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by Daneal Weiner

Parshas Yisro

opens with (18:1) “Vayishma Yisro...”- And Yisro heard... Obvious question, what did he hear? The Torah Temima brings three opinions from the Gemorah. Rav Yehoshua says Yisro heard about Milchemes Amaleik- the war with Amaleik. Rav Elazer Hamodai says it was Matan Torah- the revelation on Mt. Sinai. Rav Eliezer ben Yaakov says it was Krias Yam Suf- the splitting of the sea. Even though the Torah has yet to get to the verses telling of the revelation, Rav Elazer holds the Torah is not in chronological order. Rashi writes that what Yisro heard was Krias Yam Suf and Milchemes Amaleik.

If you stop to think about it, this is quite a combination! Krias Yam Suf, where the laws of nature were turned upside down and Milchemes Amaleik which was the most natural battle of all that Moshe fought. [In D’varim Moshe goes out and tsushmetters every nation they fight while against Amaleik, sometimes we were winning, sometimes they were winning and in the end Amaleik was only weakened!] Somehow, these two seemingly mismatched events caused Yisro to join Israel in the desert. And not just ‘join’ as in ‘the ride’ but ‘join’ as in ‘convert’!

The next Rashi brings seven names of Yisro and says one name was ‘Yeser’ and when he converted the letter ‘vav’ was added to make it ‘Yisro’. The vav is used in Hebrew as a prefix which means ‘and’ i.e. it designates an attachment. Yeser attached himself to Israel and became Yisro.

The B’air Yoseph asks the following. In verse 18:6 Yisro sends a messenger ahead to Moshe saying, “It’s me Yisro, your father-in-law! Here I come! With your wife and children!” Rashi explains, with less embellishment, that Yisro is looking for the marching band, red carpet, grand welcoming reception. “If not for me then for your wife and sons, but just make it big and don’t forget the molded chopped liver!” Granted, we all need to work on our ego but isn’t this a bit much? Let’s make the question stronger.

Way back when, Moshe fled from Egypt for killing the Egyptian and he showed up in Midian by a well. The daughters of Yisro were having a hard time from the other shepherds. Why? Because Yisro just rejected idolatry. Yisro was the high priest amongst the nations and he tried every god on and orbiting the planet. He was searching for the truth, however, and anyone who seeks the truth, Hashem will bring him/her there. So now that Yisro hears about the Krias Yam Suf and Milchemes Amaleik he knows he’s finally found what he’s been looking for and he wants a grand reception. Who is Yisro impressed with, Hashem or himself?

To answer, the Bair Yoseph presents a little background information on Amaleik by jumping ahead to D’varim where Milchemes Amaleik is mentioned again. (25:17) “Remember what Amaleik did to you on the way out of Egypt, how they happened upon you on the road...” The words “happened upon” are from the Hebrew word “karcha.” Rashi is probably wondering why the Torah uses “karcha” when Amaleik traveled miles with intent on doing battle? Rashi explains the root of “karcha” is “kar” which means “cold.” Rashi says, “It’s like a person who jumps into a boiling bath. He burns himself but cools the water for everyone else.” After everything Hashem has just done for Bnei Yisrael, they were hot. Red Hot! Not even fools would challenge Israel now. No, not fools, but arch enemies of Hashem’s representatives in the world would. They got burned but in the eyes of the world, Hashem nor His people were so hot anymore.

Take the Torah codes, for example. They defy all probability. Then someone comes along and takes advantage of the fact that the laws of probability are not at everyone’s fingertips and he takes the book ‘Moby Dick’ and he shows code after code of famous people’s deaths! The book is about KILLING a fish!!! There are more death related verbs in that book than at a KKK convention! Any deceased’s name you look for will be near a death related word!

In the Torah, Avraham is encoded in a paragraph about Avraham. Rachel and Leah in a paragraph about Yaakov wanting a wife. Trees appear in the verses about Gan Eden. The Rambam, who lived in Egypt, shows up in a verse about Egypt, along with a code of his work, the Mishna Torah. The Holocaust is hidden where Hashem says He will hide His face, r’l. Everything is there AND in a relevant place in the text! Unbelievable! Mind boggling!! But the damage has been done. The codes are no longer the hot item they used to be. It’s a big let down. How could one get the excitement back? You pick up a Torah codes book again and say, “Let me see that again! That Amaleikite compares all this to ‘Ghandi harpooned on a schooner’?!?” The Bair Yoseph says this is what Yisro did.

