Torah Weekly

For the week ending 18 January 2014 / 17 Shevat 5774

Parshat Yitro

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Hearing of the miracles G-d performed for Bnei Yisrael , Moshe's father-in-law Yitro arrives with Moshe's wife and sons, reuniting the family in the wilderness. Yitro is so impressed by Moshe's detailing of the Exodus from Egypt that he converts to Judaism. Seeing that the only judicial authority for the entire Jewish nation is Moshe himself, Yitro suggests that subsidiary judges be appointed to adjudicate smaller matters, leaving Moshe free to attend to larger issues. Moshe accepts his advice. Bnei Yisrael arrive at Mt. Sinai where G-d offers them the Torah. After they accept, G-d charges Moshe to instruct the people not to approach the mountain and to prepare for three days. On the third day, amidst thunder and lightning, G-d's voice emanates from the smoke-enshrouded mountain and He speaks to the Jewish People, giving them the Ten Commandments:

  1. Believe in G-d
  2. Don't worship other "gods"
  3. Don't use G-d's name in vain
  4. Observe Shabbat
  5. Honor your parents
  6. Don't murder
  7. Don't commit adultery
  8. Don't kidnap
  9. Don't testify falsely
  10. Don't covet.

After receiving the first two commandments, the Jewish People, overwhelmed by this experience of the Divine, request that Moshe relay G-d's word to them. G-d instructs Moshe to caution the Jewish People regarding their responsibility to be faithful to the One who spoke to them.


Taking Off Your Gloves

You hurry down the platform. You have to take the next train out of town. The train whistles. It's about to leave. To open the door of the carriage you need to remove your glove. As you do so, the glove slips from your grasp, floats neatly between the bottom of the train and the platform, and lands on the track. There's nothing you can do. Either you lose the train and save the glove, or lose the glove and catch the train.

What would you do? Miss the train and save the glove? Or save the glove and miss the train? Well, this is what one of the great figures of the Mussar movement did:

He took off his other glove and threw it under the track.

If you look in the written Torah you’ll be hard pressed to find a single mention of the word ‘rights’. Obligations – of these, the Torah is full. Obligations of a master to a slave; the obligations of a child to its parents; of a pupil to his teacher and vice versa; of a community to the poor; of the individual to the community; obligations to the orphaned, to the sick, to the convert; the obligations of man to G-d. ‘Rights’, however, are something that the Torah hardly mentions. Why?

You can construct a legal system that spells out people’s rights (“…all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights...” ) or you can write a code, like the written Torah, that spells out their obligations. You'll get to the same place. The end result will be the same because to the extent that you have obligations you don’t need rights, and vice versa. The end result will be the same.

With one big difference.

If you base a system of law on rights you turn people into takers; if you base it on obligations you turn them into givers.

The Torah wants to create a nation of givers, a nation who will throw the other glove under the train so the person who finds it will have another to complete the pair.

Author’s note: If anyone is familiar with the “glove” story and can let me know who this was, please email me at [email protected] – thank you.

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