These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: #1192 I Keep 72 Minutes; You Keep 45 – Can You Do Melacha for Me? Good Shabbos!
There is a famous pasuk and a famous Rashi at the beginning of Parshas Yisro. The pasuk says, “And Priest of Midian, father-in-law of Moshe heard all that Elo-kim did for Moshe and for Israel His nation, for Hashem took Israel out of Egypt.” [Shemos 18:1] Rashi [based on Zevachim 116a] explains that Yisro heard about the Splitting of the Sea and the War with Amalek. When he heard about these great miracles, he thought to himself: “I need to check this out for myself and see what is going on with these miraculous people.”
We have asked many times over the years: Why did only Yisro come? The Az Yashir song states “nations heard and they trembled; fear gripped those who dwell in Philistia.” [Shemos 15:14]. The whole world heard about these events and shook in their collective boots. Why was there only one man who felt he had to show up and check this out for himself?
We can ask a second question: This man was known by seven names. (Rashi lists these seven names.) One of the seven names was Yeser (Yud-Taf-Reish). Rashi said they added a vov to his name (to make it Yisro) because a parsha was added to the Torah through him (i.e. – the section where he advised Moshe to set up a hierarchical system of courts, rather than to single-stream all disputes through himself). Question #2: Why was specifically the letter Vov added to his name? Why not yud? Why not another letter? Why the letter Vov?
We can ask a third question: Why is the letter Vov called the letter of truth? What does that mean? There is an interesting Zohar that says the letter Vov is what is called the “os emes” (the letter of truth). What does that mean? We read in the Book of Yehoshua that when the spies came into Yericho, they went into the house of Rachav haZonah, who helped them out and hid them. She asked for something in return as a reward. She asked that when the Jews come into Canaan to conquer Eretz Yisrael, they should spare her and her family. The pasuk states, “And now swear to me in the Name of Hashem, for I have done a kindness for you. You should do a kindness for my family like I did for you, and you should give me an ‘os emes’ (true sign).” The Zohar says that the letter Vov is called the “os emes.”
Ironically, we see an application of this principle, that the letter Vov is an “os emes,” in a very incongruous location in Tanach. There is a chapter (#34) in Tehillim that is quite familiar to us because we say it Shabbos morning. “When David changed his behavior before Avimelech…” Dovid HaMelech feigned insanity when he was caught by the soldiers of Gath and brought before their king. He acted like a deranged person, so that the king would not believe that this was really Dovid Melech Yisroel, and would let him go. Dovid’s plan worked. “Achish [Avimelech is the generic title given to the kings of Gath] said to his servants, ‘Behold – you see the man is mad; why do you bring him to me? Do I lack madmen that you have brought this one to carry on madly before me? Should this person enter my house?'” [Shmuel I 21:15-16]. Achish-Avimelech let Dovid go free. This chapter in Tehillim is written as an alphabetic acrostic. Each of the pesukim of the Psalm begin with ascending letters of the Aleph-Beis. However, there is one letter of the Hebrew alphabet that does not begin a pasuk in that chapter – the letter Vov! The reason is that the letter Vov represents truth (it is the os emes). Since the whole chapter deals with Dovid HaMelech deceiving Avimelech by feigning insanity, the letter of truth does not begin any of those pesukim!
But still, we must analyze – what does the Zohar mean by saying that the letter Vov is the letter of truth?
To review, we have stated three questions: 1) Why did only Yisro show up? 2) Why was the letter Vov added to the name of Yeser. 3) We see in Chazal that Vov is called the letter of truth – why is that the case?
I saw in the sefer Darash Mordechai from Rav Mordechai Druk what I think is a very beautiful explanation. When the Ribono shel Olam came to Klal Yisrael to give them the Torah, something happened in the world that never happened before, and has not happened since: The world stopped…to the extent that there was not a peep heard in the world. No bird chirped. No dog barked. The world was silent. Something was happening. The Gemara states [Zevachim 116a] that the world’s population was amazed at this phenomenon and could not figure out what was happening. They all gathered around the wicked Bilaam and asked him: “What is going on? Is this the beginning of another Flood?” It was like right before a Tsunami – all the animals were quiet. Everyone wanted to know what was about to occur.
Bilaam (citing another pasuk in Tehillim [29:10] “Hashem L’Mabul Yashav…”) assured them that Hashem promised He would never bring another Flood to the world. The nations were afraid and they asked Bilaam “Perhaps Hashem’s oath was not to destroy the world by water, but He might yet destroy the world again by fire or earthquake.” Bilaam again reassured them that the Divine Oath was a guarantee that the entire civilization of the world would never again be destroyed. They persisted: “What then is this great sound that we are hearing?” Bilaam told them “The Ribono shel Olam has this great treasure which He has kept hidden in His safe for 974 generations before the world was created. He now is preparing to give this great treasure to His People. That is what is happening! This is a momentous event, as it is written “Hashem gives power to His people…” [Tehillim 29:11].
