of the Weekly Reading
To be read on Shabbat Yitro, 20 Shvat 5779/Jan.
Torah: Exodus 18:1-20:23; Haftorah: Isaiah
6:1-7:6 (because of resemblence to vision at Mt.
Yitro is the 5th Reading out of 11 in Exodus
and it contains 4022 letters, in 1105 words, in
Yitro, Moshe's father-in-law, came with Moshe's
wife and sons to join the Jews. Yitro suggested that Moshe delegate
the job of judging to leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties
and tens. The Jews were given three days to sanctify themselves
and a barrier was built around Mt. Sinai in preparation for G-d's
The Ten Commandments were said:
1. 'I am the L-rd your G-d who brought you out of Egypt..."
2. Prohibition to believe in other gods and worship idols 3. Prohibition
to takeG-d's name in vain 4. Remember the Shabbat and keep it
holy 5. Honor parents 6. Do not murder 7. Do not commit adultery
8. Do not steal 9. Do not bear false witness 10. Do not envy.
The direct revelation of the first two was
too strong for the Jews, so they asked Moshe to hear the remaining
ones for them. The Jews were also commanded not to make physical
representations of G-d, and to make an earth-filled altar of unhewn
stone with an ascension ramp.
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent
(for a free weekly email subscription, click
This week's portion is called "Yitro". Yitro
was Moshe's father-in-law and the high priest of Midyan. An inspiring
Torah idea from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, that we have written about
previously, is an explanation of why the Zohar teaches us that Yitro's
affirmation of G-d (Shmot 18:9-11) was a preparation for the giving
of the Torah. Why did this have to come from, a non-Jew, someone
who had previously served as a high priest of idol worship?
The answer is that the Torah is teaching us that the Torah is not
only for those few select and lofty souls who live in a spiritual
ivory tower. The purpose of the Torah is to go deep down into the
most faraway and sometimes even unsavory places, both physical and
spiritual, and transform them into a dwelling place for G-d. This
is the inner meaning of Yitro's affirmation. Whether we are talking
about Yitro, Moshe's father-in-law, or about the Yitro in each us
- the part that wants to stay distant from G-d and His Torah - we
know we are doing the job right when the most spiritually distant
places become part of the program.
Now to go a little deeper. Let us understand at least part of what
the Torah shares about Yitro's revelation, when he said (Shmot 18:11),
"Now I know that G-d is greater than all the other gods because
of the way they (the Egyptians) plotted against them (the Jews)".
Rashi explains - "Just like the Egyptians tried to use water
to destroy the Jews, so they were destroyed by water". What
was so unique about this miracle that compelled Yitro to recognize
that G-d is greater than all the other gods?
We see the beginning of an answer in Maimonides's laws of how a
Jew should respond to the idol worship in his or her environment.
The first idol worshipers did not deny G-d the Creator's existence.
They believed that G-d had endowed the stars and constellations
with power to direct the world as they desired. So the people served
these other forces as a person would serve the local representative
of a king, rather than serving the king himself. Still, they also
believed that G-d could control and overcome the stars and constellations
if He desired, since, of course, it was He that gave them their
power in the first place.
According to this, if the Egyptians were punished by some force
other than water, then there was still room to make the above mistake,
to believe that natural forces have their own power and when G-d
wants to He can manipulate them in order to punish the Egyptians.
However, since the Egyptians were killed by the same natural element
that they used to try to destroy the Jews, it was clear to Yitro
that all the natural forces are nothing but "an axe in the
hand of the woodman".Yitro saw that spiritual truth is found
only in Judaism! (Yitro had known all about the nefarious plans
of the Egyptians because he had been one of Pharaoh's advisors until
he left this position because of their treacherous behavior). Due
to this small detail, Yitro decided to convert to Judaism. (From
Likutei Sichot vol. 16, pgs. 200-202).
(The following is related by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie):
In January 1987, a few days after our wedding, my wife and I, together
with my parents and younger sister, had the great merit to visit
Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneersohn (wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe).
She was quite elderly and frail at the time and passed away just
over a year later. Her yahrtzeit is this coming Wednesday (22 Shevat
- 7th February).
After chatting with us for a few minutes she turned to my younger
sister (who was ten years old at the time) and asked how she likes
America. My mother, answering for her, responded that she is really
enjoying America because of the abundance of kosher chocolate and
nosh, which at the time was difficult to obtain in South Africa.
The Rebbetzin immediately called one of the house workers and asked
him to bring out a big box of delicious chocolates which she gave
to my sister as a gift.
Almost a year later, in October, the first group of ten rabbinical
students to study in Johannesburg arrived. One of them came from
a family that had a close connection with the Rebbetzin. He informed
my parents that when he went to say goodbye, the Rebbetzin asked
him if he could take a package for the Gouraries.
Excited and intrigued they went to the airport to pick up this mysterious
parcel. When they opened it they were amazed to see a beautiful
box of chocolates. In her frail state, just three months before
she passed away, the Rebbetzin remembered a little ten-year-old
girl in South Africa who enjoyed the kosher chocolates that were
so hard to find.
My sister and all of us have never forgotten this small but powerful
incident. The lesson is clear: to make an impact on the lives of
others doesn't always require great feats. Little gestures driven
by a caring and nurturing mindset can make the world of difference.
(From Living Jewish).
Shabbat shalom, Shaul.
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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this
week's Reading, see the archive.
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From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; adapted by Moshe Yaakov
Moses embodied divine wisdom, whereas Jethro embodied natural, worldly
wisdom. By declaring that all this knowledge led ultimately to the
acceptance of G-d's wisdom, Jethro paved the way for the Giving
of the Torah. By bowing down to Jethro, Moses elevated natural wisdom
and accepted it into the sphere of divine wisdom.
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