By Rabbi Jeff Kirshblum
YISRO- A MAN OF CONVICTION
The Talmud in (Sotah 11a) tells us that Pharaoh had three advisers: Yisro,
Iyov and Bilaam. When Pharoh was deciding the most prudent method to
exterminate the Jewish people, he sought the opinion of each of his three
Bilaam, the grandson of Lavan, was an evil man and relished the prospect of
eradicating the Jewish people. It was he who advised Pharaoh to kill the
Iyov was opposed to any plan to destroy the Jewish nation. Rather than
display his true feelings on the issue, he refrained from offering any
opinion. Perhaps he knew that his objections would be met with resistance.
He most likely rationalized that he could do more to help the plight of the
Jewish people at a later date by remaining in his position as advisor. As a
result, he decided not to oppose or accept Bilaam's proposal, but remained
Yisro, on the other hand, vocally rejected Pharaoh's idea of exterminating
the Jewish people. Yisro believed it was wrong that these people should be
made to suffer for no crime other then being Jewish. Yisro's loud protests
angered Pharaoh and Yisro had to flee Egypt in order to save his life.
The Talmud continues by telling us that each of the three advisers was
rewarded or punished according to his deed. Bilaam, who encouraged the
execution of thousands of innocent Jews, was killed by the very people he
sought to exterminate. Iyov, who remained silent in the face of Jewish
oppression, was afflicted with a life of pain and suffering. Yisro, who
fled because of his opposition, sacrificing his position of leadership and
life of comfort and wealth in Egypt, eventually became the father-in-law
of Moshe and his descendants became prominent judicial leaders of the
Children of Israel.
We know that a very basic tenet of Judaism is that G-d repays a person
measure for measure. Therefore, we can clearly understand the reward and
punishment of Yisro and Bilaam. However, why was Iyov's punishment so
severe? Iyov did not support the decree of persecution against the Jewish
people. In fact, even if Iyov had objected, Pharaoh would have still
enacted his decree. Iyov's only sin was remaining silent. Why then did he
have to suffer such a harsh life, one where tragedy followed tragedy?
The Brisker Rav, Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, explains that the
infliction brought upon Iyov was indeed a punishment measure for measure.
Iyov reasoned that he would not accomplish anything by objecting to
Pharaoh's decree, therefore he did not raise his voice against it. As a
punishment for his silence, G-d brought upon him terrible pains and
suffering. Due to his terrible plight, Iyov was provoked to cry out to G-d
and complain. Wasn't Iyov the same person who chose not to raise his voice
to Pharaoh's decree? Didn't Iyov believe that protesting accomplishes
nothing? If this is so, then why was Iyov objecting now?
Iyov raised his voice in protest now, because it was Iyov who was
personally suffering. When one suffers, he instinctively yells out in
pain. Although yelling may not alleviate the pain, it does register a
strong sign of disapproval. Iyov was now raising his voice as a sign of
his disapproval of his painful personal situation. He was no longer
silent. Thus Iyov's punishment stirred him to react in a manner that in
turn demonstrated the error of his failure to raise his voice in protest
against Pharaoh's heinous plan.
The Rambam (Hilchos Ta'anis, chapter 1) states that it is a positive Torah
commandment to cry out and sound trumpets when disaster threatens the
Jewish people. He bases that on the verse "When you go to war in your land
against an enemy who oppresses you, you shall call out with trumpets so
that you shall be remembered before the L-rd your G-d and you shall be
saved from your enemies" (Bamidbar10:9).
The Rambam explains that the concept of trumpeting and calling out is not
only in times of war, but for every impending tragedy. It is a signal for
the individual and for the masses to evaluate their situation. They must
determine if it is their own misdeeds that have brought the threat upon
themselves. Without that signal, the threat will merely be accepted as a
fact of life and the purpose of the tragedy will be for naught.
Today, the Jewish Nation is faced with a great many threats. There are
threats from enemies on the outside and from enemies within our own ranks.
Too many of us remain silent; our voices are not heard. Many of us feel
that protests will not accomplish anything. They are the Iyov's of our
generation. The pain of our brothers and sisters must be felt as if it is
our own pain. We must sound out the trumpets of our conscience. We cannot
stand by as though we are neutral. As Dante said: The worst place in
purgatory is reserved for those who are neutral in times of crisis".
The haftorah is found in Yeshayah 6:1- 7:6; 9:5-6.
The haftorah begins with Yeshayah's vision. He saw the heavenly throne, its
seat firmly planted in the heavens but its legs resting in the Temple.