Yisro heard about Krias Yam Suf! Unbelievable! His life long search was over. He’s found the truth! He knows there is One G-d Who runs the world! What a charge! What a high! Then, suddenly, along comes Amaleik and the Jews seem suddenly threatened. What happened?! Where did G-d go?! But Yisro knows not to let the truth slip away. Even more than this, Yisro wants not just to get the high back but to “put” it back! Yisro knows he’s a world renowned figure. He knows the world knows of his search for Hashem. If his conversion to Judaism is made big, if it has the red carpet and the marching band, then in the eyes of the world he might put back some of what Amaleik stole. The Eiruv Rav- mixed multitude joined the Jews when they were hot. Yisro joined when they were cold. What a kiddush Hashem- sanctification of Hashem’s Name that was! Very nice, Bair Yoseph. Easy to see why Yisro was rewarded with a parsha named after him and why the Torah uses this episode to introduce the revelation at Mt. Sinai even if it has happened already!

That very last line was actually the words of the Ohr Gedalyahu who has a different explanation of these things which Yisro heard. In Hallel we say the shortest Psalm of all Scriptures (no. 117), which says that all the nations of the world will praise Hashem for His kindness has overwhelmed us and His truth is eternal. What is the significance of the nations of the world praising Hashem? Because only they know (and not us) how many times they’ve plotted against us and Hashem interceded and foiled their plans.

Yisro was an advisor to Pharaoh. Yisro knew what was plotted against the Jews and when he heard of Krias Yam Suf he recognised that retribution came against Egypt, measure for measure, for every plot and plan and only the One True G-d could know and exact such justice! [Even the mere thoughts of our enemies Hashem considers as having been carried out as actions and punishes accordingly.] Yisro realised something else as well. The Ohr Gedalyahu brings the Chasam Sofer who explains that Yisro understood he, himself, would be dealt with measure for measure.

Yisro’s did not ‘join in’ with the enemies of Israel and did not advise Pharaoh in their favor. In Halachic terms there is an expression shave v’al ta’aseh- sit and don’t do. [The opposite is kum v’asay- get up and do, an expression in law signifying action should be taken.] Yisro determined that his tshuva- repentance need be measure for measure as well. This meant he wouldn’t have to ‘join in’ with Israel but that as soon as they came by Midian, Yisro would use the opportunity to offer some worthwhile advice.

Then Yisro heard about Milchemes Amaleik. A kum v’asay if there ever was one! A nation not fearful about being invaded by Israel, not marked for battle or even a concern of their borders being traversed. They traveled 400 parsahs to wipe out Hashem’s chosen ones. Yisro made a kal v’chomer- a logical conclusion inferred from one law to another. If Amaleik was so willing and eager that they got up and came- kume v’asay- to do evil against Israel, than he, who is looking to do good, who is looking to do tshuva, kal v’chomer he should get up and do! So he got up and went.

This vort can be very nicely interwoven with one found in the Torah anthology, Shulchan Gavo’ah, mentioned in the name of a student of Rav Chaim of Velozhin, Rav Yosef Feimer of Slutsk. In Psalms 114, also one found in Hallel, we say, “Hayam ra’ah vayanos hayarden yisove l’achore” which literally means “The Sea saw and fled, the Jordan will turn back.” What did the Sea see that having seen it he saw he should flee? A Midrash says the Sea saw Rebbe Yishmael. What is his significance? Rebbe Yishmael is the Sage who gave us the 13 methods for Scriptural interpretations. The very first method is the kal v’chomer! What was the kal v’chomer based on? It’s right there in the Psalm. The sea saw that the Jordan was going to turn back, allowing Yehoshua to lead Bnei Yisrael across to Israel. The Sea said, “If the Jordan will do that for him, than kal v’chomer I, who have standing before me Yehoshua’s teacher, Moshe, I should certainly allow him to lead Bnei Yisrael across. Yisro heard about krias Yam Suf, the measure for measure & the kal v’chomer and about Milchemes Amaleik and he came to convert.

Along the lines of conversion, the Ohr Gedalyahu continued his vort with a Midrash recording Hashem’s words to Moshe as Yisro approached. “I brought him near and did not distance him, you also bring him near and do not distance him.” Moshe immediately went out to greet and convert Yisro. Did Moshe have any doubts?

In the time of King Solomon no converts were taken in because Israel was at such a high it couldn’t possibly be known if the conversion was for Hashem’s sake or for the individual’s sake. The Ohr Gedalyahu says [even after Amaleik cooled them off] Israel was not at a lower state than they were under King Solomon. It must have been they were not accepting converts. For this reason Hashem testified on Yisro’s behalf that He brought him close and Yisro’s intentions are only the best.

