When Eliezer brought Rivkah home to meet Yitzchak, he was out in the field dovening Minchah. The Torah says:
Yitzchak went forth to pray in the field towards evening, and he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, camels were approaching. (Bereishis 24:63)
Lifted his eyes? That’s just Torah talk for taking a look at something.
Or is it? We find the same wording used when Avraham went to carry out the Akeidah:
On the third day, Avraham lifted his eyes and saw the place from afar. (Bereishis 22:4)
It could be that after traveling for three days, Avraham walked while looking at the ground. He obviously looked up from time-to-time, but on this occasion, he lifted up his eyes and saw a cloud tied to the mountain, as Rashi explains.
But it wasn’t just any cloud. In fact, it wasn’t a physical cloud at all. It was actually the Shechinah that he saw, and that’s how he knew he had arrived at the designated place of the Akeidah. It wasn’t something a person could see by just physically lifting up their eyes, because Eliezer and Yishmael did that, and they could not see the same vision. Only Avraham and Yitzchak could see it.
People talk about setting their sights higher. They don’t mean that they’re going to climb a ladder and change their view. They mean they’re going to set their sights on more ambitious goals. They mean to expand their vision of personal success, beyond what they previously saw for themselves.
Vision is an interesting thing. We tend to assume that what we see, physically or mentally, is all there is to see. And yet, countless times we have been unable to see what is right in front of our eyes, or we realize that there is more to the picture than we are currently viewing. Sometimes it is just an issue of being more focused on what we are looking at, and being more aware of what we are looking for. Other times it is a matter of lifting up our eyes, that is, of looking with our mind’s eye which greatly enhances what we see with our physical eyes.
That’s what Avraham and Yitzchak did to be able to see the Shechinah hovering over Har HaMoriah. It may have appeared to them as if they saw it with their physical eyes, but it was really with their mind’s eye, just like all forms of prophecy. If it was possible to see it with physical eyes, then Eliezer and Yishmael would have seen it too.
And that’s what Yitzchak did to see his future wife. He wasn’t interested in seeing how attractive she was, at least not a first. And understanding this, Rivkah veiled herself to make the same point. Every shidduch is important, but not every shidduch leads to the building of an entire nation, God’s entire nation. Yitzchak could see that Rivkah and her entourage had arrived. He wanted to see if the Shechinah accompanied her, as it had his mother.
IN PARASHAS BEHA’ALOSECHA, Yisro will take his leave. But it won’t be before his son-in-law Moshe will try and persuade him to stay in a somewhat unusual way:
He said, “Please don’t leave us, for you are familiar with our encampments in the desert and you will be our eyes.” (Bamidbar 10:31)
Rashi has a couple of explanations for this, including this one:
If anything should be hidden from our eyes, you shall enlighten us [with your guidance]. (Rashi)
Why did Moshe Rabbeinu entreat his father-in-law with this offer? Because, we see in this week’s parsha, Yisro brought a different point of view to the camp. The whole first part of the parsha is devoted to his advice about how to deal with the overflow of halachic rulings:
Moshe’s father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out both you and these people who are with you, for the matter is too heavy for you. You cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will advise you, and may God be with you. … (Shemos 19:17-19)
But, you might say, wasn’t Moshe later critical of Yisro’s advice:
And you answered me and said, “The thing you have spoken is good for us to do.”(Devarim 1:14)
You decided the matter for your benefit. You should have replied, “Our teacher, Moshe! From whom is it proper to learn, from you or from your disciple? Is it not [better to learn] from you, who have taken such pains about them?” However, I knew your thoughts; you were saying [to yourselves], “Many judges will now be appointed over us; if one does not know us, we shall bring him a gift, and he will show us favor.” (Rashi)
Moshe was critical of the Jewish people for having created the situation that led Yisro to give his advice. But the advice itself was sound, clearly by the fact that it not only made it into the Torah, it made it into halachah.
But you might also say, what was the big deal? Was Yisro’s idea so new? Was he the first one to have devised a hierarchal legal system? Surely he had already seen it somewhere else and, that’s how he knew to suggest it. On the contrary, the only reason why Moshe Rabbeinu hadn’t already employed it, it would seem, is because he had rejected it for the Jewish people.
On the other hand, there were other times when certain halachos were introduced through people other than Moshe Rabbeinu himself. Most famously was the halachah of inheritance, added to the Torah through Bnos Tzelofchad (Bamidbar 27:1). As the Talmud says, “God merits the meritorious” (Shabbos 32a).
Perhaps then Moshe Rabbeinu was destined to have introduced the same halachah himself, but was held back from doing so to allow Yisro to be its source. Just as their love of Eretz Yisroel gave the daughters of Tzelofchad the merit to teach an important law of inheritance in the land, Yisro’s love of truth merited him to be the source of a just legal system.
In fact, maybe it is to this merit that the Torah alludes, as Rashi explains, when it introduces Yisro by saying:
Now Moshe’s father-in-law, Yisro, Kohen Midian, heard all that God had done for Moshe and the Jewish people… (Shemos 18:1)
As it is explained, the words Kohen Midian tells us that Yisro had tried, and rejected, every idol worship known to man at the time. He had obviously been looking for something other than just some form of god worship…especially since he stopped looking once he found God and Torah.
