Dedicated In Honor of Joshua J. Sitt for His Birthday
Parashat Yitro Act On It! This week’s parasha is named after Moshe Rabbenu’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! Highly intelligent, with a strong desire to study, as a young girl, Sara Schenirer was envious of her brothers’ opportunity to learn and interpret the Torah, and she wished she had similar opportunities. Self-taught but keenly aware of the glorious role women had played in Jewish history, Sara decided to act on her inspiration, and to initiate some type of educational activity for the women of her community. She began to dream of establishing a school for young girls. In 1923, together with Rabbi Leo Deutschlaender, Sara established a teachers’ seminary. Their goal was to train staff for a network of girls’ schools that would require professionally trained teachers. Sara Schenirer soon became the head of a worldwide movement with tens of thousands of pupils in hundreds of institutions. By 1939, there were more than 250 schools with an enrollment of more than 40,000 students in Bais Yaakov schools. Although she never had any children of her own, her students considered her their mother and greatly revered her. Her vision inspired not only her generation but each successive generation since and more than one million students have benefited from Sara’s belief in the Jewish woman. Like Yitro, Sara felt something that affected her, and she didn’t just let it go. She decided to act on that inspiration, and through that, helped impact the entire Jewish Nation. We must learn from her 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. 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. A Father In-Law’s Reminder The Torah teaches, “Yitro, the father-in-law of Moshe, took Tziporah, the wife of Moshe, after her having been sent away. And her two sons, the name of one was Gershom, for he had said, ‘I was a sojourner in a strange land,’ and the name of the other was Eliezer for ‘the G-d of my father came to my aid, and He saved me from the sword of Pharaoh’ (Shemot 18:2-3).” Rabbi Frand brings down an interesting question. It’s appropriate to provide these descriptions when a child is born. But since these children were born much earlier, the Torah should simply record their names, not the reasons why they had them. By this point, the reasons are ancient history! Rav Schlessinger suggests that Yitro was sending a pointed message to his son-in-law, Moshe Rabbenu. Moshe’s leadership task was about to begin. When Moshe was faced with a situation where he had an entire nation to worry about, it would have been very easy for his children to slip through the cracks. Yitro wanted to bring home to Moshe the idea that he should never forget the importance of the individual — of the microcosm that makes up the bigger group. Yitro is gently saying, “Moshe, if the Almighty had not paid close attention to you, where would you be? One person CAN make all the difference in the world. Your children too — if they are properly tended to — could grow up to become great leaders.” History is not made up of the deeds of nations. It is made up of the deeds of individuals. Yitro reminded Moshe that although he had the overwhelming responsibility of leading Klal Yisrael, he had responsibility for his two young sons as well. 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! 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. May we always stay holy and separate as a Jewish nation. May we remember to foster the need of our young children as individuals, so they may achieve greatness! 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.
Yitro reminded Moshe that although he had the overwhelming responsibility of leading Klal Yisrael, he had responsibility for his two young sons as well.
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