Now it’s our turn to hear the kal v’chomer. If Yisro, a gentile, was brought close to Hashem and at a time when getting close was limited, kal v’chomer, for the children of Avraham, Yitschak and Yaakov is it always possible to get close to Hashem, especially at such a time when it is so greatly desired!

A Gemorah in Pesachim says Hashem sent the Jewish people into exile in order to gather in the souls from the nations. A person does not plant a field of seeds unless he plans to harvest silo’s of produce. Hashem planted us amongst the nations to bring in the most distant souls with a connection to Israel. The Arizal asks that if we hadn’t sinned as we chose to, we would not have been sent into exile. What would have happened with the souls then? He answers that if the sanctity of Israel was that great we would have been a magnet that would have drawn in the souls, the sparks of holiness from wherever they were to be found. This can be the meaning of the words, “And Yisro heard”. He soul was connected and he was drawn to the desert.

Is stands, to reason, continues the Ohr Gedalyahu, that the two state of affairs are not exclusive. Even in exile the Jewish people can achieve levels of sanctity which act as a magnet and draws in souls from amongst the nations in which they are found and kal v’chomer our own distant brothers and sisters.

Rav Wolfson understands that Yisro heard about Krias Yam Suf and Milchemes Amaleik and he is holding by the opinions that it was after Mt. Sinai! To follow his approach we again have to look at Amaleik. What was their plan of attack? In Dvarim we see they attacked from behind! They struck at the stragglers, the weak and the faint. Rashi says those weak from sin. Those who did not fear Hashem and whom the Ananay Hakavode- Clouds of Glory expelled. Oy!

Whenever Bnei Yisrael traveled, the tribe of Dan was the last in the procession. Rav Wolfson explains that when Hashem desired the camp of Israel to move, the pillar of cloud in front of them moved. This signaled a first trumpet blast which told Israel to pack up. Another blast began the procession. When the Tribe of Dan heard the first blast of the trumpets, some of them said, “Relax, man. There are 550,000 other people that have to move first. Throw another mon burger on the grill.” Before they knew it they were outside of the Ananay Hakavode. But not that the expulsion from the protection of the Ananay Hakavode was a punishment! It was the consequence of their own actions! Last week’s parsha ended with the first telling of Amaleik and Hashem saying He will surely erase Amaleik from under the heavens. Hold this thought and hold onto your socks for this next one.

Last week we had a little vort about verse 4:3 which reads, "And Pharaoh says to Bnei Yisrael..." That's a pretty good trick since Pharaoh would be talking TO Bnei Yisrael AFTER they've left Egypt! Rashi says 'to' means ‘regarding’. The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel, however says, yes, Pharaoh IS talking TO sons of Israel. To 2 sons to be exact! Dasan and Aviram! They stayed behind!!

It was explained that the reason these two were not killed in the plague of darkness (with the other 4/5 of Bnei Yisrael who did not want to leave Egypt) was because they had tremendous merit for being the taskmasters who were beaten by the Egyptians while refusing to beat their fellow Jews. Dasan and Aviram were two of these taskmasters. They earned biiiiiig brownie points, as mentioned last week. That wasn’t all they earned. When they finally decided to leave Egypt, the Yam Suf split for them a second time!!!! (Woa! Someone’s sock just knocked over a vase.) 

Yisro heard the revelation at Har Sinai. Every Jewish soul who ever was, is or will be was there. And Yisro wasn’t! It’s too late! He finally finds what he’s spent his life in search of and he can do nothing about it. Then he hears about Kriyas Yam Suf and Milchemes Amaleik. Not the first Kriyas Yam Suf. The second!!! Not Amaleik’s war on the ejected Jews. Hashem’s war on Amaleik for attacking the ejected Jews!! Now Yisro says, “Wow! Look what Hashem does for His people! Even for the ones who are late coming! Even for the ones who fall behind?! How much does He love even those Jews who’s actions deny His dominion?! There must still be a chance for me!” And so he came and converted.

Hashem loves all His children and longs, so to speak, for each to come close to Him, to build on their relationship with Him. He will split seas for us! He will make our enemies, His enemies! But what is up to us is will Hashem love us protected or love us ejected. That choice is ours. 

18:7> “And Moshe went to out greet his father-in-law and he bowed and he kissed him and to his fellow man he asked him how he was and he brought him to his tent.” The Shiras Dovid brings the Targum Yonasan who translates this verse, “...and he [Moshe] kissed him and he converted him and to his fellow man he asked...” From where do we get that Yisro came to convert? The Pairush Yonasan, a commentary on the Targum, says that the he is focusing on the word rayayhu- his fellow man. Chazal say that the expression rayayhu in the Torah refers only to another Jew! It must be that Moshe converted him on the spot!

