By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
In Parshas Yisro, we learn of Kabbolas HaTorah. Following the makkos in Mitzrayim, the splitting of the sea at the Yam Suf, and the many miracles the Jewish people experienced there, Klal Yisroel appears ready to complete the transformation from a group of slaves to becoming the chosen Am Hashem.
It is most interesting that the parsha that deals with Matan Torah is titled with the name of Yisro and not something more descriptive of the world-changing event that takes place in the parsha. It is also intriguing that the Torah interrupts its account of the Jews’ journey in the desert and their reaching the apex of their journey at Midbar Sinai to tell the seemingly tangential story of Yisro’s arrival.
In Parshas Beshalach, we learned how the people miraculously crossed the Yam Suf and were sustained by monn. After defeating Amaleik, they continued on their journey, which led them to Midbar Sinai to receive the Torah. Instead of directly portraying their arrival at Har Sinai and Kabbolas HaTorah, the narrative is interrupted by the story of Yisro’s arrival.
What lessons are implicit in the narrative of Yisro that justifies its insertion here in middle of the most significant journey our people ever undertook?
The parsha this week begins with the words “Vayishma Yisro – And Yisro Heard.” Rashi quotes the Gemara (Zevochim 115a), which asks what it was that Yisro heard that prompted him to come. The Gemara answers that he heard about Krias Yam Suf and milchemes Amaleik. Upon hearing of those events, he left his home in Midyan to join Moshe Rabbeinu and the Jewish people in the desert.
Obviously, Yisro was not the only one who heard about Krias Yam Suf and milchemes Amaleik. The posuk (Shemos 15:14) states “Shomu amim yirguzun,” so we would imagine that there were very few people who did not hear about these earth-shattering events.
Additionally, at the time of Krias Yam Suf, all the water in the world split. This miraculous suspension of nature was surely witnessed by millions of stunned people. Surely it did not take long for word to get around that Hashem had split the Yam Suf to enable the Jews to escape from the Egyptians.
Yet, there was only one person who was prompted to go and see what was going on. The Torah does not tell us that anyone other than Yisro went to join the Jewish people.
Everyone knew about it. Everyone must have been impressed. Some people might have even been inspired. Everyone had to have been talking about it. It was the hock of the century.
But it was like most other hock. People hear about it, are impressed by it, discuss it, and then move on. For too many people, life is superficial. They don’t view much of anything with depth or seriousness. Apparently, it has always been this way, even before digital devices and social media burst on the scene.
The world might have been nispo’el, but their inspiration did not last long enough for the miracle to have any lasting impact. The world’s population quickly reverted back to being the way they were before they were awed by Hashem’s power. They once again became apathetic, callous, indifferent and unmoved.
Only one person heard about Krias Yam Suf and milchemes Amaleik and was affected by the events enough to do something about it. That was Yisro. He was the only person who was so overcome that he was going to transform his life.
The pesukim recount: “Vayichad Yisro… And Yisro rejoiced over all the goodness that Hakadosh Boruch Hu did for the Jews and rescued them from Mitzrayim… And he said, ‘Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the gods… And he brought korbanos to Hashem…”
No one else went to the Bnei Yisroel in the midbar saying, “Atah yodati ki gadol Hashem.” Everyone else remained tied to their pagan beliefs.
This is why the Torah interrupts the chapter of the Bnei Yisroel’s trip to Sinai to tell the tale of Yisro’s arrival. A prerequisite for Kabbolas HaTorah is to let the experience of Hashem’s majesty so envelop the mind and the senses that it forces a person to draw closer to Torah and G-dliness.
Torah demands that hisorerus have a lasting impact. Torah demands that we always seek to learn and grow. Torah demands that when we see unnatural occurrences, we become spiritually aroused in a lasting way. Divine acts are intended to teach us the power of Hashem.
That was the lesson of Yisro, and that is why his parsha was placed before Kabbolas HaTorah. It is not enough to stand up and take notice. We have to care enough to become involved in doing things to improve our world.
