Yisro – How to Appreciate Every Jew

This week’s Torah portion of Yisro has the most important event of the Jewish People, Matan Torah – Hashem giving us the Torah on Mount Sinai. Before the Torah was given to the Jewish People, Hashem made a proposal to them, “You have seen what I did to Egypt, and that I have borne you on eagle’s wings and brought you to Me. And now, if you hearken well to My voice and observe my covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all people, for Mine is the entire world. You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Shemos 19:4-6).

The Maalos Hamiddos, by Rav Yechiel ben Yekusiel ben Binyamin the doctor, who lived over 700 years ago, uses this as a basis of showing how Hashem loves the Jews and therefore each Jew should love his fellow Jew. The question is why this is so and how does this help one love his fellow Jew?

The Maalos Hamiddos says, “And just as one is obligated to love His Creator, so to each man has an obligation to love his friend. This is because the Jews are beloved by Hashem more than all the other nations. And because of this love He calls them His children, as it says ‘You are children to Hashem your G-D’ (Devarim 14:1)… And because of this love they are called kings and holy as it says ‘And you will be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation etc.’ (Shemos 19:6). The Rabbis (Vayikra Rabba 24:8) made a parable about this of the citizens of a country who made 3 crowns for the king. What did the king do? He put one crown on his head and two on his sons’ head. So to every single day the angels serenade the king with 3 expressions of holiness as they say, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the G-D of Legions, His honor fills the entire land’ (Yeshaya 6:3). What does Hashem do? He crowns Himself with one and gives the other two to the Jews, as it says, ‘And they will declare Me holy and you will be holy (in plural) because I am holy’ (Vayikra 11:44). The Jews get two “holies” and Hashem one. And because of this love Hashem gave them the Torah which is a potion for life and as long as they are all involved in it no nation can control them. This is a parable, told by the Sages, likened to a king who had an only son from his queen. He also had children from concubines. The king sensed that the children of the concubines were jealous of his son and sought to harm him. The king said to himself, if G-D forbid it will happen what they wish to do to my son, what will be with my kingdom? What did the king do? He got up and brought his son close to him and put an amulet around his neck, so even if he is captured by them, they can’t hurt him. He also put together a kit of food, drink, clothes, medical equipment and even a wagon, so that no poison could cause damage. So to as long as all the Jews are involved in Torah learning, no nation is able to control them.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Maalos Hamiddos goes on for another page and a half proving in even more detail how much Hashem loves the Jews. Why is this a reason for each Jew to love his fellow Jew? It can’t be because the Torah says each Jew has an obligation to love his fellow Jew like himself, for he mentions that later, “Since Hashem loved the Jews so much, each Jew must then love each and every Jew like himself, as Moshe warns the Jews, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Vayikra 19:18)”…” Rather, it must be that Hashem is telling us there is a separate obligation for a Jew to love his fellow Jew because Hashem loves us. This seems to be because we have an obligation to emulate Hashem, so just as Hashem is merciful we should be merciful, just as He is gracious we should be gracious, so too just as Hashem loves the Jews we should love our fellow Jew. If that is the case, then why didn’t the Maalos Hamiddos just say that? Why did he go into so much detail about how much Hashem loves us?

The point was for us to analyze how much Hashem loves the Jews and to appreciate how to understand to love our fellow Jew. Let’s analyze the two examples from the Torah portion. Hashem could have only considered us servants of Him, and being servants of the king is pretty important; but how does one servant relate to a fellow servant? However, now that Hashem views us as his children and like kings, that means each one of us are royalty, princes and princesses to the King Of All Kings. Indeed, He is very valiant and treats us with even more respect than Himself by crowning us with two crowns of holiness and Himself with just one. Most people prefer to associate with important people because they are of higher stature and status, so now it’s easier and more realistic to be able to love such special people as ourselves. We aren’t just servants of Hashem we are princes and princesses, people who we would want to associate with and love.

Furthermore, Hashem out of His ultimate love and care created a forcefield around us that we can use at will to protect ourselves from bad influences and control by the outside world. The fact that Hashem went out of His way to make such a thing for His children is quite amazing and unique. It shows how much He cares for His children and again, the realization that each one of us was given this medical kit, or forcefield to protect ourselves makes us very special. People want to appreciate positively special people, especially if we all have the same objectives and goals, all together, which makes us unique. Therefore we see how Hashem has made it easier for us to love our fellow Jew.

Yisro – The Glue of Society: Honoring Parents

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One of the mitzvos enumerated in the Ten Commandments, listed in this week’s Torah portion of Yisro is honoring one’s parents. The Torah states, “Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that Hashem, your G-D, is giving you” (Shemos 20:12).
The Ralbag learns two lessons from this mitzva. The first lesson is that one should respect his or her parents, as it says, “Honor your father and your mother.” The lesson in this mitzva has to do with one’s character development; we are supposed to honor our parents because of the incredible assistance they have given us in our lives, and the fact that they guided us towards perfection when we accept mussar, practical lessons, from them.

