Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Esther Bat Mauda Masuda Mother of our Rabbi Yehuda Saban
This week’s Perashah is named after the father-in-law of Moshe Rabenu, Yitro (Jethro), a high priest of Midian. Why would the Torah begin a new section with Yitro, and why would our Rabbis choose this section to be the start of a new Parasha, which would then carry his name? Why confer such an honor on Yitro, an idolatrous Midianite, especially in a Parasha that carries the holy words of the Ten Commandments? Maybe the answer to this question lies in the first two words of the Parasha, (18:1): vayishma yitro. “and Yitro heard." The Passuk goes on to say that Yitro heard what Hashem had done for Moshe and B’nei Yisrael. Accordng to Rashi, Yitro heard of the parting of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek. These two events were known, but the Torah singles out Yitro for a very important reason. Yitro not only heard, but also decided to act on what he had heard by converting to Judaism.
Yitro was a very intelligent High Priest in his religion and also an advisor to Pharoah. The Midrash teaches that Yitro looked at all the various forms of idolatry that were prevalent at the time, and was able to come to the understanding that Hashem is the one and only true G-d! It is one thing to realize that something is true, however it’s another thing to act on it. It is difficult for someone who has held certain beliefs his entire life to change his way of thinking in his later years. A change of that kind involves the realization that everything you have believed up to then has been wrong. That was the greatness of Yitro, and what we learn from him is that if Yitro, a non-Jewish priest, can make such an amazing change, then so can we!
I remember when I was growing up in our community, there was a minority of very observant families, while the majority was less observant. Over the next forty years, an awakening took place in our community. I witnessed a slow but gradual increase in Torah growth, as more and more mainstream families made the decision to become Baalei Teshuvah. This transformation meant leaving a lot of their old ways behind and adopting new habits of Torah learning. This led to tremendous personal growth in Mitzvot and Maasim Tovim. Our values began to change as we sent our children to yeshivot that stressed true Torah values. As young parents, we became part of different more observant circles of friends. Over my lifetime I've witnessed many different people from traditional families in our community make these gradual changes.
Hashem gives each and every one of us opportunities to grow. We must first recognize that opportunity when we encounter it and then have the courage to take advantage of it and eventually adopt and embrace it! To make these changes is probably one of the hardest things we can do, because we may risk leaving behind lifelong friends who are not following on the same path as we are. However, if the changes take place at an unhurried pace and with long-term growth in mind, they will ultimately prove to be changes for the better, elevating your family to a life of Torah values that will bring you much Berachah and perpetuate your children and grandchildren for many generations to come!
There is a story about a group of young boys who lived in our community about fifty years ago. These boys were all in their late teens and were passionate about basketball. They used to play in the schoolyard every Sunday and after their games were done, they would head over to their favorite deli for something to eat. One particular Sunday, a friend asked one of the boys if he would help his Rabbi raise money for his new Yeshivah. The boy agreed and persuaded the other players to join in as well. Over the next few weeks, they raised hundreds of dollars for the Rabbi's Yeshivah. The Rabbi was so impressed that he asked to meet the boy who was behind the fundraising. The boy was reluctant at first, but then agreed to meet with the Rabbi. When they met, the teen was very impressed by the Rabbi and decided to go and learn with his friend at the Rabbi's Yeshivah. Most of the other boys didn't follow so fast and as time passed, these two boys continued to learn and grow in Torah. The second boy became so close to the Rabbi that he eventually married the Rabbi's daughter. Today these two boys grew to become among the leading Rabbi’s in our community. They heard the words of Torah, and they listened and then they acted on what they heard. For the past forty years they have both been spreading Torah learning throughout our community by means of their Yeshivot and Kollelim. If you haven't guessed yet...the boy who raised the money is none other than Rabbi Shlomo Diamond of the Sephardic Kollel in Deal and of the Ilan High School. His friend who encouraged him is Rabbi Hillel Haber of Shaare Torah. Because they acted on what they heard, they helped so many families in our community grow to great spiritual heights B'h!
This Perashah includes the Aseret Hadibberot (Ten Commandments), given on Har Sinai to three million of our Jewish ancestors. We learn that the five commandments on the right tablet correspond to the five commandments on the left. There is a great Yisod (lesson) which is most profoundly exemplified in the fourth and ninth commandments. In the fourth commandment, it says: "Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it” and opposite, the ninth: “You shall not bear false witness against your fellow." Because a Jew who keeps the Shabbat testifies that the world was created by Hashem’s utterance. One who gives false testimony corrupts his own speech and this leaves him unable to testify that Hashem created the world, which is a main point of Shabbat! Also, truth keeps the world alive, while falsehood destroys it. One who uses his mouth to utter falsehoods cannot possibly provide testimony about Shabbat, which is a memorial that upholds the existence of the world.
The following is an amazing story from the book Zera Shimshon by Rabbi Nissan Seltzer. The story happened and is told by Rav Nissan Kaplan.