In fact, it is interesting that the Torah doesn’t just call him Kohen, but Kohen Midian. It’s an oxymoron, because kohen usually implies a servant of God, and Midian usually implies the opposite. You can be sure that the people of Midian did not admire Yisro for having rejected their deities and, instead rejected him. It’s almost as if it is saying that, if Yisro could be a kohen there, he could be a kohen anywhere! Let’s face it, he did merit to become the father-in-law of the greatest prophet to have ever lived…
THERE IS ANOTHER detail of Yisro’s story that is also a part of this picture:
Three were in that counsel, and they were Bilaam, Iyov and Yisro. Bilaam, who advised [to drown the newborn males], was killed. Iyov who was silent [and was reluctant to express his opinion], was sentenced to suffer afflictions. Yisro, [who fled after he disagreed and Pharaoh sought to kill him], had descendants privileged to sit [as scribes in session with the Sanhedrin] in the Chamber of Hewn Stone… (Sanhedrin 106a)
This is talking about the counsel that Pharaoh set up using Bilaam, Iyov, and Yisro, to decide how to resolve his Jewish problem. Bilaam obviously suggested eliminating them, Iyov remained mysteriously silent, while Yisro advised against harming them. Interestingly enough, the only one to have been called righteous was Iyov, and yet he kept his peace which cost him it later on, as Sefer Iyov details.
Yisro, never referred to as righteous, had not been afraid to speak his mind before Pharaoh, probably knowing full well what it might cost him. It is reminiscent of another story in the Talmud from much later on:
There was a certain [Roman] emperor who hated the Jews. He said to the important [members] of the kingdom: “If one had an ulcerous sore rise on his foot, should he cut it off and live, or leave it and suffer?” They said to him: “He should cut it (the foot) off and live.” (The ulcerous sore was a metaphor for the Jewish people, whom the emperor sought to eliminate as the cause of harm for the Roman Empire.) Ketia bar Shalom, said to them: “[It is unwise to do so for two reasons.] One is that you cannot [destroy] all of them…Just as the world cannot exist without winds so too the world cannot exist without the Jewish people. Furthermore, they will call you the severed kingdom.” The emperor said to ]Ketia[: “You have spoken well, but they throw anyone who defeats the king ]in argument[ into a house full of ashes.” When they were seizing ]Ketia[ and going ]to take him to his death[, a certain matronness said to him: “Woe to the ship that goes without ]paying the[ tax.” [Ketia[
bent down over his foreskin, severed it, and said: “I gave my tax; I will pass and enter.” (Avodah Zarah 10a)
Crazy law, eh? In any case, for giving the right answer and risking his life, Ketia bar Shalom, a Roman not destined for the World-to-Come, very quickly became a Jew and went right to the World-to-Come. He didn’t have much time to live as a Jew, but he had a rare opportunity to die as one. He turned an otherwise meaningless life into a really meaningful one instead.
As Rebi concluded, “There are some who acquire their share in the World-to-Come in one moment, and there are some who acquire their share in the World-to-Come only after many years.” In the case of Yisro, both seemed to have been true. And he didn’t just earn eternal life for himself, but for his name and reputation since both received center stage in the most important parsha in the Torah.
This is ultimately what it means to lift up your eyes. It means to look up and above the everyday reality which is often fickle and false. If you do, then you can set your sights higher on truth, God’s truth, and that makes you a very special person indeed.
Insights From the Weekly Torah Reading In Discussion: Bereishis, Shemos, Vayikra, Bamidbar, and Devarim
NO BOOK HAS been analyzed and explained as many times as the Torah, and there’s no sign of this slowing down. Every person and every generation has its own perspective on life, resulting in new takes on ancient wisdom.
That’s just one of the many wonders of Torah. It has the uncanny ability to talk to EVERY generation on its own unique level. But then again, what else could be expected from the work of God? God is ABOVE time, and He knew about every generation since Torah was given, long before those generations came into being.
Sometimes the newness of the “peirush” is not the insight itself, but the way it is presented. People often hear ideas that just don’t have an impact on them until they hear those same ideas again, in a different way. Sometimes it is a matter of WHEN they hear them that allows them to connect to the idea as never before.
A technical reason for this is the way our minds work. Very often we can be reading something or listening to something, thinking that we are completely “there,” when in fact, we are only partially focused. It is not uncommon for people to pay attention to what they are doing intellectually, but not emotionally. Without our even being aware of it, our heart can be somewhere else entirely.
This not only weakens the educational experience and lessens our ability to be impacted by the current experience, but it also won’t leave a lasting impact. We may later wonder why we so quickly forgot what we learned or experienced.
The best educators know this. That is why they try hard to turn the educational experience into both an intellectual AND emotional one. They know that their presentation has to capture the attention of the student’s heart as well as his mind, and they try to “talk” to both of them. That’s how knowledge is truly passed from one generation to the next.
One of the most effective devices for sharing information is through dialogue. It doesn’t always work, or at least not for everyone. But if the discussion is done well enough, which means that the reader doesn’t mind abandoning himself to the dialogue, then the information can have an impact and the experience will be fulfilling.
This is the goal of “In Discussion.” As the name implies, it is a commentary on the weekly Torah reading by way of dialogues. Although the characters are fictitious, the information is completely factual. Hopefully, the combination of the two will lead to a rewarding and memorable educational experience.