Midos Tovos Are The Key
The pasuk says, “Yisro, the minister 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.” [Shemos 18:1] Rashi teaches: Yisro had seven names – Reuel, Yeser, Yisro, Hovav, Heber, Keini, and Putiel. Rashi adds that he was called Yeser (meaning extra) because he caused one more passage of the Torah to be written. Which passage did he add to the Torah? The passage beginning “V’Ata Sechezeh” (and you shall see) [Shemos 18:21], in which he advises Moshe to seek out “men of means, G-d fearing people, men of truth, people who despise money” and to appoint them “leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties, and leaders of tens” to judge the people at all times, thereby easing the burden on Moshe and on the people. (The previous procedure in which all questions and disputes came to Moshe caused long lines for the people and weariness on the part of their leader.)
Why does Rashi need to teach us that this is the parsha added to the Torah in Yisro’s honor? Is this not obvious? Even more to the point, “Yisro’s parsha” that he is responsible for adding to the Torah does not begin with the words “V’Ata Sechezeh,” which is his proposal for the solution to the problem. It begins several pesukim earlier when he first noticed the problem: “It was on the next day that Moshe sat to judge the people, and the people stood by Moshe from the morning until the evening. The father-in-law of Moshe saw everything that he was doing to the people, and he said, ‘What is this thing that you do to the people? Why do you sit alone with all the people standing by you from morning to evening?'” [Shemos 18:13-14].
Why does Rashi not say that the parsha that Yisro added to the Torah for which he is called Yeser is the parsha beginning with the words “The father-in-law of Moshe saw everything that he was doing to the people…”?
Rav Meir Shapiro (who as we all know had a profound influence on Klal Yisrael by proposing the Daf Yomi system of Talmud study) says an interesting thought on this question: The reason the additional parsha which earned “Yeser” his name begins with Yisro’s proposal for a solution (rather than his recognition of the problem) is because criticism is never an addition. Anyone can criticize. Anyone can come along and say “That is not a good idea.” “What you are doing does not work. You are ruining yourself; you are ruining the people!” There are always people to say “It’s no good!”
The addition, the “Yeser,” is when you give a creative idea of what should be done to solve the problem. That is why Rashi says the passage that Yisro added for which he was given an added name was the passage beginning with his solution: “V’Ata Sechezeh….”
This leads to a more fundamental question: Why did it take Yisro, who was a Gentile, and who had been a High Priest for Idolatry in Midyan – why did it take him to teach Klal Yisrael that they needed a judicial system of lower courts and medium courts and higher courts and a supreme court? Could we not have figured this out on our own?
The Ohr HaChaim haKadosh raises this question. He suggests that this is a statement to the Jewish people in all generations that there are among the nations of the world people who are very intelligent and to whom it we should listen. There is such a thing as a “very smart Gentile!”
There is a tendency in some parts of our society to think that Gentiles lack intelligence. That is not true. There have always been extremely bright Non-Jews. Galileo was a Gentile. Michelangelo was a Gentile. Benjamin Franklin was a Gentile. Thomas Jefferson was an extremely bright guy. He was a Gentile. Bill Gates is a Gentile. Steve Jobs was a Gentile. Steve Jobs changed the world. Warren Buffet – also a Gentile. He is the richest man in the world. These people are not stupid!
The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh says that by including this passage in the Torah, the Ribono shel Olam was making a statement: “…And you will be for me a Segulah (treasure) from all the nations…” [Shemos 19:5] (a pasuk from this week’s parsha). This is not because you are so smart! We were not chosen for being smart. The introduction to Kabalas HaTorah (receiving the Ten Commandments) is that Hashem did not pick us for our brains; He picked us because He loved our Patriarchs – Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. He did not love them because they were geniuses, but because they were good people. They were ba’alei midos (people with outstanding personal character traits).
To emphasize this idea, the preamble to Kabalas HaTorah is the story of the Gentile who was able to find the flaws in the process and suggest corrective measures. It was not by merit of “Jewish brains” that we were given the Torah, it was by merit of the righteousness of our forefathers.