The Torah relates that Yisro noticed that Moshe Rabbeinu was teaching halachos and judging the Jewish people from morning until night. Yisro told Moshe that he thought that the system in which he was the only judge was improper, and he advised Moshe to set up an arrangement where other people would adjudicate simpler cases. Only the difficult questions would be posed to Moshe.
Yisro told Moshe that paskening all the shailos all day was too difficult for one person and would end up destroying him. He advised him to choose competent judges to whom he would teach the halachos so that they would be knowledgeable enough to teach them to others. Yisro told Moshe that it would also be helpful for the people if they wouldn’t have to wait all day on line for a chance to speak to him.
Yisro taught Moshe and Klal Yisroel the concept of sarei mei’os and sarei asaros. Yisro taught that everyone can learn from the local posek. He taught that it is not necessary to run to the gadol hador and overwhelm him with small questions. He taught to respect the authority of local rabbonim and poskim and not always bringing every small issue to the supreme authorities.
Klal Yisroel is a nation of servitude. The leaders serve the people and the people serve their leaders. The people respect the leaders and the leaders respect the people. The mutual recognition of each other’s greatness coupled with an appreciation that the glory and greatness of Klal Yisroel lies in their acceptance of legitimate, qualified authority is what makes us great.
The Torah commands, “Som tosim alecha melech – You shall appoint for yourselves a king.” Concurrent with that is the admonition directed at the king: “Levilti rum levavo.” The king is warned that he must not become imperious and conceited. He must remain a man of his people.
It was obvious that Moshe could not physically keep up with the demands of the people, but he respected them too much to turn them away. Yisro’s advice was more for Klal Yisroel than for Moshe. His advice was directed at them. Their all-encompassing subservience to Moshe prevented them from contemplating turning elsewhere for guidance and direction. Yisro taught that asking smaller questions of people not as great as Moshe was not an affront to Moshe, but a credit to him.
Mesorah is the root of Yiddishkeit. As the Mishnah states, “Moshe kibeil Torah miSinai umesarah…” The equal degree of respect for Moshe and for those who transmitted his teachings was at the root of what Yisro taught.
In order for the Torah to be given at Sinai, the authority of talmidei chachomim had to be established. The Jews had to be admonished to revere every link in the chain transmitting the Torah from Moshe and Har Sinai.
There is another lesson to be learned here as well. Yisro was a newcomer to the Bnei Yisroel’s camp. He wasn’t the first person to see what was happening to Moshe Rabbeinu. Everyone saw that Moshe was consumed with dinei Torah. Anyone could have figured out that it wasn’t a normal situation. Anyone could have figured out a more affective system that would allow Moshe Rabbeinu to spend his time more productively. Anyone could have realized, as Yisro did, that Moshe would become exhausted from the grueling regimen and unceasing pressure, and that eventually the people would become fed up waiting for him.
And that is our point. Everyone saw it. Anyone could have realized where it would lead, but no one did. It took Yisro to internalize what he saw and to do something constructive about it.
Yisro was charged by the gadlus haBorei to become a better person. His keen senses were raised when he realized that Hashem cared enough about His people to change the laws of nature for them. He reasoned that he could become a better person and also merit a connection with Hashem. The inspiration that motivated him to change his life also affected the way that he viewed things going on around him. He didn’t just view them as hock material, but as an opportunity to help people.
Too often, the urge is not to get involved. Too often, the yeitzer hora switches our focus and challenges us with superficiality. Yisro showed that the Torah demands depth and seriousness. It is for that reason that the parsha of Kabbolas HaTorah is named for him and that he achieved immortality.
Yisro saw, Yisro cared, and Yisro spoke up. Hakadosh Boruch Hu and Moshe Rabbeinu accepted his proposal.