The second lesson also has to do with character development, and it is to inform us that when there is a loss in the order of the communal household, there will then also be a loss in communal society. It will bring the destruction of society against the better nature of its citizens. For this reason, the Torah says that if people put effort into this matter, of fixing the home, that will lead to long days on the land that Hashem bequeaths to us. This follows, that if the communal home is not fixed in this manner, then there won’t be long days on the land, against the better interest set up by the citizens of the country. About this the prophet said to the Jews, “Father and mother are held light in you;” (Yechezkel 22:7) to teach them that they were deserving of the enemy coming and exiling them from the land. (Click Here for Hebrew text.)
We have seen the debacle of Socialism and the failed original methodology of the Kibbutz movement, involving trying to make everyone equal. They would separate the children from parents at a very early age in order that children would live alone amongst each other, separate from their parents, as equals, being raised and taken care of by the kibbutz. In order that everyone would have an equal share in everything.

Philosophies like those have destroyed societies and are even an integral part of the breakdown of society even today. But why is this so? Aren’t they doing it for the betterment of the world, for equality? What is wrong with that?
Let us say even if there was Jewish life that strictly kept the Torah, respected the Rabbis and elders, but did not show proper respect, or any respect to their parents; what would be wrong with that? They would still be observing the Torah and receiving guidance from Rabbis, teachers, and mentors whom they respect. What’s the big deal if they would not respect their parents?

However, it would seem that not properly respecting parents was a cause for the exile by the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash. It must be that if one doesn’t show proper respect and gratitude towards the people who brought you into the world, having the most intimate and personal impact on your life, the ones that raised you, cared, nurtured and guided you into who you are today, then it will have a ripple effect across the entire society, and a breakdown of society will occur.

Even going against the system Hashem has put into place, of parents raising their children and children reciprocating by honoring their parents, if that system isn’t in place and different systems are developed for the “betterment” of society and the world, in the end they will fail. Because Hashem in His ultimate knowledge and foresight understands that everything starts in the home and if it does not start from there, from those who brought you into this world, then there will be a lack of respect, honor and gratitude for anyone, which will create chaos throughout society.

Yisro – Individual Attention

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This week’s dvar Torah is built upon a shmuz Rav Moshe Chait zt”l, the venerable Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim, gave over 20 years ago.

Parshas Yisro is one of the most important Torah portions because it discusses kabbalas haTorah, the acceptance of the Torah by the Jewish people. The reason why it is so important is because it is one of the foundations of the Jewish people and one of the bases for the future of the Jews.

Chaza”l refer to this event as ma’amad Har Sinai, literally, standing at Mount Sinai. Just standing there was inspirational as we say in Dayeinu in the Haggada on Pesach, “If He had brought us to Mount Sinai and had not given us the Torah it would have been for us sufficient (dayeinu).” Just the fire and the voices heard and seen at Mount Sinai could inspire a person to come close to Hashem.

Everyone was at ma’amad Har Sinai! Everyone heard even future generations!

Why did Hashem begin the Ten Commandments in singular form, I am Hashem your (singular) G-D? In fact the Pesiksa DiRabasi of Rav Kahana (21:14) says there might be a possible defense or excuse for why part of the Jewish people succumbed to the sin of the golden calf, for Hashem said in singular form “I am Hashem your G-D” and perhaps He was only speaking to Moshe, therefore from then after Hashem said “I am Hashem your (plural) G-D,” (as He said in the last pasuk of the paragraph about tzitzis that we say in our shema every day); to be sure everyone felt they were warned. Since Hashem was speaking to the entire Jewish people at Har Sinai, why then was the Torah given in singular form?

To teach us that every single Jew must say Hashem gave the Ten Commandments to me, and I must preserve them. One should not say the Torah was given for everyone else. Hashem had to speak to the Jewish people who were at a level of prophesy to convey the message that Hashem expects me to observe the Torah, and if it is not observed by me then there is no Torah.
One could say, I believe there is a Jewish Nation and a Torah but who needs it. Man’s inclination says he wants someone else to observe the Torah; he doesn’t want responsibility. That attitude will cause destruction to himself and the Torah. It will cause a negative effect to all of creation.

The Pesiksa Rabasi of Rav Kahana (21:6) describes kabbalas haTorah with a parable to a realistic painting of a face; the eyes seem to be looking at you whichever corner of the room you are at. The eyes are looking at every single individual in that room at one time. So too, kaviyachol, Hashem had to speak to every single person at Har Sinai personally “looking at them straight in the eye” to impress upon them the need to observe the Torah. The point is that you must obligate yourself; don’t think it is not for me. The acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai is virtually meaningless if not thought of in these terms. A person could understand, review, and even do mussar bihispa’alus, getting an emotional charge or inspiration, connecting the brain with the heart on this subject, but still not think it is for me.