Yisro illustrates for us that sometimes it is worthwhile for us to turn to the wise men of the nations of the world regarding good ideas and creative thinking.
Rabbeinu Bechaye writes in Sefer Shemos: Come and see the great status of character traits. For the great men of the Torah, such as Noach, Avraham, Yaakov, Moshe and others were never praised for their intelligence and wisdom. The Torah never praises their genius. They are always praised in terms of their midos tovos (positive character traits). This teaches that the main thing is not wisdom, but integrity and righteousness. That is our claim to fame. We were chosen because we come from good stock, not because we come from smart stock.
That is why the parsha is “parshas Yisro” – the whole judicial system comes from a Gentile. It is because Gentiles are smart. They are very smart. There have always been smart Gentiles. Brains are not our claim to fame. We are the “Am Segulah” (G-d’s treasured nation) because of the integrity and righteousness of our patriarchs. So says the holy Ohr HaChaim.
Go IN Peace or TO Peace?
After Yisro proposes his court system of graduated levels, he tells Moshe Rabbeinu: “They shall judge the people at all times, and they shall bring every major matter to you, and every minor matter they shall judge, and it will ease from upon you, and they shall bear with you. If you do this thing – and G-d will command you – then you will be able to endure, and this entire people, as well, shall arrive at its destination in peace.” [Shemos 18:22-23]
The Chofetz Chaim asks a very interesting question in Parshas Shemos. The above cited expression “shall arrive at its destination in peace” (al mekomo yavo b’shalom) is a very peculiar one. Earlier, in Parshas Shemos, when Moshe took leave of Yisro in Midyan (to go to Egypt on his Divine mission) the pasuk states that Yisro told Moshe “Lech l‘Shalom” (literally, go to peace) [Shemos 4:18]. The Talmud on the last Daf of Tractate Brochos [64a] remarks that when someone bids their friend goodbye, he should not say “Lech b‘Shalom” (go in peace); rather he should say “Lech l‘Shalom” (go to peace). The Gemara cites as a proof text the fact that Yisro told Moshe “Lech l’Shalom” and his mission was successful, whereas King Dovid told his son Avshalom “Lech b’Shalom” and he wound up being killed.
There is only one occasion in life where we tell a person “Lech b’Shalom” and that is at his funeral.
The Chofetz Chaim asks: The same Yisro who told Moshe in Shemos 4:18 “Lech l‘Shalom” says in our parsha [Shemos 18:23] “al mekomo yavo b‘Shalom.” How do we explain this?
He analyzes the matter as follows: What does “Shalom” mean, and why do we say that l’Shalom is good and b’Shalom is not good? The Maharal in Nesivos Olam explains that Shalom means perfection (from the expression shalem – completeness). As long as a person is alive in this world, he has not reached perfection. The bracha we give another person when we part from his company is “Lech l’Shalom” – meaning, you should meet your perfection, your shleimus. You are not done yet! There is only one occasion when we can say “Lech b’Shalom” (go in peace) – because when a person is already dead, he is as complete as he is ever going to be. We then tell him, “Lech b’Shalom” – go with the “completeness” you already reached; we hope you have reached perfection in your life.
The Chofetz Chaim, quoting Kabbalistic sources, writes that if a person leaves this world and has not paid back all his debts, he needs to return to this world as a “gilgul” (transmigrated soul). That means if someone dies owing money to people, the first thing he should do in his will is to instruct his heirs to take care of all his unpaid debts. Someone who has not paid up all his debts will need to come back to this world to repay them.
Sometimes, the Chofetz Chaim writes, someone does not return as a person but as a horse or a mule or a squirrel or worse. I am always hesitant to talk about soul transmigration – but there is such a concept in Judaism. In Europe, there was an incident where a person bought a healthy horse and he worked with his horse for a couple of weeks. Suddenly, the horse dropped dead. The owner of this “healthy horse” went to a Kabbalist who told him that the soul of this horse owed him money in a previous life. He came back through the mechanism of “gilgul” in the form of a horse. He worked for this person to whom he owed money to for two weeks, he paid off his debt, and then he was allowed to return to the world of the souls.
