on this answer. So, obviously, Rav Elozor ben Azaryah doesn’t mean that the reward is for the act of shlepping cranky kids on a long journey to Yerushalayim. There is more to it than that. A lot more.

If you examine that Gemorah a little deeper you will notice how the Gemorah came to repeat the drasha of Rabi Elozor ben Azarya. The talmidim came to visit Rav Yehoshua in Pekiin and he asked them what chidush they had heard the past Shabbos. They answered that there were no chidushim. Unable to believe their response, he prodded them further, until they finally told him the drasha of Rav Elozor ben Azaryah on “Taf, Lomoh Heim Bo’im, why are small children brought to the Mikdash?”

Rav Yehoshua was so taken by the drasha that he said to them, “Margolis Kazoo Hoysoh B’yedchem - You had such a pearl, such a tremendous insight into the posuk with you, and you attempted to keep it from me?! How could you have done that?”

What was it about Rav Elozor ben Azaryah’s drasha that so captivated Rav Yehoshua?

The mishna states in Pirkei Avos, Perek Bais, mishna yud and yud aleph: Raban Yochanan ben Zakai had 5 talmidim whose attributes he would list as follows: Rav Eliezer ben Horkanus forgets nothing; Rabi Yosi Hacohein, chosid; Rabi Shimon ben Nesanel, yerei cheit; Rabi Elazar ben Aruch, ma’ayan hamisgaber, and Rabi Yehoshua ben Channanya, ashrei yeladeto.

There is a striking inconsistency in this list. One talmid is a chosid, one has a phenomenal memory, one is afraid of sin, one is a gushing fountain; these are all attributes belonging to the great talmidim of Raban Yochanan ben Zakai. But the fifth appellation, ashrei yeladeto - praised be the one who gave birth to him - is not an attribute. That is a shevach, a praise for his parents who not only gave birth to him but raised him to be the great Tana, Rabi Yehoshua. But it does not describe the greatness of Rabi Yehoshua.

The Talmud Yerushalmi relates that even as an infant, Rabi Yehoshua was brought by his mother to the bais hamedrash so that his ears would hear divrei Torah.

The Meshech Chochma explains that this is precisely the reason why Rabi Yehoshua was so excited with the drasha on Taf Lama Heim Bo’im. His own mother had made a practice of bringing him to the bais medrash even as a tiny tot to suffuse him with Torah.

She did this in spite of the inevitable critics and naysayers who admonished her for bringing a baby to the bais medrash when there was nothing for him to do there. They said it served no purpose. “Who needs little kids running around in shul?”

But here, in Rabi Elozor ben Azaryah’s drasha, was her vindication. No wonder her son, R’ Yehoshuah was so excited with this “gem.”

Let’s go a little further now and analyze what is meant by “Leetain S’char L’mevi’eihem - to bring reward to those who bring them.”

Consider the appellation “ashrei yeladeto” that Rabi Yochanan ben Zakai used to describe Rabi Yehoshua. What he was saying was more than “praised be the one who gave birth to him.” With this expression, he was alluding to a lot more than the literal meaning of the words.

What he was saying was that the one who gave birth to him did far more than just give him life. She didn’t just raise him well. She shlepped him to the bais medrash from infancy, and that is the reason he grew up to be the great Tana.

His outstanding attribute was the very fact that he was raised in kedusha. Ashrei yeladeto. Praised be the one who gave birth to him and brought him up like that.

And this may be the explanation for “Leetain S’char L’mavi’eihem.” The little ones are brought so that those who bring them will earn a reward.

What is the reward? The reward is that the children will grow up to be exceptional people whom others will point to and say “Ashrei Yeladeto.”

Their parents will be singled out for praise whenever one looks at their child. It will be obvious that the child was surrounded by kedusha, by holiness, and all good things from an early age.

That is what Moshe Rabbeinu told Paroh. We are going for three days to offer up karbanos to the Ribono Shel Olam, “Kee Chag Hashem Lanu.” We are going to celebrate a holiday. But how are we going to do that? Only with our children by our sides.

We aren’t leaving them behind in the decadence of Mitzraim. For even if they have no clue as to what is going on; even if they make the trip difficult for us, “b’nareinu uvizkeineinu neilech.” The only way our old people will go is if the young ones are there right by their sides.

We want to bring up a generation of children who will receive the Torah. We want G-dly children.

We want children in the merit of whose Torah the world exists.

We want children upon whom others will say “Ashrei Yeladeto.”

The only way that can happen is if they come along with us on our journey, whether or not they comprehend what is going on.

The only way we can have a true “Chag Hashem,” a G-dly celebration, is if our children are with us.

And that’s what Tosafos means in Chagigah.

He is saying that the same holds true today.

If we want to have good kids, don’t toxify their kedusha. Take them with you to shul. Make sure they don’t disturb others. Sit them down there next to you. Give them a lollipop or two. Let them hear Divrei Torah whether they understand them or not.

Remember Rabi Yehoshua’s mother. Think what they said about her when he was very little. Think what they said about her when he was very big.

Remember what Raban Yochanan ben Zakai said about Rabi Yehoshua.

Leetain S’char L’mivi’eihem.

Ashrei Yeladeto.

Halevai oif unz gezukt.