Gadlus Ha’adam
, the greatness of man is inherent in every person. Hashem placed His Righteousness in man but gave man free choice to make calculations of how to feel and act. If a person does not make the right calculations, then only he will cause his own demise.

Yisro – Belief in Hashem and Believing in Yourself

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In this week’s Torah portion of Yisro, Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Har Sinai. The entire Torah was embodied in what’s called the Ten Commandments written on the tablets. The first of the mitzvos written on the tablets is: “I am Hashem Your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage” (Shemos 20:2).
The medrish, Tanna Dvei Eliyahu (Eliyahu Rabba, perek 26) dissects each phrase of this mitzvah and teaches us a very novel teaching, which is more than just belief in Hashem but an application of belief in Hashem emboldening us to make a positive impact on the world.: “’G-d spoke all these words, to respond: I am Hashem, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.’ Blessed is The Place Blessed is He who chose the Jews over all the non-Jews and acquired them completely and called them children and servants for His sake. Sometimes He speaks with them in plural form and at other times in singular form and he does this because He loves the Jews and is happy about them. This is what Hashem told the Jews, ‘I was sitting around 974 generations before the world was created whence I carefully thought, deliberated, formed and checked these words of the Torah and from the day the world was created until this time I sit on My Throne of Glory, the third of the day learning Torah, a third of the day I judge the world, and a third of the day I do tzedakah (righteousness) by feeding, supporting and sustaining the entire world. Of all My creations I am the one who put aside the 70 nations in this world and came and clung to you and called you Elohim (powerful being) and associated your name with My Great Name, and I called you My brother My Friend. I was before the world was created, and I am the same One from when the world was created. I am in this world and I am in the World to Come. I will kill and I will make alive, I wounded, and I will heal,’ as it says ‘in order that you know and believe Me, and understand that I am He; before Me no god was formed and after Me none shall be.  I am the Lord, and besides Me there is no Savior’ (Yeshayahu 43: 10, 11). It also says, ‘Behold I am Hashem and there is no other god besides Me, a G-d who is righteous and a savior there is no one like Me’ (Yeshayahu 42). It also says, ‘that I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like Me’ (Yeshayau 46:9).”

The Meorei Eish (a great grandson of the Tosfos Yom tov) shows how this ties into the first mitzvah of the Ten Commandments. He says that the point of this medrish is to explain each word of the pasuk: “I am Hashem;” that with the light of His Holy Name He simply creates, lets live and sustains the entire creation from nothing. “Your G-D” who watches over and sustains each individual; we know this because He took us out of Egypt. He created the Celestial Torah before the world was created and through it he created them and now sustains the world with it through His logic of Torah. He feeds the world, which is a general maintenance of everything alive, and supports and sustains everything. This is all derived from the name “Hashem.” Indeed, in explaining “Your G-D,” when the medrish said “I am the one who set aside the 70 nations” Hashem was informing the Jews that he kept special attention and specific maintenance upon them through prophesy, demonstrating for them very lofty and spiritual heights through prophesy. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
When the medrish says, “and called you Elohim (powerful being)” this means we were appointed to control nature, for it to be subjugated by our good actions. Furthermore, the name of G-D as Elokim refers to the fact that G-D is All Powerful, so too within man there are celestial and earthly powers included within us, and man is the pillar of creation, for which the entire world was intended. “And associated your name with My Great Name” refers to the pure soul from on high, that was imbued into every human being. Lastly, “I called you My brother My Friend.” Because through their good deeds they have the power to add the shefa (abundance of holiness), that it will increase in this world, though everything is in the Hand of Hashem nevertheless Hashem decreed that through Mankind’s deeds it will increase. Hashem was the one who said “I am Hashem your G-D” in the Ten Commandments; there were no intermediaries. He is your savior, not an angel, all powerful, who took you out of Egypt.

According to the medrish, why does Hashem let us know that we are also called Elohim, that He imbued us with a soul, a godly element within us, and that He refers to as “My Brother and My Friend?” Wouldn’t this actually detract from Hashem’s greatness and almighty, all powerful existence, which Hashem seems to want to enumerate to us in the first commandment as a complete and true picture of belief and trust in Him?

