For the week ending 6 February 2021 / 24 Shvat 5781

Parashat Yitro

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Hearing of the miracles G-d performed for the 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.

The Bnei Yisrael arrive at Mount 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.



“You shall not recognize the gods of others in My presence.” (20:4)

As every believing Muslim knows, "Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice dates from the historic event when Prophet Abraham was commanded by God, in the form of a dream vision, to sacrifice his son, Ishmail. But while he was in the act of sacrificing his Ishmail, God sent the angel Gabriel with a huge ram. Gabriel informed Abraham that his dream vision was fulfilled and instructed him to sacrifice the ram as a ransom for his son." Sound familiar? But it's not just Islam that has a rather different version of world history than us. Are you familiar with the belief that Moses actually came to Japan to learn the wisdom of ancient Shinto during the forty days that the Bible says he was on Mount Sinai, receiving the Torah from God? Or that the Japanese are one of the ten 'Lost Tribes' of Israel?

The supposed common ancestry of the Jews and the Japanese makes fanciful reading but maybe Hashem allowed this idea currency to rescue His People from what could have been a murderous encounter.

In Tokyo in 1941, Rabbi Moshe Shatzkes and the Amshenover Rebbe sat facing four Japanese admirals in dress uniforms. Heads shaven, arms folded stiffly across their chests, they sat motionless. The opening formalities were brief. In fact, considering the usual time-consuming graciousness that customarily began such formal encounters, they were just short of insulting. "We appreciate your coming today; we appreciate your cooperating with us..." Then, suddenly, the opening shot. "What is the inherent evil of your people that our friends the Germans hate you so much?" None of the admirals, not even the one who had spoken, deigned to look at the objects of the question. The Amshenover Rebbe said to the translator in Yiddish, "Tell him the Germans hate us because we are Orientals."

Scarcely three seconds had passed between the posing of the question and this calm response. The admiral involuntarily shifted his eyes to look directly at the rebbe. "What does this mean? You are Asians? We are Asians!" "Yes," the rebbe agreed. "And you are also on the list. In Berlin, not many years ago, perhaps three or four, a young German girl fell in love with a fine young man, a Japanese man who was working at the Japanese Embassy. Naturally enough, the two young people wanted to marry, but such a marriage was forbidden by the laws of 'racial purity' that prohibit a fine German girl from marrying a Japanese person."

"You are lying," the first admiral said. "No," the rebbe said calmly. "Consider for yourself: What is the image of Hitler's ‘master race’? How does he describe it? In films, documentaries, newspapers, who is shown bringing victory home to the German fatherland? Always, always, the so-called Aryans. Tall, broad-shouldered, blond hair, blue eyes. I am not six feet tall. I do not have blue eyes. I don't have blond hair — even before it turned white. The reason they hate me, the reason they hate all of us, is because we don't fit the image of the Aryan master race."

He said no more. There was no need to point out the scarcity of tall, broad-shouldered, blond, blue-eyed Japanese. Silence. Then one of the admirals said, "Tell our Jewish guests there will now be a brief recess. Tell them we have been inexcusably inconsiderate in not allowing them time to rest from their long trip and in not offering proper refreshments. Tell them we will meet in two hours' time in a more comfortable place.”

When, several hours later, the Jews were shown into a large conference room lined with windows — the atmosphere was entirely different. Again, the four admirals were lined up proudly on one side of a table but now, seated beside them were two newcomers, resplendent in long white robes and tall stiff black hats tied decorously under their chins. They were high-ranking Shinto priests. The discussion centered almost exclusively on religion: comparisons and contrasts between Shinto and Judaism, extended explanations of the theory of common origin that the Japanese were descended, in part, from one of the "ten lost tribes" that had come to Japan, and the theory that Moses had actually come to Japan to learn the wisdom of ancient Shinto during the forty days when he was on Mount Sinai, receiving the Torah from G-d. For over an hour, Rabbi Shatzkes described the basic principles, ideas and ceremonies of the Jews.

It was late afternoon before the meeting drew to a close. As a final note, the Amshenover Rebbe repeated the gratitude of the refugees to the Japanese for taking them in and treating them so well. "Go back to your people," said one of the admirals. "Tell them they have nothing to fear. We Japanese will do our utmost to provide for your safety and peace. You have nothing to fear while in Japanese territory."

Apart from receiving the Torah on Sinai, Moshe was incidentally providing a scenario, which thousands of years later would rescue his great-grandchildren from the Nazi inferno — even if the Japanese got their geography a bit wrong and mistook Mount Sinai for Mount Fuji.

  • Source: "The Fugu Plan: The Untold Story Of The Japanese And The Jews During World War II" by Marvin Tokayer

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