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Parashat Yitro


The pasuk in Mishlei states beautifully, "The door revolves around its hinge, and a lazy person around his bed." How many of us can identify with this passage! A parent wakes his child in the morning to get ready for school. Sure, he's getting up; his eyes even open and his head rises. Two minutes later he's dressed. But a half-hour later, he's complaining why no one woke him. Fifty minutes later he promises that he'll get up in just one minute. True, he must have been awake to utter this piece of mumbling; but of course, these moments was just a sudden instant of consciousness which passed through his deep, sound slumber.

King Shelomoh described this phenomenon through a proverb, as he does throughout Mishlei, the Book of Proverbs: "The door revolves around its hinge, and a lazy person around his bed." Nothing moves more than a door - it opens and closes dozens of times each hour. However, it is stuck by its hinge. It can revolve this way and that way for hours, but it will never move from its place. Similarly, the indolent person can mumble, make promises, toss and turn, even change positions. But he can never leave his bed; he is stuck to it.

One question, however, begs our attention. This illustration is so familiar to us all, so real and typical of day-to-day life. Did we need the great wisdom of Shelomoh to open our eyes to this reality? Did the wisest of all men require for this insight his level of "ru'ah hakodesh," with which the entire Book of Mishlei was written?

It would seem, then, that there lies beneath the surface a profound message; not only is the door just a metaphor, but so is the lazy person. Thus the connection to our parashah: "Yitro heard..." Rashi explains, "What news did he hear and thus came? The splitting of the sea and the war against Amalek." All the commentaries ask, didn't everybody hear about the splitting of the sea? Did the people not exclaim in their song of praise after the miracle, "Nations heard and trembled, fear gripped the inhabitants of Peleshet. Then the generals of Edom were petrified, terror gripped the powers of Moav, and all the inhabitants of Canaan melted in fear." What then does it mean, "Yitro heard"? Everyone heard!

The answer is, that although, clearly, everyone heard, only he heard "and thus came." What about the rest of them? They reacted like the indolent child in Mishlei - they muttered something, opened their eyes for a moment, and then turned over and went back to sleep.

Many have wondered how Yitro earned the privilege of having a parashah in the Torah named after him. The answer, perhaps, relates to the aforementioned idea. Someone who hears and then picks himself up and does something about it - such a person is, indeed, deserving of praise and distinction. And us? Perhaps before we start criticizing the inhabitants of Peleshet, the generals of Edom, or the leaders of Moav and Canaan, let's take a good hard look into ourselves. How many of us hear and then "come," and react accordingly? We all recognize the eternal truth. We know the importance of setting aside time for Torah study, that this is the first question asked of us upon our passing into the next world, and that no one loses on account of Torah study; we can only gain. So many people realize all this - but how many of them actually pick up and attend Torah classes?

Everyone knows of the prohibition of talking during the services in Bet Kenesset. Everybody recognizes the sublime sanctity of the synagogue, that it constitutes a "miniature Bet Hamikdash," thus requiring awe and reverence. So many of us have seen the sharp, frightening words of the Zohar regarding the severity of the prohibition of talking during the services. Sure, everyone knows this, but that's all - they just know it.

If this is true, then, aren't so many of us included, Heaven forbid, in Hazal's comment, "Whoever learns with no intention to observe, it is better that he never have been created"? Clearly, we are not. We all learned with the intention to observe, to fulfill, to improve. But, like that door, we are bound by the hinge, we cannot break loose.

For good reason, then, the giving of the Torah is situated in the parashah named after Yitro, the one who not only heard, but picked himself up and came.


The Tallest Trees in the World

In northern California, along a strip of 750 kilometers by the coast, are found the giant sequoia trees, which have distinguished themselves with their bright green color, their strength and longevity. The trunk is tall and straight. Its perimeter can be as large as about five meters, whereas its height reaches as tall as ninety meters or more. Although its bark is essentially light brown, the color changes as the trees grows older. Its branches grow in straight angels from the trunk. Some older sequoias, however, have no branches in their lower thirty to sixty meters. Due to its incredible ability to withstand rotting and other harmful agents, it is very useful for building. In fact, one giant tree provides enough wood for fifty average-sized homes. One of the great wonders of the Creator is that this enormous tree can emerge from a tiny seed, just about 2.5 centimeters in size. In order to get a sense of how large these trees really are, consider the incident of one sequoia which was cut down and left a stump so large that there was enough room for a piano, a seat for the player, and even more room for people to dance around. Many sequoias have suffered damage on account of storms, fires and lightening. One tree, which was damaged in a fire, had a hole which served as a haven for fifty people, and another tree had a tunnel going through it, large enough for a car to easily drive through.