It would seem that in fact Hashem is charging us with a responsibility to the world which is the purpose and basis for our existence. Hashem has charged us with being “His partner” in sustaining and molding the world for its ultimate good. By knowing and recognizing who we work for, who entrusted us with His precious world to add onto it and mold it into a better place, and that He gave us the power and ability to do so, should empower us to want to live up to the will of our Father in Heaven, our Master, who shares with us His powers and treats us as His brother and friend, a partner in creation. What a responsibility! What an opportunity we have! This is the greatness of man that was specifically charged to the Jewish people when we accepted Hashem’s Torah.

In the First of the Ten Commandments Hashem actually is not just charging us to believe in Him but to believe in ourselves, as an impetus to increase the quality of the world He has created, “though everything is in the Hand of Hashem nevertheless Hashem decreed that through mankind’s deeds the world will upsurge.” This is a very noteworthy introduction and very apropos to our responsibility towards fulfilling and observing the rest of the Torah.

Yisro – Gadlus Haadam: Really Realizing Why Humankind is So Great

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You probably never thought about why it is inappropriate to shame someone, meaning to do something that would cause someone to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or even disgraced. It’s obvious why, because it is not nice. But why is it not nice and on the contrary it’s very easy to make up excuses like sometimes it could be fun if done in jest and it could feel good if done to make yourself look good or to bring  attention to yourself?!

The last pasuk of this week’s Torah portion of Yisro states, “And you shall not ascend with steps upon My altar, so that your nakedness shall not be exposed upon it'” (Shemos 20:23). Rashi observes on the last part of the pasuk, “אשר לא תגלה ערותך THAT THY NAKEDNESS BE NOT UNCOVERED — because on account of these steps you will have to take large paces and so spread the legs. Now, although this would not be an actual uncovering of one’s nakedness (of the parts usually kept covered), since it is written, (Exodus 28:42) ‘And thou shalt make for them (the priests) linen breeches [to cover the flesh of their nakedness]’, still the taking of large paces is near enough to uncovering one’s nakedness that it may be described as such, and you would then be treating them (the stones of the altar) in a manner that implies disrespect.”

The last Medrish Tanchuma on this Torah portion learns a lesson from here, “for this can be a kal vechomer, (a fortiori), for just as stones that don’t have knowledge to differentiate between good and bad, Hashem still warns you to not treat them in a disrespectful manner, all the more so, your friend, who is created in the likeness of Hashem.” The Etz Yosef adds, “’Your friend who is created in the likeness of Hashem’ as it is written ‘in the likeness of G-D He made him,’ all the more so do you have to be careful not to disrespect him in any possible shameful manner even if you don’t intend to disrespect him, because if you disrespect him you will be disrespecting his likeness of Hashem, and who is honored (or respected) those that honor (or respect) humanity.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We must analyze this medrish very carefully. The medrish is comparing every single human being to the stones of the ramp that was used to walk up towards the alter which was in turn used to forge a relationship between man and his Father in Heaven, The Almighty King of all Kings. It was a very holy place where sins were forgiven, thanksgiving was offered on the alter and peace offerings were also sacrificed. It is understandable that it must be treated with the utmost respect for what it represents and does for our connection On High. Still in all the medrish says that it is only an inanimate object that doesn’t have any thought process to be able to choose between good and bad, to have emotions, make choices, to feel insulted, but nevertheless it would be inappropriate to show disrespect towards it, even in a slight indirect manner, which was not intentional as Rashi and the Etz Yosef point out. All the more so a human being, your fellow man who was endowed with a sense of free will, who is able to make deep intellectual, and philosophical choices, and can strive for perfection, and a close relationship with the Almighty, Our Father In Heaven; Mankind who was purposefully given the ability to choose between good and bad in order to be put into situations where he could choose to emulate Hashem, who is all good and complete truth, which is what defines us as being created in G-D’s likeness, all the more so must be treated with the utmost respect and not shamed in any way intentionally or unintentionally.

In a similar vein, I was once in Ottawa, Canada, for the changing of the guards which still has connections with the Royal family of England. Every morning there is a long and elaborate ceremony with hundreds of marching soldiers towards the parliament in order to switch the soldiers who are in charge of guarding the royal keys of the Parliament building, such sovereignty and significance was given towards the keys of a building connected to the royal family, all the more so one can imagine the respect and elegance demonstrated to the majesty herself and her family! (Click here for more information about this ceremony.)

If we only realized who we are, beloved princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses of The King Of All Kings as it says in Pirkey Avos (3:14),  “He (Rebbe Akiva) would also say: Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G‑d]; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to him that he was created in the image, as it is says, “For in the image of G‑d, He made man” (Genesis 9:6).” Then we would be more cognizant and at the forefront of awareness to ensure we treat each other with proper respect.

The special fortune that every single human being is created in the image of Hashem is THE reason why it is not nice to cause any disgrace to each other. If we truly realized the greatness of mankind, where we ourselves come from, how and why we were created and the potential for perfection and purity that each one of us was endowed with, the world would be a much better place!