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Posted on June 7, 2002 (5761) By Rabbi Pinchas Winston | Series: | Level:

Friday Night:

Yisro heard all that G-d did for Moshe and Israel … (Shemos 18:1)

The first time Yisro showed up on the Jewish scene is recorded in the Talmud. This is similar to what Rav Chiya son of Abba said in the name of Rebi Simai: Three were involved in that advice, and they were Bilaam, Yisro, and Iyov. Bilaam, for his advice, was killed; Iyov who kept quiet, was judged for suffering; Yisro who fled was rewarded by having his descendants among the Sanhedrin (Sanhedrin 106a)

This is interesting, because, it seems to contradict the first posuk of this week’s parshah, and a later statement in the Talmud:

“Yisro, the priest of Midian heard” What did he hear that made him come and convert? Rebi Yehoshua says: He heard about the war with Amalek Rebi Eliezer HaModa’i said: He hard about the giving of Torah Rebi Eliezer said: He heard about the splitting of the sea (Zevachim 116a)

In other words, according to the first statement, it seems that it was Yisro’s refusal to back Paroah’s “Final Solution” for the Jewish people that earned him the right to convert to Judaism and give rise to important Jewish descendants. It doesn’t even say that Yisro cast a vote at all, just that he ran away from Paroah and his evil plan, and THAT was enough to earn his future descendants a place in the Sanhedrin.

However, according to the second statement, Yisro may never have converted at all to Judaism, had he not heard about either the splitting of the sea, or, the war against Amalek, or, the giving of Torah — or, perhaps, all three. From this second midrash of the Talmud, it seems that Yisro’s mercy for the Jewish people (or fear of Divine retribution) would not have been enough to bring him from Midian to the desert to convert to Torah.

Of course, the midrashim do not contradict each other, but rather, they support each other. And, in doing so, they allow an important insight to emerge for all generations regarding Divine Providence and redemption.

Everyone knows that “hearing” and “listening” can represent two different functions, one quite physical and automatic, the other, intellectual and therefore, not so automatic. For, as long as a person’s ears function in a “normal” manner, they will pick up sound waves and allow them to register in a person’s mind, at least on a sub-conscious level.

However, this will not guarantee that the person will register the “noise” on a conscious level. In fact, it is always amazing how people can look at you in the eye, act as if they are listening to every word you are saying — which they may be — and yet, completely miss what you have said. In the words of one expert teacher: “I prepare one-hundred percent of my material, but, the average student hears only one ten percent of it, if I’m lucky!”

In fact, I’ve often asked people who go to a class that I could not attend, right after the class was over, what was said. Almost without fail, the person I ask sums up the entire class in five minutes, and can remember little more after that! And, as a teacher myself, I know what it means to go to great lengths to be clear, especially about critical points, only to be grossly misquoted by people who say through my class.

The psalmist wrote:

Their idols are silver and gold, the handiwork of man. They have a mouth, but cannot speak; they have eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear; they have a nose but cannot smell. Their hands — they cannot feel; their feet — they cannot walk; they cannot utter a sound from their throat. Those who make them should become like them, whoever trusts in them! (Tehillim 115:4-8)

The psalmist states the obvious, no? No. In fact, if the message of Dovid HaMelech was so obvious, then, Moshiach would have come by now and mankind would be long time straightened out. But, mankind is far from being straightened out — far from it — and the reason is, because most people do not know how to say what needs to be said, listen to what they are hearing, envision what they are seeing, and smell what they are smelling. For people with false beliefs become just like them, and live out their lives as animated idols.

It’s frightening thought; it’s an even more frightening reality.

And, as we see from Yisro and this week’s parshah, without such abilities, it really is quite impossible to receive Torah, and live a truly fulfilling and meaningful life, as we will, b”H, now discuss.

Shabbos Day:

Yisro, priest (kohen) of Midian and father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that G-d did for Moshe and Israel, his people, when G-d took Israel out of Egypt. (Shemos 18:1)

The posuk supplies information that, at first, glance seems superfluous. The Torah is coming to tell us who Yisro is, a peculiar character who, quite suddenly, shows up on the Jewish scene, and, for a while, dominates it. And, not just dominates it, but, alters it, for, it is his suggestion to change the way in which the Jewish people resolve their halachic disputes.

So, to begin with, he is the “king’s” father-in-law. Now, THAT’s “yichus” (i.e., family connection), and certainly deserving of honor. But what’s this “priest of Midian” business? It certainly sounds like the posuk is stuck between insulting the man and complimenting him, for, being a priest for idol-worship is not a very nice thing to report about someone.

