Weekly Reading Insights:
Yitro 5779



Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Yitro, 20 Shvat 5779/Jan. 26, 2019

Torah: Exodus 18:1-20:23; Haftorah: Isaiah 6:1-7:6 (because of resemblence to vision at Mt. Sinai)

Yitro is the 5th Reading out of 11 in Exodus and it contains 4022 letters, in 1105 words, in 75 verses

Yitro, Moshe's father-in-law, came with Moshe's wife and sons to join the Jews. Yitro suggested that Moshe delegate the job of judging to leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. The Jews were given three days to sanctify themselves and a barrier was built around Mt. Sinai in preparation for G-d's revelation there.

The Ten Commandments were said:
1. 'I am the L-rd your G-d who brought you out of Egypt..." 2. Prohibition to believe in other gods and worship idols 3. Prohibition to takeG-d's name in vain 4. Remember the Shabbat and keep it holy 5. Honor parents 6. Do not murder 7. Do not commit adultery 8. Do not steal 9. Do not bear false witness 10. Do not envy.
The direct revelation of the first two was too strong for the Jews, so they asked Moshe to hear the remaining ones for them. The Jews were also commanded not to make physical representations of G-d, and to make an earth-filled altar of unhewn stone with an ascension ramp.


An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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This week's portion is called "Yitro". Yitro was Moshe's father-in-law and the high priest of Midyan. An inspiring Torah idea from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, that we have written about previously, is an explanation of why the Zohar teaches us that Yitro's affirmation of G-d (Shmot 18:9-11) was a preparation for the giving of the Torah. Why did this have to come from, a non-Jew, someone who had previously served as a high priest of idol worship?

The answer is that the Torah is teaching us that the Torah is not only for those few select and lofty souls who live in a spiritual ivory tower. The purpose of the Torah is to go deep down into the most faraway and sometimes even unsavory places, both physical and spiritual, and transform them into a dwelling place for G-d. This is the inner meaning of Yitro's affirmation. Whether we are talking about Yitro, Moshe's father-in-law, or about the Yitro in each us - the part that wants to stay distant from G-d and His Torah - we know we are doing the job right when the most spiritually distant places become part of the program.

Now to go a little deeper. Let us understand at least part of what the Torah shares about Yitro's revelation, when he said (Shmot 18:11), "Now I know that G-d is greater than all the other gods because of the way they (the Egyptians) plotted against them (the Jews)". Rashi explains - "Just like the Egyptians tried to use water to destroy the Jews, so they were destroyed by water". What was so unique about this miracle that compelled Yitro to recognize that G-d is greater than all the other gods?

We see the beginning of an answer in Maimonides's laws of how a Jew should respond to the idol worship in his or her environment. The first idol worshipers did not deny G-d the Creator's existence. They believed that G-d had endowed the stars and constellations with power to direct the world as they desired. So the people served these other forces as a person would serve the local representative of a king, rather than serving the king himself. Still, they also believed that G-d could control and overcome the stars and constellations if He desired, since, of course, it was He that gave them their power in the first place.

According to this, if the Egyptians were punished by some force other than water, then there was still room to make the above mistake, to believe that natural forces have their own power and when G-d wants to He can manipulate them in order to punish the Egyptians. However, since the Egyptians were killed by the same natural element that they used to try to destroy the Jews, it was clear to Yitro that all the natural forces are nothing but "an axe in the hand of the woodman".Yitro saw that spiritual truth is found only in Judaism! (Yitro had known all about the nefarious plans of the Egyptians because he had been one of Pharaoh's advisors until he left this position because of their treacherous behavior). Due to this small detail, Yitro decided to convert to Judaism. (From Likutei Sichot vol. 16, pgs. 200-202).

(The following is related by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie):
In January 1987, a few days after our wedding, my wife and I, together with my parents and younger sister, had the great merit to visit Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneersohn (wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe). She was quite elderly and frail at the time and passed away just over a year later. Her yahrtzeit is this coming Wednesday (22 Shevat - 7th February).

After chatting with us for a few minutes she turned to my younger sister (who was ten years old at the time) and asked how she likes America. My mother, answering for her, responded that she is really enjoying America because of the abundance of kosher chocolate and nosh, which at the time was difficult to obtain in South Africa. The Rebbetzin immediately called one of the house workers and asked him to bring out a big box of delicious chocolates which she gave to my sister as a gift.

Almost a year later, in October, the first group of ten rabbinical students to study in Johannesburg arrived. One of them came from a family that had a close connection with the Rebbetzin. He informed my parents that when he went to say goodbye, the Rebbetzin asked him if he could take a package for the Gouraries.

Excited and intrigued they went to the airport to pick up this mysterious parcel. When they opened it they were amazed to see a beautiful box of chocolates. In her frail state, just three months before she passed away, the Rebbetzin remembered a little ten-year-old girl in South Africa who enjoyed the kosher chocolates that were so hard to find.

My sister and all of us have never forgotten this small but powerful incident. The lesson is clear: to make an impact on the lives of others doesn't always require great feats. Little gestures driven by a caring and nurturing mindset can make the world of difference.
(From Living Jewish).

Shabbat shalom, Shaul.

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more,
click to Yitro

one sample:

Contemporary Kabbalists
Making the Infinite Accessible

From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; adapted by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky
Moses embodied divine wisdom, whereas Jethro embodied natural, worldly wisdom. By declaring that all this knowledge led ultimately to the acceptance of G-d's wisdom, Jethro paved the way for the Giving of the Torah. By bowing down to Jethro, Moses elevated natural wisdom and accepted it into the sphere of divine wisdom.

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