Dvar Torah Parshat Yitro 5776 2016 – To Life!

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In the Ten Commandments that we read this Shabbat, one of the commandments is to honor ones parents. The reward for observing this Mitzvah is: לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכוּן יָמֶיךָ, “…so that your days be lengthened…”. (Ex. 20,12) What is the connection between honoring one’s parents and lengthening one’s days?

The Dubno Maggid had  a unique explanation. Every individual in his lifetime gathers experience. This experience helps him develop and teaches him how to deal with all the challenges that confront him. Parents have lived a life time and have gathered in those years a vast experience. When one respects his parents he will also listen to their teachings and their advice. He will benefit from what they had acquired during the years of their experience.

This person does not have to start from the beginning and learn everything anew. He can take off from where his parents have taught him. He can add on the knowledge and way of life his parents gave him. Thus his life experience expands and it is as if he had a longer life.

Dvar Torah on Parshat Yitro 5774 2014 – Being Grateful

After Moshe relates to Yitro all the happenings and all the miracles that Hashem had performed for the Jewish people, Yitro’s reaction was to say: בָּרוּךְ יְקֹוָק אֲשֶׁר הִצִּיל אֶתְכֶם מִיַּד מִצְרַיִם, “…Blessed is Hashem, Who has rescued you from the hand of Egypt…”. (Ex. 18,10)

Chazal make a very strange observation regarding this statement of Yitro. They say: “It was a disgrace for Moshe and the six hundred thousand (the Israelites who left Egypt) that they did not bless (Hashem) until Yitro came and did so.” (Sanh. 94a)

This is strange, for after the miraculous crossing of the sea they offered a beautiful song of thanks to Hashem for all He did in saving them from the Egyptians. Was this great song of lesser significance than the few words uttered by Yitro? What then did Chazal mean?

The answer may be that the Jews had offered their thanks and appreciation to Hashem for all the favors he bestowed on them. Thanking Him for the blessings He showers on others, this is what Yitro demonstrated. Yitro thanked Hashem, not for what he had been granted, but for what Hashem did to others. This was the great lesson that he taught.

We should be grateful, not only for our blessings, but also for blessings that other people receive.

Dvar Torah Parshat Yitro 2013 5773

We read this week about מתן תורה the giving or the receiving of the Torah. There is a very strange Midrash concerning this episode. The Torah tells us that the people stood at Mt. Sinai בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר at the bottom of the mountain. (Ex. 19,17) Oddly enough the literal translation of these words means “under the mountain”.

Because of this wording Chazal tell us that Hashem lifted up the mountain and placed it over the heads of the people and said:אם אתם מקבלים התורה – מוטב, “if you accept the Torah, fine. If not you will be destroyed here.” (Shab. 88a) Obviously, He was forcing them to accept the Torah.

What happened? We shall read next week that the people were so ready to accept the Torah that they proclaimed: נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע “we will do and we will obey”. (Ex. 24,7) According to Chazal this passage preceded receiving the Torah and they were willing to accept it readily without even knowing what was in it. Why did Hashem have to force it on them now? The commentary of the Tosafot (Shab. 88a) explains that there was thunder and lightning and the mountain was engulfed in flame. This frightened the Israelites.

Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik explains that when they were first told that they would be a Chosen People they were delighted. When they stood close to the mountain and they were close to Hashem they developed exceptional prophetic vision. They saw that being a Chosen People entails major tragedies because of the hatred that would develop against them among the nations of the world. Of that, the fiery mountain was an omen. It was then that they wanted to back out of the agreement with Hashem and did not want to accept the Torah. Throughout history the Jews have seen the result of being a Chosen People.