These giant trees, their enormous dimensions, their height and width testify in most dramatic fashion to the greatness of the Creator who brought into existence such wonders. When talking about height in reference to the human being, height is, indeed, admirable. But what must interest a Jew is not physical height, which cannot be changed anyway, but one's spiritual height, which depends upon the effort he invests. Many giants of the spirit who emerged as major, influential forces did not stand out with any form of physical height whatsoever. Yet, masses of people followed them and looked up to them. No Jew shall ever write himself off by saying, "What am I, and what is my life worth?" or "I won't succeed anyway, so why even try?" To the contrary, everyone must try the best he can; no one expects, or demands of, him to complete everything. One who opens the slightest opening - who takes the initiative - the Almighty is guaranteed to assist him, and enlarge that opening beyond what the individual ever imagined.


Father and Son (1)

I heard the following story from someone who himself had heard it from a reliable source, an individual who saw this story written in an ancient book called, "Hachnasat Orhim" ("Inviting Guests"), found in the library in Vienna.

Two brothers once lived in the same city, and they supported themselves selling drinks in a store they inherited from their father. Both brothers were pious and upright. However, whereas the older excelled in his pure fear of God, his piety and proficiency in the works of "mussar" and the "hidden," mystical areas of the Torah, the younger brother earned his distinction through his diligent study of the Talmud and halachah. The two lived peacefully and harmoniously together, and with each other's help they successfully managed the store which supported them well. During their spare time, they would both study Torah, each one following his own, respective interest. The older brother pursued his mystical studies, while the younger brother studied halachah.

During their younger years, when their children were still small, their livelihood supported them quite well and they felt no financial pressure whatsoever. As time progressed, however, their needs increased, their expenses rose each year, but their income remained constant. The store no longer supported them with a surplus; it provided merely with what they needed. However, the two did not pay much attention, as their minds were focused on their respective studies.

The time came when the oldest daughter of the older brother reached marriageable age. She was betrothed to a fine, suitable young man and a date was set for the wedding. As the wedding-day approached, the expenses grew dramatically, in alarming fashion. The family needed money for an appropriate dowry, fine clothing for Shabbat and the week, summer and winter, not to mention housing and furniture. But the father was occupied in his studies, and paid little attention to the rising costs. But the man's brother sensed the pressure building, and he anticipated the potential crisis. Even if the family managed to raise enough money for this great occasion, she was but the first child. She had many fine sisters after her, and the older brother, too, had many children to eventually marry off. He thus decided to sit and discuss these matters with his brother, and he even had a plan to propose.

To be continued...


"And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a sacred nation"

The Ramban explains that a heavenly angel is appointed over each nation. A nation collapses only after the Almighty first defeats the corresponding angel in Heaven. The Jewish people, however, have no such corresponding angel other than Hashem Himself. Thus, the pasuk states, "Behold, the Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers. Hashem is your Guardian, Hashem is your shadow on your right side"!

"And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a sacred nation"

Rabbi Yaakov Ba'al Haturim zs"l writes that if Benei Yisrael had not committed the sin of the golden calf, they would have all been "kohanim gedolim" (high priests). In the future, though, this stature will be restored, as the pasuk states (Yeshayahu 11), "You will be called 'the priests of Hashem.'"

"And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a sacred nation"

Rabbi Ovadyah Seforno zs"l explains that this pasuk serves as a continuation of the previous pasuk: "You shall be for Me a special nation from all other nations," meaning, Benei Yisrael will be dear and beloved from all other nations. How does this happen? Through our becoming a "kingdom of priests." The kohanim were the teachers of Torah, as the pasuk states, "They will teach Your laws to Yaakov, Your Torah to Israel."

Similarly, Benei Yisrael are to teach all of humanity the principles of monotheism and the obligations of serving the One God. Indeed, this will be our national destiny in the very near future, when the final redemption unfolds, when we will see the fulfillment of the pasuk, "For Torah shall come forth from Ssiyon, and the Word of Hashem from Jerusalem."

"And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a sacred nation"

This pasuk appears as part of Hashem's introduction to the giving of the Torah. Rabbenu Behaye zs"l explains based on Hazal's listing of the three "crowns" which exist in the world: the crowns of Torah, priesthood and kingship. This pasuk teaches us that one who accepts the Torah and adorns himself with this crown of Torah, then he will be "a kingdom - priests." Meaning, he will be superior to those wearing the crown of kingship, "For only through Me to kings reign," and to those wearing the crown of priesthood, as Hazal comment, that Torah is greater even than the kohen gadol who enters the "Kodesh Hakodashim" on Yom Kippur.