Seraphic angels were hovering about, calling one to another, "Holy, holy,
holy is G-d, L-rd of the hosts, all the land is filled with His glory"
(6:3). This phrase is recited three times every morning and forms the focal
point of the Kedusha in Shemoneh Esrei.
The vision continued. G-d asks for someone to volunteer to tell the Jewish
people of the terrible doom that lies in store for them if they do not
repent. Yeshayah consents. G-d foretells of the destruction of the northern
land and the exile of the ten tribes in 65 years. G-d foretells the final
total desolation of the entire land ten generations later.
The vision contains a beautiful metaphor. Describing the utter desolation
ofthe land, the verse says, "G-d will drive out man far away; the midst of
the land shall be greatly desolate. In another ten (generations of kings)
(the entire land) will go and become barren like an elm and an oak that
have shedtheir leaves (in the winter) but the holy seed of vitality is
still in them"(6:12-13).
What is meant by this metaphor: comparing Israel to a tree in the winter?
What is the "holy seed of vitality?"
When we see the trees in the winter, they appear to be dead. The leaves
have fallen away. The wood is frozen. One seeing this for the first time
would not be able to conceive that in the spring the tree will come back
The picture of desolation and gloom was vividly painted by the Ramban when
he first came to Jerusalem in 1267. He composed an emotional letter to his
son. "What can I tell you about this land other than that it is desolate
and bare? The holier the site, the more desolate it is. Jerusalem is the
most desolate of them all." Ramban continues to describe that the
buildings were in ruins and the city was abandoned. There was no minyan,
no synagogue, and no Sefer Torah in the city. Yeshayah's prophecy of gloom
had been fulfilled.
The Ramban was determined to bring the holy city back to life. He took
possession of one of the ruins and proclaimed it to be a synagogue. He
encouraged Jews to come to the city. He had Sifrei Torah brought from
From that determined beginning, Jerusalem was revived from the dead, just
like the tree in Yeshayah's vision. Today, Jerusalem is a thriving, vibrant
city. The sounds of Torah are heard in its countless yeshivas. The voice of
prayer is heard in the synagogues that fill the city. And the synagogue
that the Ramban founded 750 years ago is still there. His minyan still
recites "Holy, holy, holy is G-d, L-rd of the hosts, all the land is
filled with His glory," many times each and every day.
Malbim says that the "holy seed of vitality" refers to the righteous men of
Israel. They will have the ability to bring the Holy Land back to life.
This prophecy of Yeshayah was said shortly before the exile of the Ten
Tribes to the north. When the exile occurred, everyone thought that the
end of the Jewish people was at hand. Then, there arose the righteous
king,Chizkiyahu,who brought Israel back to its former glory. The haftorah
did not want to conclude with a depressing image of despair. It skips from
verse 7:6 to 9:5, to the words of hope for deliverance, "For a child is
born to us, a son has been given to us, and the rule shall rest on his
Most commentaries say that the "child" refers to King Chizkiyahu who indeed
did give the Jewish Nation a temporary rest from the threat of doom.
However it also refers to the comforting notion that in each and every
generation there will be this "child," this "seed of vitality." There have
been times in our history when the Jews abandoned the Torah way of life.
It seemed as though there was no hope for the future. G-d, through
Yeshayah's prophecy, is telling us that there will always be present in
our midst, righteous Jews who can revitalize the Jewish Nation. Just as
there was Chizkiyahu in his generation and the Ramban in his generation,
each one of us should do his part to invigorate the holy seed within
ourselves and help bring the arrival of the ultimate "holy seed," the
The connection to the parshah is evident. The parshah tells us about the
Divine Revelation and the receiving of the Torah. The Torah contains many
rules and regulations. It also contains many blessings. The prime blessing
is that the Children of Israel will inherit the land of Israel. However,
with the blessings comes a great responsibility, the responsibility to
uphold the laws of the Torah. As long as the Jews treasure and keep the
Torah, they will be entitled to possess the land of Israel. Should they
abandon the Torah, then they will be compelled to abandon their homeland.
This connection between the blessing of the Holy Land and adherence to the
Torah is made clear in Yeshayah's vision. "They have closed their ears and
shut their eyes so they will not hear with their ears nor see with their
eyes; otherwise, their hearts would understand that they should repent and
be cured. The cities will become empty of inhabitants and the houses will
be without people. The land shall be deserted and empty" (6:10-11).
Have a great Shabbos!
Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Jeff Kirshblum
These Divrei Torah are excerpts from Yochanan "Jeff" Kirshblum's new book,
Thinking Outside the Box, which can be purchased at any local Judaica book store or online at www.israelbookshop.com.