And Yisro rejoiced for all the good which God had done to Israel, having
delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians. (Shemos 18:9)
In Hebrew, the word for rejoice in this week’s parshah is vayichad, an
unusual word for such a common term, especially since we have so many
simpler ways of saying ‘rejoiced’. As a result, the word is interpreted on a
deeper level by two Amoraim in the Talmud, Rav and Shmuel.
According to Rav, the word vayichad comes from the chad, which means
‘sharp’, indicating that Yisro, upon hearing about all that God had done for
the Jewish people converted on the spot, taking a sharp stone and
immediately performing Bris Milah on himself. According to Shmuel, the word
is an allusion to the chadudim Yisro felt all over his body, what we call
‘goose bumps’, because he still felt bad for the Egyptians who had been
destroyed (Sanhedrin 94a).
However, since the Torah does not have vowels, alternative readings of a
single word, for exegetical purposes, is often possible. Hence, the word
vayichad can also be read vayachad without changing a single letter, just
the vocalization, changing the meaning of the word from ‘rejoiced’ to
‘unified’. This is not so far-fetched given what was happening at that
moment, and what the entire Kabbalas HaTorah experience was soon about to
evoke from the entire Jewish nation.
Indeed, what Yisro heard and saw at that time had been both intellectually
and emotionally overwhelming for him, and certainly had the potential to
elevate him to a very high level of spiritual consciousness. At that unique
moment, he could easily have had an experience that would have resulted in a
precise perception of what life is all about, and how to fulfill its
purpose, which in itself is an interesting discussion.
The Talmud makes an fascinating remark:
A man would prefer one kav of his own instead of nine kabim of another.
(Bava Metzia 38a)
A kav is a Biblical measurement, but here it is symbolic. It is the
proportion that counts, and that is, a person values that which he earns
more than that which he is given for free, even if the latter is many times
the former. There is something intrinsically special about that which we
create ourselves, in whatever manner we do it.
For example, if a person works hard for a couple of hours and gets paid with
a $100 bill, and then gets one as a birthday gift shortly after, he is more
likely to spend the latter than the former, even though they are exactly the
same amount and type of bill. Somehow, by working for the first one a
certain relationship develops between the person and the money itself, as if
the specific bill earned intrinsically represents the amount of his life
that he spent to earn it.
Not only this, but people can be quite possessive of their personal
possessions, in a way that might border on selfishness. We don’t usually
think too highly about people who behave in such a way; selfishness seems to
be a childish quality that grown-ups are supposed to have overcome.
That may be true, but it is also not so clear-cut that such selfishness and
possessiveness are coming totally from the wrong place. Indeed, it may be
the result of a certain confusion regarding a specific driving force in
Creation that is totally positive, and in fact, the goal of Creation, as the
...Since the main pleasure and delight from all brilliance and good is
only when it is his own, and not from someone else … especially when the
good is the result of his actions and efforts, after which the pleasure and
delight is unlimited [because the Shoresh HaAchdus—the Root of Unity—is in
everyone, and everything is carried by this Root of Unity. It is the inner
reality of everything, the basis of all that exists … (Drushei Olam HaTohu
What the Leshem is saying is that, at the center of everything in all of
Creation is some very intense unifying force. Though it is very hard to
believe, given all the divisiveness and strife in the world, everything in
Creation wants to unify with everything else, and ultimately, with God.
Therefore, a person pursues himself and that which belongs to him
because it is dearer to him than everything else since he is one with it;
all of his drive is towards that with which he can become most unified …
This is not a Kabbalistic justification for being selfish; just a
Kabbalistic explanation for why selfishness is so gratifying. However, if a
person selfishly eats a sandwich, only to find out that by doing so, he
surrendered the opportunity to eat a steak, is he not disappointed?
Likewise, the most selfish thing a person can do is act selflessly, because
then the greater good belongs to him.
In truth, the Root of Unity unifies all disparate elements since they
are all based upon it, but only through veils and physical and thick
barriers that have resulted from the zuhama from the sin …(Ibid.)