The Chofetz Chaim says, when Yisro saw the people standing in front of Moshe waiting for their Din Torah, he was worried that the long queues would frustrate people. Rather than waiting seven hours in line to resolve their Din Torah (monetary case), they would give up and go home – leaving their Din Torah unresolved and thereby perhaps leaving a debt they owed their fellow man unpaid. When Yisro saw that, he worried that the ultimate outcome would be that people would leave this world with unpaid debts, and the consequences of that are grave. Therefore, Yisro told Moshe he must ensure that everyone will have a proper Din Torah and a proper resolution to their monetary disputes. Someone who is “Chayav” will know he needs to pay and will take care of his debt while he is still alive. Someone who is “Patur” can rest assured that his debt has been paid. The upshot of all this will be “al mekomo yavo b’Shalom” – every one (in their proper time) will leave this world b’Shleimus, with perfection.
That is why Yisro used this expression. He was not talking about “in this world b’Shalom.” In this world it is “l’Shalom.” However, if someone leaves this world owing different people money, it is not going to be “b’Shalom.” This was the impetus behind Yisro’s plan of how important it is to solve this issue so that people leave this world “b’Shalom.” That is what Yisro was saying the second time in Shemos 18:23.
The takeaway lesson for us is “Pay your debts.” People borrow money, they sometimes do not pay them back. People buy on credit, they owe merchants, they do not pay them. People owe caterers. People owe schools. They owe tuition. This is also a debt. We are not talking about great righteousness. We are talking about simple justice. We must pay off our debts.
Then, when they say the “Kel Maleh” (prayer for the departed) for us, after 120 years, they can recite in truth “VaYanuch al Miskavo b’Shalom” (he will rest on his resting place in peace), and let us say Amen. It will be b’Shleimus. We have completed our mission, we do not owe any debts, and we can rest in peace in Gan Eden.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Yisro is provided below:
- # 042 Kiddush: To Sit or Not to Sit
- # 085 Christianity in Halacha
- # 133 Honoring In-Laws
- # 180 The Mitzvah of Kiddush for Men and Women
- # 226 The Fearless Judge: A Difficult Task
- # 270 Parental Wishes vs. Staying in Israel
- # 316 The Reading of the “Aseres Hadibros”
- # 360 Dolls and Statues: Is There An Avodah Zarah Problem?
- # 404 Making a Bracha on a Makom Neis
- # 448 Lo Sachmod
- # 492 Eating Before Kiddush
- # 536 Newspapers on Shabbos
- # 580 Women and Havdalah
- # 624 Resting Your Animal on the Shabbos
- # 668 Kiddush B’mkom Seudah
- # 712 The Kiddush Club
- # 756 The Kosel Video Camera
- # 800 Avoda Zara and The Jewish Jeweler
- # 844 Yisro and Birchas Hagomel
- # 888 What Should It Be – Hello or Shalom?
- # 932 Saying the Shem Hashem While Learning – Yes or No?
- # 975 Kiddush on Wine: Absolutely Necessary?
- #1019 Unnecessary Brachos
- #1063 Ma’aris Ayin: The Power Lunch in A Treife Restaurant
- #1106 Must You Treat Your Father-in-Law Like Your Father?
- #1149 Kiddush Shabbos Day – On What? What Do You Say?
- #1192 I Keep 72 Minutes; You Keep 45 – Can You Do Melacha for Me?
- #1236 “I Want Your House and I’ll Make You an Offer You Can’t Refuse”: Muttar or Assur?
- #1280 The Shul Kiddish Shabbos Monring: Two Interesting Shailos
- #1281 Kiddush Shabbos Day – Must Everyone Drink the Wine?
- #1324 Saying Kaddish: All Aveilim Together or Each One Individually on a Rotating Basis?
- #1368 Davening for Personal Needs on Shabbos?
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