For the week ending 25 January 2003 / 22 Shevat 5763

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.


Going From The Gold

"And Yitro, the priest of Midian" (18:1)

I always wanted a spectacular view from my living room window: the Jerusalem hills, or the tomb of Shmuel HaNavi or even, at a pinch, the French Alps. Somehow, I ended up with the clothes lines of Arzei HaBira.

Not that Im complaining. I dont really see them anymore. Come to think of it, anytime I visited someone who did have a spectacular view, they told me that they dont really notice it much after a while.

Our nature is to take what we have for granted. Sometimes we need an outsiders view to get us to appreciate with what we have been blessed.

In this weeks Torah portion, the central and culminating event of Jewish nationhood takes place. G-d gives the Torah to the Jewish People on Mount Sinai. One would think that of all the possible names for this weeks Parsha, the least likely would be that of a non-Jewish priest who had tried every form of idol worship in the world. And yet there it is in black and white: "Yitro priest of Midian."

Why was this central Parsha of the Torah named after Yitro?

When Yitro heard of the Exodus and the miracles that were performed for the Jewish People his happiness was so great that he felt physically elated, like someone who weeps or faints through being overwhelmed with the emotion of unexpected joy. Literally, his flesh started to prickle. He had gooseflesh. (18:9) No such extreme reaction characterizes the response of the Jewish People. They believed in G-d and Moshe, His servant, sure, but there is no mention of a similar visceral reaction like that of Yitro.

Sometimes it takes a foreign eye to see exactly what you have. The following is a true story:

I come from a totally secular Israeli home. By secular I mean atheist. We held no religious beliefs at all, and no Jewish traditions and practices were kept. Yom Kippur was ignored, and I didn't even celebrate my bar mitzvah.

When I was 16 I began to search for some kind of meaning to life, although at the time I didn't call it that since I didn't realize what I was doing. I liked rebels and I started hanging out with all kinds of different people. I dressed and acted like a kind of hippie, and caused no end of embarrassment to my parents. I didn't believe in anything. I roamed around the country with all the strange characters who were my friends. I could fill a book with my adventures from then.

At the age of 21, I packed my bags and set off for India to look for truth. In my quest for meaning, there was no commune or ashram that I did not visit. I got to know many gurus personally. Only someone who has spent time in India can really understand the magnetic force of these communes.

My roaming and searching continued and eventually I went to visit the Dalai Lama himself. I was captivated by the Dalai Lama's personality, by his wisdom and intelligence. I would rise early each morning and attend his daily sermon at 4:30am. As far as I was concerned, he was a human being without any blemishes.

Back home in Israel, my parents were worried about me. My father sent me a letter saying he had heard that I had "freaked out," afraid that I'd really gone crazy. I sent a polite letter back assuring him that I wasn't crazy but that I was now at a major crossroads in my life. As I mailed the letter I realized that the very wording of my letter would convince my father that I had indeed gone crazy!

The same evening I approached one of the Dalai Lama's assistants and asked for a private audience with the Dalai Lama the next morning after his sermon. The following morning I entered his chambers. He was a gentleman who greeted everyone who came to see him. He bowed to me and offered me a seat. My words poured forth as I told him that I saw truth and meaning in his religion and that I decided to adopt it if he would accept me.

"Where are you from," he asked me.


He looked at me. "Are you Jewish?"

"Yes," I replied.

His reaction surprised me. His expression turned from friendly to puzzled, with even a tinge of anger. He told me that he did not understand my decision, and that he would not permit me to carry it out.

I was stunned. What did he mean?

"All religions are an imitation of Judaism," he stated. "I am sure that when you lived in Israel, your eyes were closed. Please take the first plane back to Israel and open your eyes. Why settle for an imitation when you can have the real thing?"

His words spun around in my head the whole day. I thought to myself: I am a Jew and an Israeli, but I know nothing about my own religion. Did I have to search and wander the whole world only to be told that I was blind and that the answers I was seeking were to be found on my own doorstep?

I did what the Dalai Lama told me to do. I immediately flew back to Israel and entered a yeshiva. And, as he told me to do, I opened my eyes. I began to see the Dalai Lama had indeed been correct. I discovered Judaism and its vitality, and that it encompassed everything in life. I embraced its laws and found many reasons to live at least 613 reasons! And I found joy.

Two years later someone suggested a shidduch (arranged meeting). Anat was a young woman of my age who was also a ba'alat teshuvah, a returnee to traditional Judaism. She too had been to Goa and other places in India to search for answers, and she too had found them back in Israel, in the religion of Israel. We clicked immediately. We had gone through the same search for meaning, and the same return to our roots. Eventually, Anat and I got engaged.

When I went to offer a gift to the matchmaker, she refused to accept anything, saying that she didn't deserve it.

"But it's customary to give the matchmaker a gift -- and I want to do it."

"You are quite right, but in this case I am not the matchmaker," she replied simply.

"What do you mean?"

"I'll tell you. Anat came to me and showed me a piece of paper with a name in it. She asked me to introduce her to the person whose name was written there. She knew nothing at all about that person, but said that she had been given his name by someone she trusts completely... It was your name."

After the engagement party, Anat and I went for a walk.

"Tell me," I said, "how did this shidduch come about? I want to know who gave you my name, so that I can pay him."

Anat said "I haven't told you yet that at the end of my wandering, I went to the Dalai Lama. I was very impressed by him and all he embodied and I decided to join his religion. When I told him he said, 'Anat, since you are Jewish you should not settle for silver if you can have gold.' He told me to return to my roots and then in a whisper, he asked one of his assistants to bring him a piece of paper. The Dalai Lama then copied the name that was there onto another piece of paper, and handed it to me. 'This is your soul mate,' he told me.

With a smile, Anat said to me, "So you will have to travel to India to pay the shadchan."

Anat and I have been married for three years now and we have been blessed with two wonderful children. I am immersed in Torah study, and Anat is a wonderful wife and mother. And our parents, you may be wondering, how did they accept all this? Our parents are educated, well-to-do people whose way of life is very different from ours, but they are impressed by our lifestyle and the close relationship between us. And they know the role the Dalai Lama had in all of this."

Sometimes it takes a "priest of Midian" to remind us that we have the gold.

  • Sources:
    Ohr HaChaim; adapted from "People Speak About Themselves" by Rabbi Chaim Walder, Feldheim Publishers

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