However, if you check the Torah, you will find that the term “kohen” is rarely used with respect to any religious leader prior to Mt. Sinai and other than those from the Jewish people. Exceptions to the rule are two. The first is in Parashas Lech-Lecha, when Malchei-Tzedek, king of Shalem — who Rashi says was really Shem son of Eiver, the ancestor of Avraham Avinu. He is called a “kohen to the Lofty A’lmighty” (Bereishis 14:18).

The second is in this week’s parshah in reference to Yisro himself, and the implication is that Yisro was not a normal idol-worshipping priest. For, the word “kohen” implies something very deep, and that is, a capacity to be a conduit for the light of G-d.

The very word itself is made up of a chof-heh, which has the gematria of twenty-five, the number that alludes to the Hidden Light of creation (“light” is the twenty-fifth word in the Torah), and thus, the number of letters in the first verse of the “Shema.” The last letter is “nun,” which has the gematria of fifty, which, as we have explained in the past, alludes to the “Nun Sha’arei Binah” –“Fifty Gates of Understanding,” the result of that light.

According to Targum Yonason (Shemos 18:11), one of the principle ideas that impressed Yisro was the way G-d punished “measure-for-measure” — as he saw through the destruction of Egypt and the battle against Amalek — for, it revealed Divine Providence. That means that Yisro ALREADY related to Divine Providence, and that he ALREADY witnessed it in everyday life.

Kabbalistically, this means that Yisro was already a “container” for the light of G-d, the Primordial Light of G-d. For, this is what it means to “see” the hand of G-d in life; it means to “receive” and “capture” the light of G-d, almost like film does when light enters the aperture when taking a picture and leaving a visual impression.

In fact, this is why the posuk mentions that he was “kohen-Midian” before mentioning that he was “chosen-Moshe,” because it was the former that led to the latter. After all, as the Talmud states, when Moshe was born, he was born emanating the special light of creation (Sotah 12b), and, for Yisro to “receive” him into his family meant that there had to be a corresponding spiritual capacity to do so.

And, indeed there was, as was evident by his journey into the desert to join up with the people of his son-in-law, not just to maintain a family connection, but, because of the what he heard and saw. And, in classic Ba’al HaTurim fashion, he finds a hint to all of this in the words themselves:

Yisro, priest (kohen) of Midian and the father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that G-d did for Moshe and Israel, his people, when G-d took Israel out of Egypt. (Shemos

YISRO PRIEST OF MIDIAN AND FATHER-IN-LAW: This has the same gematria as, “These are the splitting of the sea and the war against Amalek”; YISRO: This has the gematria of “priest to idol worship,” and, that of “the Torah.” (Ba’al HaTurim, Shemos 18″1)

Hence, light, like water, is just about useless if it the vessel into which it pours is unable to receive and contain it. Already back in Paroah’s court, Yisro exhibited his ability to receive the light of G-d, and therefore, the truth of the Lofty A’lmighty. And, because he was such a truth-seeker, it was arranged that he should meet up with Moshe Rabbeinu, and join his family, and, at the right time, see, hear, and “smell” the hand of G-d in all that happened to the Jewish people as they left Egypt, and thus, be encouraged to join the fold and gain a share of eternity.


G-d said all these things, “I am G-d, your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of servants. You will have no other gods besides Me. (Shemos 20:1-2) Thus begins the “Aseres HaDibros” — the “Ten Commandments.” Why ten? Because the number ten is represented by the Hebrew letter “yud,” the smallest Hebrew letter of all. And, whereas all other Hebrew letters are usually composites of other letters — for example, in “Sofrus,” the style of writing used for a Sefer Torah, an aleph is made up of two yuds and a vav — the yud is not. Therefore, it also represents sublime simplicity.

According to Kabbalah, G-d used the Aleph-Bais to make creation. According to the Talmud, He specifically used the letter “heh” to make This World, and, the “yud” to make the World-to-Come (Menachos 29b), where spiritual simplicity is the only reality.

Thus creation is governed by the “Ten Sefiros,” ten spiritual emanations of godly light that contain all the potential for physical and spiritual existence as we know it and are a part of it. This is true all the way “up,” at least as far as we are allowed to know and speak about. This means the source for the concept of ten is primordial and eternal.

This idea is the source of all the tens in Torah, such as the Ten Statements with which G-d made creation, and, more recently, the Ten Plagues that opened the locked door to Jewish freedom. And, not only this, but, it is also the reason why man came to discover and use the metric system, which is based upon the number ten.

Of course, if you ask the average professor of mathematics, or, physicist, they will tell you that mankind chose to use a “Base-Ten” system because it is convenient and practical. However, Kabbalah is telling us WHY it is so convenient, why creation lends itself so well to such a system of counting and measuring.

Regarding the mitzvos, there are 613 of them all together, each with its own set up details and instructions. In case you didn’t notice, if you add up all the numbers of “613,” they also equal ten (6+1+3). And, if you add up the numbers of 10 (1+0), it equals the number “one,” as in “One,” as in: “Hear O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is ONE.”

