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.


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