"And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a sacred nation"

The Abarbanel zs"l sees in this pasuk an answer to the powerful question, don't all the missvot, restrictions and strict guidelines transform the person into an indentured servant of sorts? The answer is that to the contrary, they free a person from the chains of his evil inclination and desires, transforming him into a king who wields control over himself and his wants. Thus, Hashem informs us immediately prior to our receiving of the Torah, that through the Torah we become a "kingdom of priests." True, priests serve and work. But, this service is characterized by the element of freedom and kingship, as Hazal comment - "Who are the kings? The rabbis."


Rabbi Ovadyah of Bartenura zs"l

What Rashi's commentary is to the Humash and Gemara, Rabbi Ovadyah of Bartenura's commentary is to the mishnah. His comments are clear, concise, profound and comprehensible. Anyone studying the mishnah makes use of his indispensable work. In fact, many scholars who have mastered all areas of the Torah have written complex works on his commentary and have discussed his words with awe and reverence.

Rabbi Ovadyah was born around the year 5205 in the northern Italian city of Bartenura. His family name was "yarei," which translates as "fear," and some have suggested that the name evolves from the pasuk regarding the prophet Ovaadyah, "Your servant has feared Hashem from his youth." He studied under Mahari Kolon zs"l in Montova and, after first serving as a rabbi in his hometown, he became the rabbi of Kastilo, Italy. His wife passed away when he was forty years old, at which point he decide to move to Erets Yisrael.

His trip took over two years, as all the communities through which he passed asked him to stay and deliver speeches, and some pleaded with him to be their rabbi. But his mind was made up, and on 13 Nissan, 5248 he reached the gates of Yerushalayim. The Radbaz zs"l writes, "He became the head of all the rabbis of Jerusalem, and all the scholars of France, Spain and Ashkenaz sat submissively before him. The man was very great, and the entire land was irrigated by his word, and no one lifted his hand besides him; from the edges of the earth people sought him and never violated his word. Even Egypt and all other lands would follow his decree, and I heard that he had killed the wicked with the words of his mouth. He was most humble and unassuming, and all his words were pleasant. His mind was inclined towards other people, and all nations praised him and said, this cannot be a human being" (from a letter of his student).

The great rabbi proudly raised the banner of Torah in Jerusalem and taught Torah to his students who came from the surrounding lands, even from Italy. Upon his death, he was buried "in a cave in the lower mountain next to the Shiloah spring in Yerushalayim."


A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

By Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Da'at

Chapter 4: The Laws of Washing One's Hands in the Morning
continued from last week

Those Obligated to Wash

There exists no distinction whatsoever between adults and minors with regard to the laws involving food which came into contact with hands which had not been washed in the morning.

If a gentile's hands came in contact with food, there is no need whatsoever to be stringent, and the food may be eaten, even "lechatehilah."

One who leaves the bathroom must be careful not to touch any food or beverage before washing his hands. However, if his hands did come in contact with food or drink before being washed, the food or drink is not prohibited. When possible, the food should be rinsed three times before being eaten.

One who washed his hands in the morning properly but then touched the hands of someone who did not, he should preferably wash his hands again, without a berachah.

Washing Into a Utensil, and the Water After Washing

One should wash his hands in the morning only into a utensil. The reason appears in the Zohar (Parashat Vayeishev, 184b): Rabbi Shimon spoke and said, "Come and see the inner secret of this matter, for there is no one who does not experience a degree of death at night, and the evil spirit rests on his body...But when he washes his hands properly, he is sanctified and considered holy. And how must he be sanctified? He must have one utensil on the bottom, and one on the top, in order that he be sanctified from that utensil on top, and the lower utensil (i.e., to which the water falls after rinsing his hands) remains in its impure state. Thus, one utensil receives the impurity and the other receives sanctity - one is blessed whereas the other is cursed. This water should not be left in the house, in order that no one approach it. The forces of impurity collect in this water, and one may be harmed from these impure waters."

In light of this, one should not use the water used for washing one's hands in the morning. Furthermore, it should not be left in the house or anywhere else where people may encounter it.

One may wash from a faucet, since the water goes into the sink and down the drain, which then goes straight to the ground. Preferably, though, one should rinse the faucet after washing his hands in the morning, before the faucet is used for dishes or fruits.