That is another reason that the parsha of Yisro’s arrival and advice was introduced to us before the parsha of Kabbolas HaTorah. It is because the Torah demands that when we see something wrong, we shouldn’t turn away as if we didn’t see it. We shouldn’t only be consumed with ourselves and minding our own business. The Torah demands that when we see something that has the potential to embarrass, impose hardship or weaken our rabbeim, we speak up. When we see a Jew in trouble, we need to rise to his defense. We can’t let people be destroyed and stand by and say that what happens is not our business.
It is not enough to learn Torah and to be proficient in it. We have to care for others and look out for their benefit.
Yisro came, noticed and spoke up, thus saving Moshe from becoming physically exhausted. Yisro was honored by having a parsha named for him. Yisro taught that everyone has the potential for greatness to the point of being worthy of having a parsha in the Torah named for him. One must care enough to notice what is going on around him, draw the right conclusions, and attempt to remedy the situation.
There is another lesson gleaned from Yisro. Most people are unimpressed by facts, because they rationalize and don’t let anything get in the way of their preconceived notions. When something contradicts their opinions, rather than being convinced by the truth, they use their reasoning ability to twist their understanding of the facts to conform with their previous notions about the world.
Instead of analyzing what happened and risking the chance of being forced to conclude that they erred, people, subconsciously or not, gloss over the contradiction, lest they become forced to transform their lifestyle or admit to an error.
Others simply can’t be bothered. They make up their mind that something is that way and refuse to let anything change their thinking.
In modern day politics, for example, Democrats and liberals bought into the notion that President Donald Trump worked with the Russians to get elected, and no matter what happens, they remain unshaken in that belief.
People are brought up on charges and accused of terrible crimes. Upon further examination, the allegations are unable to be proven, and are exposed as results of prosecutorial misconduct, fictitious testimony or a host of other errors. Yet, the public sticks with the original story and refuses to allow themselves to be educated by the facts. They refuse to allow reality and reason to form their beliefs.
It is very much in vogue in current Democrat circles to bash Israel and support the “poor” Palestinians, whom they claim are crushed by Israel’s “practices reminiscent of apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow segregation in the United States.” I quote from an article by Michelle Alexander titled “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” prominently displayed on page one of this week’s New York Times’ Sunday Review.
The author writes that “until very recently, the entire Congress has remained mostly silent on the human rights nightmare that has unfolded in the occupied territories.” This is blamed on “Israel’s political lobby [which] holds well-documented power.”
Of course, everything is always the fault of the powerful Jews.
But “change is on the horizon.” The Democrat House leadership has seen fit to place outspoken freshmen supporters of the Israel boycott on influential committees and provide them with bullhorns for hate towards the Jewish state.
The article, like all others from the similar spreading genre, bemoans Israeli searches of Palestinians and the other terrible restrictions of occupation. Clouding the truth and obfuscating the facts, nowhere and at no time do the propagandists admit the reason for the “repression,” namely, the need to protect innocent citizens of a sovereign nation from a terror war.
The propagandists are gaining adherents to the Palestinian side, because they shamelessly prattle lies and half-truths, and their audience is too interested in following the tempting lines of attack against a poor subjugated people that they fail to give the matter much thought or independent research.
Yisro taught not to be lazy and gullible, and not to close yourself off to understanding the truth and acting upon facts, but to analyze what is happening with intelligence, honesty and forthrightness.
We must learn from Yisro to recognize that we each can improve the world around us. We are all capable of helping others and providing assistance in times of need. We can all help others get through the day. We can all bring meaning to the lives of the needy. If only we cared, if only we tried. If only we took Yisro’s example to heart.
So this Shabbos, when we hear the kriah of Parshas Yisro, when we read the story of Yisro’s arrival, when we read how the Bnei Yisroel stood at Har Sinai “k’ish echod b’lev echod” and said, “Na’aseh venishma,” let us resolve to do what we can in the spirit of the Torah to spread goodness and kindness in the world, and to battle evil and the apathy that permits evil to fester and grow.
Yisro taught that we can all make a difference. Let’s show that we can.