The Shiras David looks at the next word, vayishalu- he asked him. Moshe bowed, kissed, converted and then asked him how he was?! He didn’t take the five extra seconds to ask Yisro how he was and then convert him? No, he couldn’t! Yisro had just sent a message, “It’s me, Yisro, I’m coming to you and I’m with the wife and kids!” The Targum Yonasan translates even that verse as Yisro saying, “I’m coming to convert.” The Pairush Yonasan explains that that time the words “coming to you” are extra! Yisro was not heading for Eilat. Once he had come into the desert we can all agree a message of, “It’s me, with the family” would have been more than sufficient. “I’m coming to you” means to convert. Hashem testified regarding Yisro’s intentions. A Gemorah in Yevamos says that when a Goy accepts the yolk of Torah it is a mitsva to convert him immediately! Do not wait! Moshe didn’t.

Accepting the yoke of Torah. That’s what determines if a born Jew is acting Jewish or if a non-Jew will become Jewish. Our of an ideal Jew is an Eved Hashem- a servant of Hashem. One who bears the yoke of His master.  

The Shiras Dovid has explained many things for us behind the verses though he has a good question. Circumcision and immersion are necessary for conversion. One can’t be immersed in a mikvah till the circumcision has healed. The verses above may have included many things but a week of healing time is a little hard to squeeze in. The Shiras Dovid offers an answer. Yisro was a descendant of Keturah. (Hagar’s new name when she remarried Avraham after Sarah’s death.) It can be said that Yisro’s parents maintained the tradition of circumcision and so he may have just needed a drop of blood drawn as the bris. Then he could have immersed immediately.

My addition. Yoseph had the Egyptians circumcise themselves during the famine before they could buy food. It’s possible that since then Yisro had already been gemalt and, again, only needed the drop of blood drawn to enter the covenant with Hashem. And a bris is a covenant, not a surgical procedure. When the one side accepts the entire yoke of Torah only then will the Other side join in the covenant. Otherwise, it was just a reason to have a party.

20:1> “And Hashem spoke all these things saying.” This is the introduction to the 10 commandments. Rashi says from this verse we learn that Hashem said ALL 10 commandments at once and then they were repeated individually. There is a law in the Tur Shulchan Aruch that if one says the response “Yehay Shimay Rabbah...” of kaddish with all their might then Hashem will tear up any evil decrees against them.

The commentary on the Tur, the Beis Yoseph, says that “might”- koach has the gematria 28. “Yehay Shimay Rabbah...” is 28 letters long and our verse (20:1) is 28 letters long as well. [A Rabbi Yichezkel Fox adds that the first verse of the Torah is also 28 letters long and all three verse are 7 words long!] The Beis Yoseph suggests that those who are a little too reserved to say “Yehay Shimay Rabbah...” with all their physical/vocal might can say it with the numeric might. While saying it, have in mind this verse from which we learn all 10 commandments, the 10 Commandments in which are Sages say are hints to all 613 mitsvos. The entire yoke of Torah. Think about Hashem, our relationship with Him, with our parents, with Shabbos, with our fellow Jews. It might be easier to scream!

A public service announcement, which can only help with the above [and which may catch many people off guard]. I just recently found out the proper way to read! After reading and speaking Hebrew for 20 years (being an Ashkenazic Jew and having been taught in school Sfardic customs) I had just gotten around to correcting my mispronunciations. Differentiating my savs from tavs and my komatses from pasachs! [When I transliterate I use the letter ‘a’ as in banana and let people read the way they want.] Proud of my accomplishment I lead a minyan in prayer and afterwards the gabbai said, “Yosher ko’ach! But, I’m afraid we can’t ask you any more.” [Don’t worry, He was and is a friend.] I asked why not. He said that place is very particular to have a chazan who reads properly- and I don’t! What else is there?!?! Those funny little dots and lines which speckle many a siddur have a purpose. The point out shvah nahs and accenting! Who would have figured? So what had for decades been (Uppercase is the accent), “YehaAy shmAY RAbbah mivarAch l’Olam u’l’Ol’may olmAya” is supposed to be pronounced “YehAy shimAy rabOh mivorAch l’olAm u’l’olimAy olimayoh.” It certainly did make me want to scream.

Have a screamin’ good Shabbot Shalom!

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