Once such unity existed in Creation, prior to the sin of Adam HaRishon,
after which Creation descended and become greatly reduced,
spiritually-speaking. Like man himself who went from skin made from light to
actual skin, making unification with Creation on an external level
impossible, so was this true for the rest of Creation. However:
...on an internal level, they remain forever unified. (Ibid.)
Hence, internally, there is a profound unity amongst all of Creation. How
such unity can exist on an internal level while externally, people want to
kill each other, remains one of the greatest mysteries of Creation.
However, this is the only unity that is recognizable at this time, being
very intense, and therefore a person always longs for his own since it is
from himself to himself, a deep unity that is apparent even now … (Ibid.)
Have you every noticed how certain spiritually-uplifting events have the
ability to draw the unity out of people? Sometimes it can be a crisis, or
sometimes just a very inspiring moment, but the result is always a melting
of certain barriers and a unification that seems to be intrinsic to mankind
and Creation. The more the moment melts the barriers, the more intense and
meaningful the unification ends up being.
For example, we are told by the rabbis that the Sinai experience was so
intense that the Jewish people became k’ish echad—like a single individual—
b’leiv echad—with a single heart. It was the first and last time the Jewish
people ever experienced such sublime unity, which will not return until
Yemos HaMoshiach. It was as if the exposure to the Divine Presence yanked
them out of their skins to the point that they became more spiritual than
physical, allowing them to by-pass their petty negative emotions and instead
focus on the opportunity of the moment.
Perhaps this is what happened to Yisro in this week’s parshah. In fact, as
we said previously, the Midrash explains that he became so overtaken by the
moment that he grabbed a sharp stone and immediately performed Bris Milah on
himself, and converted. Clearly he had been functioning on a more dramatic
spiritual level than normal, and it may have connected him to God and the
rest of Creation on a level that most people never achieve in an entire
lifetime. It was if he had a Messianic experience.
It’s what we’re all after. Just as idol worship is an illegal shortcut to
the God experience, resulting in just the opposite in the end, Greed, which
still seems to drive society is an illegal shortcut to inner unity and
self-fulfillment that ends up delivering just the opposite in life. For
according to what has been said, the drive to accumulate riches and material
possessions is really just a drive to unify with the world around us.
But it doesn’t happen in the end, for a very simple yet profound reason.
It works very similar to the Ohr HaGanuz—the Hidden Light of Creation. The
Ohr HaGanuz is such a powerfully miraculous light that if an evil person
were to gain access to it, he could manipulate the world at will. The
control he would have would be unimaginable and the destruction he could do
would be catastrophic. This is why, as Rashi explains, God made it that the
only people who can access this light are righteous people.
Hence, though there are some rules in life that evil people can circumvent,
this is not one of them. It is an immutable principle of Creation so that
Creation can continue to fulfill the will of its Creator. A certain amount
of abuse and destructive behavior is allowed in history, but God has set a
limit, and it is not one that can ever be adjusted, at least not by man.
Likewise, the unity that we seek, with ourselves and the world around us, is
the reward for a life of spiritual growth and development. That is another
immutable principle of life in this world, unchangeable by everyone,
especially the evil geniuses of history. That is why when Eisav confronted
Ya’akov and boasted about his material wealth, it was he, and not Ya’akov,
who left their meeting with a sense of lack just the same.
Ya’akov Avinu, on the other hand, left with a sense of satiation, physical
and spiritual. For, as the Talmud points out, righteous people avoid any
kind of theft at any cost—even denying themselves possessions that others
might not think twice about taking or using—if any question of ownership
comes up at all. They are looking for inner unity, and they know that it is
not going to happen unless that with which they are unifying is totally
relevant to them.
The same is true of shalom bayis on any level. People cannot unify with
others unless that with which they are unifying truly belongs to them, which
can only happen if a relationship is cultivated. When it comes to
relationships the basic rule is: the more you give, the more you get. If you
try to get without giving, then the relationship usually disintegrates.
Therefore, the first thing Yisro did when he arrived at the Jewish camp in
searching for a close relationship with God, was give himself over to the
Ultimate Cause, resulting in vayachad Yisro: unification with God, the
Jewish people, and Creation as whole.