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Parashat Yitro - Do We Live In a Vacuum?

Dear Friends;

Very few Parshiyot (plural for parasha - weekly Torah portions) are named after people, this week is one of the few, named after Yitro the father-in-law of Moshe who came to the desert to convert and join the Jewish people.

Rashi points out two events that played a defining role in Yitro's momentous decision to join the Jewish people; Kriat Yam Suf the splitting of the sea, and the war against Amalek. It is understandable that the splitting of the sea inspired Yitro to convert. It was a momentous occasion in which HaShem's presence was revealed through open miracles. However, the battle with Amalek was far less inspiring - although Divine Providence was apparent, it was far less earth-shattering than the other miracles. Moreover, there were times in the battle when Amalek was on the ascendancy, with the result that this battle seemed more 'natural' than the other events of the Exodus. If they were insufficient to arouse Yitro to convert, how could this battle achieve anything more?

The Be'er Yosef (1786-1866, Jerusalem) explains, that Yitro's overriding consideration was the effect that the battle with Amalek would have on G-d's name in the world. Had Amalek not attacked then Yitro may have sufficed with observing a Noachide lifestyle. However, after this attack, Yitro felt the need to publicly join the Jewish people to demonstrate that the nations should still have great awe for the Jewish nation. He was a very well-known world figure and realized that his journey from Midian to the desert would be widely viewed.

Yitro taught us a great lesson on his journey to becoming a Jew. It is not enough to think about one's own relationship with G-d, but how one can affect others as well. A person's actions do not take place in a vacuum, we are always being noticed by others, consequently, we must constantly be aware of the possible effect we can have on others without even directly communicating with them. Yitro recognized this fact and acted upon it - thus he stands as a shining example to us all, to the effect of having an entire parasha named after him.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom;
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay

Parasha Summary - Parashat Yitro

Rishon: Yitro brings Moshe's wife and two sons to join him in the desert. In 18:10, Yitro proclaims his belief in G-d and identifies His manifest justice as the primary motive for his belief and conversion.

Shenei & Shelishi: Yitro observes Moshe's daily schedule as chief administrator, judge, and teacher. He advises his son-in-law to delegate some responsibilities to a hierarchy of worthy judges and administrators. This would allow Moshe to focus his attention on those issues that demand his specific attention. Moshe listens to Yitro's advice.

Revei: This begins the preparation for Revelation. It is the 1st day of Sivan, and the Bnai Yisrael have been in the desert for 43 days. Moshe is told by G-d to explain to the nation that they are a "kingdom of priests..."

Chamishi: Moshe tells the nation of G-d's expectations and they respond, "...all that Hashem will command we will do." Moshe is further instructed to tell the people to prepare themselves by immersing themselves and their clothing in a Mikveh (ritual pool) and to remain apart from their spouses for 3 days. Mt. Sinai is to be fenced off so that no person or animal could ascend the mountain until the shofar sounded the conclusion of Revelation. On the 3rd day, Revelation began with lightning, thunder, the sounding of a Shofar, and Mt. Sinai completely engulfed in clouds, smoke, and fire. Moshe led the nation to assemble at the foot of a trembling Mt.Sinai.

Shishi: Hashem summoned Moshe to ascend the mountain and instructed him to re-emphasize the prohibition against anyone ascending the mountain during Revelation. Moshe descends and discharges G-d's wishes. With Moshe standing among the people at the foot of the mountain, Hashem spoke the Ten Commandments to the entire people.

Shevei: This last portion describes the reaction of the nation to Revelation. In 20:19, the verse factually states that the Bnai Yisroel collectively heard G-d speak. It is among the most fundamentally important statements in the entire Torah. The Parsha concludes with the three commandments regarding the Mizbeach (Altar).