Yitro arrived in the Jewish camp and meets Mosheh, his son-in-law, the trustworthy "shepherd," the one who gave us the Torah. Yitro observed how Mosheh sat to judge the people from morning to evening. "Mosheh's father-in-law said to him, 'You will surely wither away, both you and this nation with you. For this matter is too great for you, you cannot do it by yourself. And now, listen to me, I will offer you some advice, and God will be with you...'" Yitro thus proceeded to suggest that Mosheh establish a network of judges, "and it will be, that they will bring to you the difficult matter, and all smaller matters they will decide. Thus, it will be easier for you, and you will be able to withstand." Mosheh followed this advice, with the approval of the Almighty.

All this is quite familiar. But the Rebbe of Kotzk zs"l adds that Yitro opened his words by saying, "Listen to me, I will give you some advice." Said the Rebbe of Kotzk, "Listen to me" - this is the advice! Many people offer many different suggestions for many different circumstances, questions, problems and choices. But there exists one, overarching piece of advice - "Listen to me," adherence to the words of our Torah leaders, to the counsel of the scholars of the generation. We have been promised, "Whoever seeks the counsel of the elders succeeds." This promise applies to all types of problems and decisions - private, communal and national. "Listen to me, I will give you some advice" - this is the best advice for every situation!


Once, as the Maharil Diskin zs"l sat in the Bet Midrash, a policeman suddenly entered the room and turned to the gabbai. After the two exchanged a few words, they walked together up the stairs to the Aron Kodesh. As the gabbai pulled open the "parochet," everyone in the room stood reverently. The gabbai took out a Sefer Torah, kissed it warmly and handed it over to the policeman.

This was the first time that the great rabbi - who had assumed his rabbinical post in Brisk just a short while earlier - had seen such a thing. He turned to the gabbai and asked, "What was that all about?"

The gabbai, who was already accustomed to this regular occurrence, responded innocently, "A Jew was forced to take an oath in the courthouse." This was the practice, that a Jew who needed to take an oath in court would do so with a Torah scroll. The rabbi hurried over to the policeman and grabbed the Torah from his hands. Tears falling down his cheek, he kissed the Torah and returned it to its place in the Aron Kodesh. He asked the gabbai for the keys and hid them in his pocket. He pulled back the parochet and kissed it gently. He then turned to the policeman and remarked, "Please tell the judge that the rabbi prohibited carrying the Torah scroll."

Not an hour passed when the policeman returned. "The judge requests that the rabbi come before him," he said. This was an order, even if it was presented in a polite manner. And so, the rabbi joined the policeman and together they made their way to the courthouse. The rabbi walked in and stood before the judge.

"The honor of his holiness is the rabbi of the city?" he asked, as was customary to refer to clergymen in Czarist Russia.

"Yes, I am," answered the rabbi.

"The policeman tells me that his holiness seized from him the Torah scroll which he was instructed to bring to the courthouse."

"Yes," answered the rabbi.

"His holiness is certainly aware of the severity of tampering with the justice system. Perhaps we can ask him why he did such a thing."

"As the Jewish rabbi," said the rabbi, "I am responsible for maintaining the proper respect for our sacred articles. Perhaps I may ask your honor a question. In the treasury of His Majesty the Czar is kept the crown of Peter the Great, a crown made entirely of pure gold. If your honor was in charge of the Czar's treasury, and a defendant agreed to swear only on this crown, would you grant the policeman permission to take the crown to the courthouse?"

"Certainly not," replied the judge. "This crown is removed only for a coronation ceremony, and even then it is accompanied by intense security." "And what if the court sent an expert security team and offered a collateral - say, the value of the gold of the crown?"

The judge was infuriated by the question. "The value of this crown far exceeds it gold content. It is the most precious artifact in the entire nation of Russia, situated in the heart of the capital. No one would dare take it for any defendant!"

Now it was the rabbi's turn to get emotional. "If so, then certainly your honor could understand what the Torah scroll means for us - it is our most precious artifact. Hundreds of thousands of people live according to its words, and countless Jews have given their lives for it throughout history. For the sake of this scroll thousands have been tortured, burnt and murdered. How could we allow it to be desecrated, to have it taken back and forth for the sake of some defendant?"

A tense silence overtook the courthouse, until the judge spoke feebly, "From now on, no Jew will be required to swear by this sacred scroll." The gentile judge eventually understood that this sacred book, by whom masses of Jews live their lives and have surrendered their lives, deserves special honor. However, we must remember that the honor of the Sefer Torah flows from within us, from the divine commandments found therein. Thus, if we must afford this degree of honor to the Torah scroll itself, how much more honor must we show towards its laws, according to which Jews have lived for so many generations, and for which so many have sacrificed everything, including their own lives. How much respect, then, do we owe the missvot of the Torah, the laws which we accepted upon ourselves at that momentous occasion, at Har Sinai, with fire and the great sound of the shofar!

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