Torah Weekly

For the week ending 26 January 2019 / 20 Shevat 5779

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 soimpressed 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.

The 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 with 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.


Going Halfway to Others

Moshe brought the people forth from the camp towards G-d……” (19:17)

I got into a taxicab the other day and sat next to the driver. From his outward appearance it was impossible to tell whether he was religious or not. He was clean shaven and wore a khaki forage cap. We started to talk. “I give rides to soldiers and I give lifts to yeshiva students,” he said. “I’m not prejudiced. Come on, tell me. Am I religious or Chiloni (secular)?” “No Jew is Chiloni,” I replied. “He just hasn’t connected yet to his heritage.” “Very good!” he said. “I can see you are a student of the Berdichever.” (The Berdichever Rebbe’s love of every Jew and the lengths to which he would go to justify even the most egregious Torah transgressions are legion.) I replied, “Halevai! (I only wish!)”

“No, but why are people so nosy?” he continued. “The other day I was coming back from Tiberius, and I stopped to pick up some yeshiva students. Anyway, they’d been in the car for about five minutes and the one in the front says to me, ‘Where do you live?’ ‘Jerusalem’ I say. ‘So you just finished a job taking someone to Tiberius?’ he asked. I didn’t answer. ‘It must be quite expensive to go from Jerusalem to Tiberius by car.’ ‘Yes, it is.’ ‘How much is that then?’ ‘500 Shekels’ I replied. I felt like saying to him, ‘Would you like a printout of my bank account?’ But I just kept silent.”

I suggested to the taxi driver, “Maybe he wanted to know what it cost so he would have an idea of the how much gratitude he owes you.” He smiled and said, “I knew you were a Berditchever!” He carried on and said, “Then he started to ask me where I lived in Jerusalem. I practically said ‘Would you like to know how many square meters my apartment is?’ ” So I said back to the taxi driver, “Maybe he just wanted to know what sort of a person you were. After all, if you’re someone who lives in a rich neighborhood, so maybe you’re more than just an average taxi driver, and he should show you even more gratitude and honor than before!”

“Okay! You are a Berditchever! I caught you! But you know something? That’s the only way to live. When you look for the good in people, you create a power of good in this world.”

Ever since Korach, the Jewish People have often been plagued by machloket (rancorous dispute). And, in our own times we have preserved this “custom” in all its minutiae. Dissent and disapproval dog the heels of our efforts to bring Mashiach. We are too divided and divisive. On one end of the spectrum, efforts to turn the Orthodox world into a hermetic bastion and the wholesale rejection of the modern world have caused many youngsters to flee their homes and their religion as from a prison. And at the other end of the spectrum even the Orthodox world seems to bend over backwards to accommodate the latest fads in gender identification — behavior the Torah explicitly condemns as abomination.

Where do we go from here? Love our neighbor as ourselves, and hate the sin, not the sinner. As it says: ”As I live, says G-d, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked one, but that the wicked one should turn from his way and live." (Yechezkel 33:11)

“Moshe brought the people forth from the camp towards G-d…”

At the recent royal wedding, some enthusiasts camped out for six days before the event to get a prime spot to see the procession. Rashi says that it is the way of the world -that first the crowd gathers and then the monarch appears, but such was G-d’s love for His people that He came first to Mount Sinai and then waited for us.

If G-d is prepared to come all the way to us, shouldn’t we be prepared to at least go half way to others?

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