Rabbi Kaplan who lives in Israel was up late on a Thursday evening preparing for a Shiur when his phone rang for a second time at a very late hour. As he picked up the phone, he realized it was the wife of one of his closest students from America. She was very distressed because their young child was rushed to the emergency room and the doctors were unsure what was wrong with the child, the prognosis looked grim. Her husband sent her home to get some rest as he would take the first shift staying up with the baby.
As she arrived home ready to collapse from all the pressure, she noticed the message light on the phone was blinking, so out of curiosity she played the message. It was her husband’s business partner ranting about an emergency at the office and how the business was losing money hand over fist! This was just too much for her to bear, especially coming off the heels of the medical emergency she was having with her child. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to reach her husband because his cell phone had died. She felt like she was drowning under the pressure where she felt as if she could hardly breathe. So in desperation she opened a Tehilim and started to read it with tears streaming down her cheeks, pleading to Hashem for salvation from the walls that were caving in on her by the minute. After she finished, she picked up the phone to call Rabbi Kaplan in America to stress her desperate situation to him with the hope that he would comfort her in some way. He promised her before they hung up that he would go to pray at the Kotel the next morning on their behalf. As he hung up the phone, he realized how hectic his schedule would be on Friday before Shabbat kodesh arrives.
He woke up the next morning feeling horribly sick but he felt that he had to keep his promise from the night before. So he dragged himself out of bed to go to the Kotel to pray for his students sick baby. He then made his way through the crowds of tourists and found his spot at the Kotel to pray for the couple with all the strength that he could muster. As he left the Kotel, he could not find a taxi so he was forced to jump on the bus instead and on top of all that, he accidentally ended up on the wrong bus. It was at that moment on this crowded bus that an elderly Yerushalmi Jew with payot, a long black coat and oversized tzizit tapped him on his shoulder and started a conversation with the Rabbi that he was obviously not in the mood for. Since he had at least 10 minutes before he could exit off the bus, he decided to listen to what the old man had to say.
The Yerushalmi began to tell him a story of his little child who was very ill many years earlier and how there was very little hope that he would recover from his illness. So the old man went to his Rabbi for advice. The Rabbi took a few minutes to respond and told him the following: ”Hashem created the world in six days and on Shabbat we become Hashem’s partner in the creation of the world, so because of this we have a special Koach (strength) on Shabbat Kodesh”. The Rabbi then said that as Hashem’s partner he can request certain things on Shabbat that he wouldn’t dream of asking on a weekday. So the Rabbi said to him, go home and he would pray for his child on Shabbat. Then the old man proceeded to tell Rabbi Kaplan another story. This one was about a man who went to his Rabbi and began to cry to him: ”It’s my business and I’m approaching the point of no return...what do I do?” The Rabbi asked the man, “Do you ever discuss business matters on Shabbat?” To which the man replied with some reluctance,“Yes, sometimes”. The Rabbi looked at him in the eye and said if you make a commitment from now on to never speak about business matters on Shabbat, I will guarantee you that your business will turn around and you’ll become successful again!
By this time Rabbi Kaplan had reached his destination and bid farewell to the old man and got off the bus. It occurred to him at that moment that the old man must have been a malach sent to him by Hashem to give him the answers for his student in America. He called his student and his wife picked up the phone and he told her, tonight when your husband is making the Kiddush for Shabbat, both you and your husband should pray with all your might and much Kavanah (concentration) that your child should have a complete recovery! Also, do you and your husband ever discuss business matters on Shabbat? She answered,“Yes, it’s the only time we get to discuss these matters”. Rabbi Kaplan told her to make a commitment now to never talk about business matters on Shabbat. She confirmed she would follow the Rabbi’s advice. Just as Shabbat was ending in America, Rabbi Kaplan got a call from his student saying that their child was doing well B’h and that the business issues had also stabilized!
May we all have the strength to act on the Torah that we hear so that we may find the true path of Torah for ourselves and our families. This so we may grow in Torah values which will benefit our families in so many wonderful ways through Hashem's Berachot! May we also be able to respect the Shabbat and realize the Koach of Shabbat so as not to desecrate it with mundane talk of business matters. Since we are true partners with Hashem in the creation of the world, we should take advantage of that power we have and use it for our prayers on Shabbat! Amen!
Jack E. Rahmey with the Guidance and Teachings of
Rabbi Amram Sananes
Eliyahu Ben Rachel Malka Bat Garaz
Sarah Bat Chanah Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Shulamit Bat Helaina Meir Ben Latifa
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Esther Bat Sarah
Rav Haim Ben Rivka Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
Yitzchak Ben Adele Rafael Ben Miriam
Chanah Bat Esther Moshe Ben Mazal
Moshe Ben Garaz Avraham Ben Mazal
Avraham Ben Garaz Ovadia Ben Yosef
Yaakov Ben Rachel Rahamim Ben Mazal
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