What was the reaction of all the Nations of the World? They immediately responded “…Hashem should bless His people with Peace.” [ibid.]. In other words, “Gezunte Heit!” – Fine and dandy, let Hashem give His people the Torah, He should just let us alone and we will be fine. As long as it is not going to affect us, we will go back along our merry way, doing what we were doing and not be concerned about this Torah.
In that reaction we find the difference between Yisro and the Nations of the World. They saw things happening, but as long as these events – as miraculous as they might have all been – didn’t affect them, their reaction was “I don’t want to know about it. It’s none of my business!” No reaction.
Yisro’s strength was that (in today’s parlance we would say) he connected the dots. After 9/11 when everybody wondered: “Where was the CIA? Where was the FBI? Where was the Defense Intelligence Agency? Why didn’t they see this coming? Everybody said, “Well they knew there was something called Al-Qaeda, they knew there was someone call Osama bin Laden, they knew there was this, they knew there was that… but they didn’t connect the dots!” If you don’t connect the dots you don’t see the connection.
Yisro was a person who connected the dots. He saw the pattern. He saw an event and he saw another event and another event. He noticed something dramatic was happening. “The Ribono shel Olam is trying to tell us something here.” That is why, out of all the letters of the alphabet, they gave him the Vov, because Vov (which is a prefix meaning AND) is the “Vov haChibur” – the letter that connects. Yisro’s power was to look at things not in isolation, but to see the pattern and put all the pieces together to see and understand the big picture. That is why it was the Vov they added to his name.
That is also why Vov is the “letter of truth” (os haEmes). If one wants to find the truth, one must connect the dots. The way to find out the truth is not to look at incidents in isolation, but to see the pattern and put all kind of isolated incidents together into a big picture.
We are not that far away from Purim. The end of the Megilla states that Achashverosh placed a tax on the islands at sea. It is interesting to note that the name of the king in this verse is spelled differently than every other place in Megillas Esther. It is spelled without a Vov separating the last two letters! One would think that after the entire Megilla and all that happened and the irony of the whole story – Achashverosh would wake up and say “You know what? This was the Hand of G-d!”
Achashverosh doesn’t do that. He is interested in one thing: Taxes! Things can happen. The world can be turning upside down. “Let me go back to my life. Business as usual!” Achashverosh followed in the footsteps of the Nations of the World. Earth shattering events made no impression on them or on him!
It struck me to connect this thought with an incident in the life of Rav Gifter, zt”l, about which I was not 100% clear. I called Rebbetzin Eisenberg, Rav Gifter’s daughter, and she was a bit fuzzy on the details as well, so she called a couple of her brothers. They also could not swear to exactly what happened.
However, this is my recollection of the story: When Rav Gifter [1915-2001] went in the 1930s from the United States of America to Telshe in Lithuania to study in the famous European Yeshiva, he went by boat. He did not travel first class. He went steerage. Above him on one of the nights of the trip they were having a big dance, and everyone was having a good time. People were dancing, drinking, and enjoying themselves immensely. All of a sudden, the boat hit a storm. “And the boat was about to break apart.” [Yonah 1:4]. You have to realize this is not all that many years after the sinking of the Titanic. People had that tragedy fresh in their minds. People were scared and frightened. But then the storm passed. The people went back to dancing.
This incident made a great impression on the young Mordechai Gifter. He said it was a moment when one’s life flashes in front of him. One inevitably thinks “I could drown in the North Atlantic.” And then in a moment, the danger passes and you are saved! What do people do? They go back to dancing!
This is a rerun of the story of the frightened Nations of the World who anxiously asked Bilaam to explain to them what was happening. Is it a Flood? Is it a Fire? Is the world coming to an end? “No! The Jews are being given the Torah!” “Fine. Let it be like that. I am going right back to doing my own thing!”
This is what separated Yisro from the rest of the Nations of the World, and that is what separates thinking people from people who just go on with their life after experiencing earth-shattering events as if nothing happened. There are such events that occur in everybody’s life. The trick is to utilize the “Vov haChibur” – to connect the dots and try to figure out “What is G-d telling us” (Vos zogt der Ribono shel Olam?)
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?
- #1412 Must One Keep Their Father’s Minhagim or What Bracha Do You Make on Potatoes
- #1456 The Case of the Son-in-Law Who Wants More Support Money From His Father-in-Law.
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.