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Parashat Yitro

Dedicated for a Refuah Shelemah for Rivkah bat Chava by Anonymous

Parashat Yitro

Act On It!

This week’s parasha is named after Moshe Rabenu’s father-in-law, Yitro, a high priest of Midian. Why would the Torah begin a new section with Yitro, and why should 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 the 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, “Vayishma Yitro — and Yitro heard.” The passuk goes on to say that Yitro heard what Hashem had done for Moshe and B’nei Yisrael. According to Rashi, Yitro heard of the parting of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek. These two events were known to everyone, 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 had been a very prominent priest in his religion, as well as an advisor to Pharaoh. The midrash teaches that Yitro looked at all the various forms of idolatry that existed at the time and was able to understand that Hashem is the one and only true G-d!

It is one thing for a person to realize intellectually that he should change, but it’s another thing to act on it. It is difficult for someone who has held certain beliefs his entire life to alter his way of thinking in his later years. A transformation of that kind involves the realization that everything you have believed up to then has been wrong. That was Yitro’s greatness. What we learn from him is that if Yitro — a non-Jewish priest — could make such an amazing change, then so can we!

The same could be said about Rabbi Hershel Weber, the creator of Hatzalah. In 1968, a prominent man in a Williamsburg Kollel suffered from a heart attack at a young age of 40. A few men from the kollel called 911, and they waited with him for an ambulance for 45 minutes. Unfortunately, he tragically passed away. Reb Hershel Weber, a fellow kollel member, was deeply affected by this incident. He was sure that if the ambulance had arrived sooner, this young man would have had a long life ahead of him. He wanted to make a change and prevent this from ever happening again.

The next week, he started reading the American Red Cross textbook, and began teaching himself first aid. A few of the men in the kollel asked him what he was up to, and the next day he brought four of his friends more textbooks, and simply told them, “Read the books and go on calls.” A few weeks later, these young rabbis from the local kollel volunteered their time and whatever resources they had. Armed with donated oxygen tanks that were unboxed without instructions, small first aid kits, and a couple hundred orange stickers with a phone number that led to a single dispatcher, the crew of four began to help wherever and whenever they could.

Rabbi Weber gave them simple instructions. “You are not there to be a doctor, you are there to make sure the patient survives until they get into an ambulance. If a man is having chest pains, turn on the tank and put the mask on until the ambulance arrives.” One rabbi lightheartedly recalled asking him what happens if the patient has a broken ankle, to which Rabbi Weber jokingly replied, “Turn on the tank and put the mask on!” They made arrangements with a local private ambulance service, and the calls started coming in.

Before long, Reb Hershel raised enough money to purchase an ambulance of their own, and Chevrah Hatzalah, translating to Team of Rescuers, was born. Hatzalah now has multiple affiliated organizations across the globe, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico, Panama, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Ukraine, and 10 states in the US. Hatzalah of New York has nearly two thousand volunteer EMTs and paramedics who answer more than 70,000 calls each year with private vehicles and a fleet of more than 90 ambulances. The average response time for Hatzalah is 2-3 minutes, while city ambulances respond between 8-11 minutes! Hatzalah volunteers were among the first to respond to the horrific 9/11 attacks and received notoriety in multiple memoirs for their services. Because of young Reb Hershel Weber’s efforts to make a change and help his community, the Hatzalah organization evolved to the creation of other volunteer emergency services, like Shomrim, Chaverim, and Misaskim.

Like Yitro, Rabbi Webber heard something that affected him, and decided to act on that inspiration and change the entire course of history. We must learn from their example and act on what inspires us, le’shem Shamayim, and we too can grow and change the world.

Change is Possible

Hashem gives 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! Making 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 enriched with Torah values that will bring you much beracha and give your children and grandchildren a valuable legacy for many generations to come!

As I experienced my own growth over my lifetime, I witnessed more and more mainstream families make the decision to become baalei teshuvah. This transformation meant leaving a lot of our old ways behind us and adopting new habits and changes through our Torah learning, which led us to tremendous personal growth in mitzvot and ma’asim tovim.

The Ten Commandments

This parasha includes the Aseret Hadibbrot—Ten Commandments. We learn that each row of the five commandments on the right tablet correspond to each row from the five commandments on the left. The first commandment, “I am Hashem,” is adjacent to the fifth commandment, or the first in the left row, “You shall not murder.” This teaches us that Hashem gives us life and we are forbidden to take that life.

The second commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” is adjacent to “You shall not commit adultery.” In other words, don’t be unfaithful to Hashem and don’t be unfaithful to your spouse.

