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On the Parshah: Yisro Heard
The verse states that after "Yisro heard," he came to the Jews at Mt. Sinai.
The sages ask: "What was it that Yisro heard that inspired him to come?" And they answer: "He heard about two things: the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and the war against Amalek" (Zevachim 116).
This raises three questions. First, why should he have been impressed by these two miracles in particular? Second, why should that have led him to come to the Jews? And finally, why are we told all this? Is "the perfect Torah of Hashem" some kind of storybook?
It seems to me that this passage has a universal ethical lesson for every individual, for all times.
It is known that a human being is composed of the physical and the form: the body and soul.
Our soul is constantly aflame to cling to our Maker. But our physicality interrupts that clinging with its desires for physical things, such as sex and food. These too are a supernal necessity, bringing forth holy sparks and the like.
However, at certain times, the form can grow stronger than the physical to cling to G-d.
These two states are referred to in the verse, "the living angels raced forth and returned" (Yechezkel 1). The two states [of the rule of the body and of the spirit] are called, respectively, "smallness" and "greatness." ...
The influence of our physical being creates an obstruction between ourselves and G-d. And when we sin, an additional barrier is formed. Then the physical grows stronger than the form and seeks additional luxuries, more than a person needs in order to sanctify himself.
The verse states, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." The sages explain: "Sanctify yourself with that which is allowed to you" (Yevamos 2a). We have to withhold ourselves from anything additional.
The word "additional," yitron, has the same root as the name Yisro.
Yisro represents the state of withholding ourselves from such an "additional," [unnecessary and spiritually harmful way of being.]
To remove the obstruction of our physicality and the barrier of our sins, we need the [strategies] represented by the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and the war against Amalek.
[In regard to the obstruction of our physicality,] the book Alelot Ephraim (p. 33) comments on the verse, "Moshe could not come to the Tent of Meeting, for the cloud rested upon it" (Shemos 40). That is, the cloud rested upon the Tabernacle. But Alelot Ephraim homiletically translates the word "it" as "him."
That is, the cloud rested upon Moshe. A cloudy heaviness and darkness of physicality rested upon Moshe. In other words, his physicality interposed between him and the light of his intelligence. This state lasted until "He called to Moshe"--that is, until G-d fashioned an avenue upon which Moshe could come to the counsel of G-d.
Similarly, at the Sea of Reeds, [the Jews were caught in physicality]. G-d split the "sea of wisdom" for them. He made them an avenue, opening the conduits of wisdom to such an extent that all the waters in the world--all seven domains of wisdom-- were split (Mechilta Beshalach).
After this avenue has been made, our souls can cling to our Maker in the light of wisdom.
"But when they encamped in Refidim, Amalek came." Our sages explain that in Refidim, the Jews grew lax in learning Torah (Bechorot 5a)--which is a sin. Why did Amalek come? The answer is that Amalek represents the evil inclination. (It is for that reason that, the Alshich explains, the war against Amalek is "a war for every generation." Every new generation must struggle with the evil inclination, which is as necessary as our good inclination, for it makes possible our free will (see there).)
At that point, the avenue was blocked. But "when Yehoshua weakened Amalek," the physical became again subjugated to the form.
[And so overcoming Amalek represents overcoming the obstacle of the influence of our sins.
[Thus, when we hold ourselves back from unnecessary pleasures--which is represented by Yisro--we overcome the two obstacles that divide us from G-d. We overcome our physicality, which is represented by the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, and we overcome our sins, which is represented by the victory over Amalek.]
It is for this reason that the sages link Yisro's coming to
the Jews with these two events.
"I have commanded the ravens to feed you" (Kings I 17:4). [So did G-d tell the prophet Eliyahu.] This is what generosity is all about.
When we start acting generously, we have to break our cruelty and transform it into compassion.
That is our service of generosity. Some people are naturally compassionate, as a result of which they give charitably. But that is not their service. There are, after all, animals that are also naturally compassionate.