Furthermore, as Moshe tried to impart to the Jewish people just before his death, there really only is ONE mitzvah:

Now, Israel, what does G-d, your G-d, want from you, except to fear G-d, your G-d, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve G-d your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul (Devarim 10:12)

For, even though fear of G-d is but one of the “TaRYaG Mitzvos,” it really represents the goal of ALL the mitzvos, at least in the ultimate sense. As we have said on many occasions, the word for “fear” and “seeing” are the same in Hebrew, and thus, true fear of G-d means “seeing” G-d in all aspects of life, which means seeing truth and feeling its importance in every part of one’s life. This is what the Talmud intimates here as well:

Chavakuk came and stood them (mitzvos) on one: But the righteous person shall live through his faith (Chavakuk 2:4). (Makkos 24a)

That is, all the mitzvos boil down to one central concept, and that is, trust and faith in G-d. But you can’t have faith or trust in something you don’t see in your mind’s eye. This is implied in the letter “aleph,” the first letter of the Aleph-Bais, and the one that represents the number One, as in G-d. As we said above, an aleph is comprised of two “yuds” and a “vav,” with one yud on top of the vav pointing Heavenward, and, one yud below the vav pointing earthward, towards man and his world.

It is the vav, which looks like a pipe, that connects them together and forms the unity of the aleph, and helps to convey this all-important message: The flow of blessing and life comes from never severing the connection between Heaven and Earth, G-d and man. The point of the mitzvos is to make man one with G-d, and when that happens, the spiritual pipe is allowed to flow freely between Heaven and Earth with bountiful life-giving blessing.


For Dovid. I will acknowledge You with all my heart, in the presence of princes I will sing to you. I will prostrate myself toward Your Holy Sanctuary, and I will acknowledge Your Name, for Your kindness and Your truth; for You have exalted Your promise even beyond Your Name. (Tehillim 138:1-2)

These words are a natural extension of the previous d’var Torah, for, with them Dovid HaMelech expresses the need to continuously acknowledge the reality of G-d, and the gift of life that He has given to us and which He sustains. And, not just when we are alone, but, when we are in the presence of others as well — no, ESPECIALLY.

One of the most famous stories of Dovid HaMelech is the one where he danced before the Holy Ark on its journey to Jerusalem. One of the most famous dialogues in Tanach is the one that took place between he and his wife Michal as a result:

And it happened as the Ark of G-d arrived at the City of Dovid that Michal daughter of Shaul peered out the window and saw Dovid HaMelech leaping and dancing before G-d, and she became contemptuous of him in her heart =8A. Dovid returned to bless his household. Michael daughter of Shaul went out to meet Dovid and said, “How honored was the kind of Israel today, who was exposed today in the presence of his servants’ maidservants as one of the boors would be exposed!” (II Shmuel 6:16, 20)

But, was Dovid phased by her words? Did the king regret his behavior in advance of the Ark of G-d and before the A’lmighty?

Dovid answered Michal, “In the presence of G-d, Who chose me over your father and over his entire house to appoint me ruler over the people of G-d, over Israel — before G-d I rejoice! And I shall behave even more humbly than this, and I shall be lowly in my eyes; and among the maidservants of whom you spoke — among them will I be honored! (Ibid. 21-22)

Who was right? After all, Michal had a point — it was possible that people would look less favorably towards the king and his kingdom because of his “common” behavior. Even Torah acknowledges the need for strict protocol when it comes to the king of the Jewish people. However, the posuk decides for us, by ending off with:

Michal daughter of Shaul had no child until the day of her death. (Ibid. 23)

That is, as a result of her haughtiness, she bore no children AFTER this incident, until the day of her death, dying in childbirth itself.

The fact that the posuk emphasizes that Michal was “daughter of Shaul,” who had the kingdom of Israel “torn” away from him, indicates that she suffered from the same spiritual blind spot that her father did, and, which Dovid did not. That is why it is, “Dovid, king of Israel, lives forever” (Rosh Hashanah 25a), whereas as Shaul HaMelech was denied the eternity of the kingdom, and Michal was denied some descendants, and died giving birth to her last one.

As Dovid understood, when it comes to sanctifying G-d’s Name, or, preventing the profanation of It, there are few guidelines (Sanhedrin 82a); protocol is abandoning yourself to His glory. It is putting aside your own personal pride for the sake of showing everyone else how exalted G-d is in your eyes, though He may not be so in the eyes of others. This, in turn, will bring glory to you — providing this is not your goal — and the office you represent.

And, in the end, this was also a distinguishing trait of Yisro, that gave him the wherewithal to leave behind his society, and accept Torah as his way of life, and the Jewish nation as his people.

Have a great Shabbos,
Pinchas Winston