Third is the commandment to not take G-d’s name in vain, which is next to “You shall not steal.” This tells us that a thief will use Hashem’s name in vain to try and prove he’s innocent.

There is a great yesod—fundamental concept 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 next to it, the ninth, “You shall not bear false witness against your fellow.” A Jew who keeps the Shabbat testifies that the world was created by Hashem’s utterance. One who gives false testimony corrupts his speech. 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.

Lastly, the fifth commandment, “Honor your parents,” faces the injunction against “coveting.” There is a profound lesson to be had here. Honoring our parents is part of honoring Hashem for His gifts. Hashem, like our parents, showers us with gifts. And if we appreciate everything that Hashem has given us and understand that we have been given all that we need, there will be no reason to be jealous of what others have.

Rabbi Frand asks a question regarding the tenth commandment. Why does the Torah provide a list of specific things that we may not covet, such as our neighbor’s house, wife, servants, ox, donkey, and then end with a generalization, i.e. “Or anything that belongs to your neighbor?” Rabbi Frand answers, if you want your friend’s house or his wife, then you have to take the entire package, including your friend’s troubles. The Torah is clearly teaching us that everyone has challenges along with the good thing, and we may not always see them when we are blinded by envy.

There is a well-known mashal that my father taught me growing up. If we were to put all of our troubles into a suitcase and place the suitcase in a circle with everyone else’s suitcases filled with difficulties, we would always take our own package back, because we don’t know what someone else’s might contain!

Staying Separate

In the book “Classics and Beyond,” Rabbi Avraham Bukspan discusses the idea behind Moshe naming his first-born son Gershom. He names him this, because “Ger hayiti be’eretz nachriah—I was a stranger in a foreign land.” The name signifies the clear distinction between Moshe, a Jew, and the goyim of Midian. He impressed upon himself that this was not his land, and these were not his people. He thanked Hashem and gave Hakarat Hatov for Hashem giving him the strength to withstand the influence of the Midianite people. This teaches us the importance of staying separate as a Jewish nation. We must never get too comfortable or lose our way by assimilating.

There are many religious Jews in the world, however this does not console Hashem over the millions who do not even know Who He is. If someone’s child was lost, lo aleinu, no one would say to him, “Why do you feel so bad? You still have six more beautiful children at home.” A parent loves each child like an only child. It is the same with Hashem. He loves each Jew like an only child. He wants every Jew close to Him, no matter how far they have strayed from the path.

Hashem loves all of us and wants everyone to be close to Him. No matter how far a person has strayed from the path, Hashem yearns for him to come back.

May we all have the strength to act on the Torah that we hear so that we may change things for the better for ourselves, our families, and our communities. May we grow in Torah values and respect the Ten Commandments, which includes Shabbat. And may we always remember to stay holy and separate as a Jewish nation. Amen!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

  • What kind of changes should we be making in our lives, but aren’t doing yet?


  • This week’s parasha is named in honor of Moshe’s father in-law Yitro. Why? Yitro not only heard what Hashem had done for B’nei Yisrael, but also decided to act on what he had heard by converting to Judaism.

  • This parasha includes the Aseret Hadibbrot—Ten Commandments. We learn that each row of the five commandments on the right tablet correspond to each row from the five commandments on the left.

  • Why does the Torah provide a list of specific things of our neighbor’s that we may not covet, and then a generalization, “or anything that belongs to your neighbor?” We learn that if we want our friend’s house or his wife, then we have to take the entire package, including his troubles.

  • Moshe names his first child Gershom, because “Ger hayiti be’eretz nachriah—I was a stranger in a foreign land.” The name signifies the clear distinction between Moshe, a Jew, and the goyim of Midian. This teaches us the importance of staying separate as a Jewish nation.

Le’ilui Nishmat....

Eliyahu Ben Rachel

Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher

Avraham Ben Garaz

Sarah Bat Chanah

Esther Bat Sarah

Avraham Ben Mazal

Shulamit Bat Helaina

Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana

Rahamim Ben Mazal

Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther

Rafael Ben Miriam

Ovadia Ben Esther

Rav Haim Ben Rivka

Moshe Ben Mazal

Moshe Ben Yael

Yitzchak Ben Adele

Avraham Ben Mazal

Meir Ben Latifa

Chanah Bat Esther

Yaakov Ben Rachel

Malka Bat Garaz

Moshe Ben Garaz

Avraham Ben Kami

Yaakov Ben Leah

Mordechai Ben Rachel

Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal

Natan Ben Rachel

Saadia Ben Miriam

Eliyah Ben Latifa Simhon

Margalit Bat Mazal

Ovadia Haim Ben Malaky

Rabbi Aharon Chaim Ben Ruchama

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