Torah Weekly

For the week ending 7 February 2015 / 18 Shevat 5775

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.


Waking Up Jewish

“And Yitro heard...” (18:1)

Sometimes holiness can look too holy.

Yitro was convinced that to become Jewish he had to be on a very lofty spiritual level before he converted, and thus held himself back from “taking the plunge”.

Then he saw that even after being raised to the highest levels of prophecy at the Red Sea (where the lowest servant saw more than was revealed in the vision of Yechezkel the Prophet), the Jewish People still had to battle Amalek, the Evil Inclination incarnate.

From this he understood that being Jewish doesn't mean standing on an unassailable platform of holiness, but rather being prepared to struggle every day against the “yetzer hara” (“evil inclination”) — which can only be subdued with the help of Heaven.

Once he understood this he decided that he could become Jewish.

This is one understanding of Rashi's comment at the beginning of this week's Torah portion:

What was it that Yitro heard? He heard of the splitting of the sea and the war against Amalek.

In spite of the awesome level to which the Jewish People were raised at the splitting of the sea, they still had to wage war on Amalek.

Every day we wake up and “become” Jewish again. We say a blessing that celebrates that G-d did not create us as non-Jews. How can we say that blessing every day? Shouldn't it be a one-off blessing to be said, for example, at our Bar or Bat Mitzvah? How can we say this every day? Is there the slightest possibility that I will wake up tomorrow morning and suddenly find that my identity has been “stolen” from being Jewish?

Waking up Jewish means that every day I have to remind myself what being Jewish means. It doesn’t mean just experiencing the great sea-splitting moments of spirituality. It means getting out of bed prepared to fight my own “negativity” with G-d’s help.

  • Source: based on the Chidushei HaRim in Mayana shel Torah

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