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Parashat Yitro

Dedicated in honor of

my eshet chayil wife, Julie,

and my father-in-law, Maurice Shalam,

by Phil Sherr and family.

Parashat Yitro

 Act On It!


This week’s parasha is named after Moshe Rabbenu’s father-in-law, Yitro, the high priest of Midian. Why would the Torah give such an honor to 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.


 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 the 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 so 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. Four men in the kollel asked him what he was up to, and the next day he brought four more textbooks, and simply told them, “Read the books and go on calls.” A few weeks later, these young scholars 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 few 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 in locations 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 into the creation of other volunteer emergency services, like Shomrim, Chaverim, and Misaskim.


Yitro had been a very prominent priest in his religion, as well as an advisor to Pharaoh. 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 believed 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 Ten Commandments


This parasha includes the Aseret Hadibrot—Ten Commandments. We learn that each row of the five commandments on the right tablet corresponds 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.


The 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 yesodfundamental 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 the main point of Shabbat!


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 favors. 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.




The fourth of the Ten Commandments is the mitzvah of Shabbat. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka wrote about Shabbat in his book, The Rabbi’s Message. We all look forward to the peacefulness and serenity of Shabbat when we can take a break from the hectic pace of the rest of the week. A touching story is told about Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the Rabbi of Jerusalem in the early 1900’s.


One Friday night, his wife became ill, so he went to the home of Dr. Schwartz to ask him to treat her. When the rabbi knocked on the door, the doctor answered with a lantern in his hand. The rabbi was disappointed that Shabbat was being desecrated but he didn't say anything about it. The two of them went back to the rabbi's house where the doctor examined the rebbetzin and gave her some medication which quickly improved her condition. The rabbi thanked the doctor, and they began walking together back to the doctor's house.


On the way, the rabbi asked the doctor, “What percentage of a person's body does the head comprise?” The doctor was puzzled by the random question, but he answered, “The head takes up about a seventh of a person's body.”


“That's all?” said the Rabbi. “So imagine if all the limbs and organs united against the head and complained, ‘It’s not fair! We do all the work, but when it’s time to eat, you open your mouth and devour all the food! And when you want to express an opinion, your mouth becomes the spokesman for all of us! We protest!’ But the head responds, ‘It’s perfectly fair because I direct and orchestrate all actions of the body. If it weren’t for me, you’d all be worthless hunks of flesh.’”


The doctor, amused by the rabbi's allegory, agreed with the argument of the head.


Then the rabbi said, “The ratio of the head to the body is exactly the same as the days of the week - six days of physical pursuits and one day of rest. From the one day of rest, a person draws his inspiration and blessing for the other six days, and through that, his days are filled with meaning and perspective. If not for Shabbat, man would become a slave to his desires and monetary aspirations. We should therefore be careful to preserve the sanctity of Shabbat, just as it preserves us in body and spirit!”


The doctor was inspired by the Rabbi's words and accepted upon himself to keep the Shabbat from that day on. As we say in the Lecha Dodi prayer on Friday night, “Ki hi mekor haberachah—for [Shabbat) is the source of our blessing.” The more we elevate the level of our observance of Shabbat, the more blessings we will see in the rest of our week.


Life is a Package Deal


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, that 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 teaches us that everyone has challenges along with the good things, and we may not always see them when we are blinded by envy. 


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


A Father In-Law’s Reminder


The Torah teaches, “Yitro, the father-in-law of Moshe, took Tziporah, the wife of Moshe, after she’d 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 individuals that make 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.


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. May we remember to foster the need of our young children as individuals, so they may achieve greatness! Amen!


Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey


Discussion Point:

·        What kind of changes should we be making in our lives, but aren’t acting on yet? Why not?

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

Yehoshua Ben Batsheva

Luratte Bat Masouda

Esther Bat Menucha

Uri Ben Rahel

Rivka Bat Dona

Shalom Ben Zahra

Refuah Shelemah...

Rachel Bat Devorah

Shella Rachel Bat Sarah

Anyone interested in Dedicating this Divre Torah Le'ilui Nishmat or Refuah Shelemah or In Honor of someone, can email me at Checks can be made out to “A Life of Torah” for $101 and mailed to Jack Rahmey at 2387 Ocean Avenue Suite #1G, Brooklyn, NY 11229 (please put in the memo “Divre Torah”)


Anyone interested in past parashiot please go to the website

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