Dvar Torah Parshat Yitro 5772 2012 – Measure for Measure…

Yitro listens to Moshe and hears him relate all the great wonders that Hashem did for the Bnei Israel in Egypt. He is awed by what he hears and praises Hashem and says: בָּרוּךְ יְקֹוָק. He does not stop at that but adds that Hashem is great: כִּי בַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר זָדוּ עֲלֵיהֶם “…for in the very matter in which [the Egyptians] had conspired against them… .” (Ex. 18,11)

Rashi explains this passage, based on the explanation of Onkelos. The greatness displayed here was that Hashem punished the Egyptians by the very thing that Pharaoh wanted to destroy the Jews. He wanted to drown the Jewish children in the Nile and Hashem turned this intention around and brought it upon the Egyptians. It was Pharaoh’s army that drowned in the Red Sea. This is a principle that Chazal teach us Hashem uses in this world, namely, the principle of מדה כנגד מדה, measure for measure.

In our own conduct we must be ever mindful that often we fall prey to our own actions. We often do things that come back to haunt us. Before doing or saying something to spite someone, think twice. The action or the words can eventually turn around and do harm to our own selves.

Dvar Torah Parshat Yitro 5771 2011

In the second of the Ten Commandments we are told that “You shall have no other gods before me…”. The wording in Hebrew is: ELOHIM ACHERIM. (Ex. 20, 3) The question often asked is if they are not gods why are they called gods.

Rashi, in his commentary, explains this term based on the Midrash Mechilta and hence the question is not valid. Rashi says that the term ELOHIM ACHERIM means gods that others have made. That is, they are gods that people have created and made them gods. Of course, this refers to the practice of heathens who sculpture idols and worshipped them as gods.

In our time we find the same thing happening in a different sense. People set up for themselves certain ideals and beliefs and adhere to them as if they were gods that must be worshipped. We must be extremely careful to recognize that our ideas and beliefs are not always accurate or true and must not be followed blindly.

Dvar Torah Parshat Yitro 5770 2010

At Har Sinai we are told VECHOL HA’AM RO’IM ET HAKOLOT, “And all the people saw the thunder…”. (Ex. 20,16) Rashi’s comment is: they saw that which should be heard, something which is impossible to see on any other occasion. (Today we can see sound waves.)

Of course, this is a difficult concept for us to understand. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein expounds this text in an intriguing manner. Hashem wanted to teach an important lesson in the study of Torah. It is not enough to have a superficial knowledge of the Torah. A person should strive with all his intellect and all his abilities to understand the lessons the Torah imparts clearly – as if they were spelled out in front of his eyes.

Anyone can hear thunder. It takes a special ability to connect it with lightning and understand how one is a result of the other. The miraculous level of seeing thunder, meaning understanding what it is, represents a level we must strive to reach.

This is true about anyone who is learning any subject. He must strive to fully understand the subject matter. It is especially important for people responsible for instructing others. Parent should be sure and clearly know what they want to impart to their children. Teachers should have a clear understanding of the issues and the subject matter they wish to teach. One must clearly be sure of what he knows before he can transmit it to others.

Dvar Torah Parshat Yitro 2009 5769 דבר תורה פרשת יתרו

Yitro advises Moshe on establishing a court system. He suggests a structure of lower courts and upper courts. He ends by saying: KOL HADAVAR HAGADOL YAVI’U ELECHA, “…every major matter they shall bring to you…”. (Ex/ 18,22) Moshe accepted the plan and instituted it among the people with one seemingly slight change. The various judges were appointed and then we are told they judged the people and ET DAVAR HAKASHEH HEVI’UN EL MOSHE, “…the difficult matter they brought to Moshe…” (18,26) Why the change from HADAVAR HAGADOL, major matter to DAVAR HAKASHEH, difficult matter?

The truth is that this is not a “seemingly slight” change but a major conceptual change. Yitro in suggesting the court system followed his thinking which was that matters that dealt with big sums, HADAVAR HAGADOL, should be brought to Moshe. The Jewish judicial system, however, holds that all matters, great or small, are to be treated with equal importance. The Halacha says that “a case of a Pruta or penny is as important as a case of a hundred Prutot or a hundred pennies”.

The amount of money in litigation does not matter. Every competent judge could deal with it. The difficult cases that were complicated and not easily solved were to be brought to Moshe.