The service of generosity is to break our cruelty and turn it into compassion.
"I have commanded the ravens to feed you." The raven is naturally cruel. Yet in order to feed Eliyahu, it became compassionate.
In the same way, we have to be generous.
Whoever has become generous and giving first had to pass through this stage: "I have commanded the ravens."
We have to break our initial cruelty and transform it into
compassion and charitable giving.
Rav Kook's student, Baruch Dovdavni, related the following story.
In the last weeks of Rav Kook's life, Rav Kook was lying on his sick-bed, contorted in his terrible pains. The cancer that eventually took his life had already harmed him considerably.
In the midst of that, a woman entered his room. She told Rav Kook that her daughter had gone suddenly insane and that the physicians said that the girl could not be adequately treated unless she were taken immediately to Vienna. With a great deal of effort, the woman had managed to obtain a passport. But the Italian consul was withholding the visa until the formal arrangements, which would take another few days, would be carried out.
Rav Kook immediately wrote a letter to the consul on this woman's behalf, but it did not help.
And so, despite the pleading of his doctors and the outcries of his family, Rav Kook himself went to the Italian consulate, his bandages wrapped about his midsection and suffering great pains. When the consul saw him, he was shocked. He knew that Rav Kook was terribly ill. The newspapers were printing bulletins regarding on his grave medical condition. Yet now Rav Kook himself was standing here before him.
As can be imagined, the consul agreed immediately to Rav
Kook's request and presented the visa on the spot.
The Land of Israel
The more difficult you find it to tolerate the atmosphere
outside the Holy Land and the more you are aware of the unclean
spirit of an unclean land, then the more have you intimately
absorbed the holiness of the Land of Israel.
The imaginative faculty of the land of Israel is lucid and clear, clean and pure, and suitable for the appearance of divine truth...
On the other hand, the imaginative faculty in the lands of
the nations is turbid, mixed with darkness, in the shadows of
impurity and corruption.
Adam Was Not Allowed To Eat Meat
G-d told Adam: "Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and all animals that crawl upon the earth" (Bereishis 1:28).
No one in possession of intelligence and knowledge can doubt that this rulership was not that of a harsh master acting cruelly toward his nation and servants, with the intent of attaining the personal desire of his hardened heart. Heaven forbid that such an ugly slave law should be sealed in the eternal seal within the universe of G-d, Who is good to all, Whose compassion extends to all His beings (Psalms 145:9), and Who has stated, "The world is built upon kindness" (ibid. 89:3).
This is particularly so since the Torah has testified that at one time all of mankind attained the strength to rise to a very high ethical level.
G-d told Adam, "Behold, I have given you every tree that brings forth seed to eat." The sages explain that this verse demonstrates that Adam was not allowed to eat meat (Sanhedrin 59a; Rashi, Ibn Ezra and Ramban on Bereishis 11:29; and Abarbanel ibid.).
Only after the flood were the children of Noach allowed to
eat meat: "Like the leafy vegetable have I given you everything"
Is it conceivable that an ethical favor of such great
magnitude, which already existed as an inheritance for mankind,
should be lost forever? In regard to such matters, the verse
states, "I will lift my thoughts to the distance and to my Maker
will I ascribe justice" (Iyov 35:3). The future will broaden our
steps and ultimately clarify this complex question.
To Greet Moshiach
When the holy Rabbi Israel of Rizhin lived in Sadegura, two Jewish soldiers from the Russian army came to him.
Giving him kvitlech (notes), each with a pidyon (payment) of seven rubles, they wept before the holy rabbi. They told him that they are forced to desecrate Shabbos, eat unkosher food, and transgress the holy Torah.
The holy rabbi stood in thought for a few minutes. Then he
said, "Sertzu--my heart. Take back the money, and I promise you
that when Moshiach comes, you will be the first, together with
the greatest tzaddikim, to greet him."
I Wasn't Thinking
All translations and original material. Copyright 1998