In Money We Trust
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion: Tape# 85, Christianity in Halacha. Good Shabbos!
“And Yisro Heard…” What Everyone Else Heard
At the beginning of this week’s Parsha, the pasuk [verse] says, “And Yisro, the Priest of Midyan, the father-in-law of Moshe heard all that G-d did to Moshe and to Israel, His people — that Hashem took Israel out of Egypt.” [Shmos 18:1]
Chaza”l tell us that Yisro’s original name was Yesser. Yisro was one of the most famous converts. Yisro was a non-Jew. Yisro was more than a non-Jew — he was an idol worshipper. He was more than just a layman idol worshipper — he was a professional idol worshipper, a member of the clergy. That is what Yisro did for a living.
Chaza”l say that when Yesser came under the “Wings of the Shechina,” a letter was added to his name. His name was thus changed from Yesser to Yisro. Chaza”l also say that a parsha was added to the Torah because of Yisro (the parsha of his advice to Moshe Rabbeinu concerning the appointment of officers).
The name Yisro was a tremendous title of honor. Knowing what we do about Yisro, it tells us that he came from the depths to the heights. Therefore, it is strange that in the first pasuk of the parsha, the Torah identifies Yisro as “the Priest of Midyan.”
The “Priest of Midyan” is part of his past. As Yisro, he is now a different person. Why would the Torah persist in identifying Yisro with his previous profession as a priest of idolatry?
We know, for instance, that it is forbidden to remind a Ba’al Teshuva [one who corrected his transgressions] about his past. Now he is an observant Jew. Let the Torah simply say, “And Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe heard…?”
The Alshech HaKadosh says that the pasuk is doing this for a reason. The Torah wants to tell us exactly and precisely how far Yisro came and the secret of his success. Yisro started as a priest of idolatry and became a person who added a whole section in the Torah. What was the secret of his success?
The Alshech says the pasuk tells us the secret of Yisro s success in one word: “VaYishma” (and he heard). Yisro was a person who was willing to listen and to learn. If a person is willing to open his ears and his eyes and look and listen and learn, then he can change from one who has been a Priest of Midyan to one who adds a section to the Torah. The key is to be a listener, not a “know-it-all;” to be willing to accept; to be open to change; to be open to criticism. That is all that is needed.
One might think “there is nothing so hard about listening,” however we see from another Chaza”l that it seems that there is something very hard about listening. There’s a very famous Chaza”l that Rash”i quotes. It is a Gemara. It is a Medrash. It is something about which we have given different interpretations over the years.
Rash”i quotes: “What was it that Yisro heard that caused him to come? He heard about the splitting of the Reed Sea and about the war with Amalek.”
Rav Eliyahu Lopian offers the following interpretation of this medrash. The Medrash wants to know what Yisro heard that everyone else did not hear. Everyone heard about the splitting of the sea. “Nations heard and trembled…” [15:14] Everyone heard about Amalek, as well. So, why wasn’t there a mass-conversion occurring?
Rav Eliyah Lopian says that this is what Chaza”l are telling us: Yisro heard precisely what everyone else heard! He heard about the splitting of the Reed Sea, and everyone else heard about the splitting of the Reed Sea. He heard about the battle with Amalek and everyone else heard about the battle with Amalek.
The difference is “Va’Yishma” (he Heard it). Yisro was the type of person that was honest and that was seeking the Truth. That made him different. Nothing fancy. No insights. No Angel from Heaven. No Revelation from Eliyahu. Nothing fancy. He just heard what everybody else heard. That is what this Chaza”l are saying.
Yisro was different because he was a Listener. He was a Learner. He was someone who wanted the Truth. He wanted the Truth So Much that our Rabbis tell us he tried every Avodah Zara [every form of idol worship] in the universe, but he was not happy. He was not satisfied. He was honest with himself. He tried this Avodah Zara, but it wasn’t right, it wasn’t True. He tried another one, it didn’t work, so he rejected it. “I want to learn; I want to hear.” That is Yisro’s key to success.
If one is a Listener then he can change — as the Alshech says — from the Priesthood of Midyan to become a Yisro.
Everyone can hear physically, but not all of us Hear. There are none so blind as those who will not see; and there are none so deaf as those who will not hear and will not listen. Yisro was a Listener. That was the key to his success.
Avodah Zarah Has Not Been Nullified
This is the Parsha which mentions the prohibition of Avodah Zarah (in the Aseres HaDibros). We assume that Avodah Zarah is something that applied in the Dark Ages — even before the Dark Ages — but now Enlightened Man, in the latter part of the Twentieth Century is not even tempted by Avodah Zarah.
There is an interesting Akeidah al HaTorah that says that this assumption is not true. There is a concept of Avodah Zarah that exists today as much as it existed thousands of years ago. In fact, perhaps it is more prevalent now than ever. The Akeidah says that today’s ‘Avodah Zarah’ is devoting all of one’s time to amassing wealth and property. When the pasuk says “Do not make with Me, gods of silver and gods of gold for yourselves” [20:20], it does not just mean little idols that one bows down to three times a day! It means do not make money — gold and silver — into a god.
Is this relevant or is this not relevant? Go ask Mr. Milikhan from Drexel, Barnam, Lambere whether this pasuk is relevant today or not. It is the same Avodah Zarah, says the Akeidah al HaTorah. For many, Gold and Silver Are mighty gods, upon whom people put their faith and credibility.
Lenin once said “A capitalist would sell the rope to his own hangman.” To make a buck, the capitalist would sell the rope that he himself would be hung with.
To one extent or another we all face this test. It is not true — Avodah Zarah has not been nullified. Unfortunately, it is alive and well among us. Especially among us, in our capitalistic society where we see how people become consumed with this god called making money. It hasn’t changed at all.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Shechina — the Divine Presence of G-d.
Ba’al Teshuva — one who has “returned” to Judaism
Darshan — expositor of Torah lessons
Avodah Zara — idolatry
Aseres HaDibros — The Ten Sayings or Commandments
Personalities & Sources:
Alshech — Rabbi Moshe ben Chaim (1521-1593). Wrote Torah commentary, Torath Moshe, first published in Venice 1601; Safed, Israel.
Rav Eliyahu Lopian — (1872-1970) author of Lev Eliyahu; exponent of mussar. Poland; London; Kefar Chassidim, Israel.
Akeidah al HaTorah — (Akeidas Yitzchak) (1420-1494) encyclopedic philosophical commentary on Torah by Rabbi Yitzchak ben Arama of Spain. (Moved to Naples after 1492 expulsion). First published in Salonica 1522.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, Maryland.
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion (#85). The corresponding halachic portion for this tape is: Christianity in Halacha. The other halachic portions for Parshas Yisro from the Commuter Chavrusah Series are:
- Tape # 042 – Kiddush: To Sit or Not to Sit
- Tape # 133 – Honoring In Laws
- Tape # 180 – The Mitzvah of Kiddush for Men and Women
- Tape # 226 – The Fearless Judge: A Difficult Task
- Tape # 270 – Paternal Wishes vs. Staying in Israel
- Tape # 316 – The Reading of the “Aseres Hadibros”
- Tape # 360 – Dolls and Statues: Is There an Avodah Zarah Problem?
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