Yisro 5784: Yisro, Amalek & A Holy Mountain

After hundreds of years in Egypt, and a century of slavery, followed by a miraculous salvation and Divinely orchestrated Exodus, wherein the nation achieved physical freedom, the Torah now moves to the next chapter on the path to freedom: Matan Torah – the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, the climax of spiritual freedom.  In Parshas Yisro, the nation is commanded to prepare for the Revelation (chapter 19), and the Aseres ha’Dibros are transmitted to the nation (Ch.20).

However, the parsha begins with the topic of Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, who came to join the nation of Israel.  The commentators debate whether his arrival was pre-Matan Torah (as written in the Torah text), or post Matan Torah (invoking the law of ‘ein muk’dam u’me’uchar ba’Torah’ – there is no chronological order in Torah).  Each approach teaches us different lessons and from each approach, we learn insights and timeless relevance.

וַיִּשְׁמַ֞ע יִתְר֨וֹ כֹהֵ֤ן מִדְיָן֙ חֹתֵ֣ן מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֵת֩ כׇּל־אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשָׂ֤ה אֱלֹקים֙ לְמֹשֶׁ֔ה וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל עַמּ֑וֹ כִּֽי־הוֹצִ֧יא ה אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִמִּצְרָֽיִםAnd Moshe’s father in law, Yisro, the priest of Midian, heard all that G-d had done for Moshe and for Israel, His nation, that Hashem had taken Israel out of Egypt (Shemos 18:1).  Rashi asks: מַה שְּׁמוּעָה שָׁמַע וּבָא? קְרִיעַת יַם סוּף וּמִלְחֶמֶת עֲמָלֵקwhat news did Yisro hear that motivated him to come and join the nation of Israel?  He heard about the splitting of the Reed Sea and the war of Amalek (ibid).

While the whole world heard about these events, Yisro did not only hear – he was motivated to act upon what he had heard, and to change his life as a result!

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav, zt’l, teaches, “Yisro’s arrival, and all subsequent events in this chapter, are related by the Torah in the chapter immediately preceding the giving of the Torah.  The war with Amalek (chapter 17) is also recounted immediately prior to Matan Torah.  Why are these two incidents – the war with Amalek and the journey of  Yisro – the prologue to Matan Torah?  Yisro was a gentile; essentially he was the Archbishop of Midian.  He came to the Jewish camp with an open mind.  He wanted to observe for himself what the Jews had accomplished and were about to engage in.  He was so overwhelmed by their conduct that he renounced paganism and embraced Judaism.  Chazal portray Yisro as a decent person, whose positive reaction should have been emulated by other gentiles who witnessed Matan Torah.  The incident of Yisro illustrates one possible reaction of a gentile to Jews and Matan Torah.

“The Amalekites were also impressed with the Jews, but their reaction differed from that of Yisro.  They believed that a nation which could defy Egypt and Pharaoh, gain freedom from Pharaoh, and defeat the Egyptian regime, while having different laws from those which prevailed all over the world, should be exterminated.  Amalek came and attacked the Jews.  The Jews had not threatened Amalek in any manner, yet Amalek attacked them anyway. This was their reaction to Matan Torah…

“The offer (of Matan Torah) was extended to every human being, yet the Jews were the only nation who took advantage of the offer.  The Jews were sensitive, understanding the exaltedness and beauty of a life which is lived in compliance with the laws of the Torah.  No other nation understood this concept.  Still, G-d exposed all of humankind to this event to allow them the opportunity to accept it.

“Will mankind eventually accept this reality and ultimately realize the greatness of a Torah life?  The Torah answers in the affirmative, and offers the story of Yisro as proof.  In the era of Moshiach, this same event will occur on a universal scale.

“The Torah, however, also wants us to know that there are certain people who will never be converted.  They understand that the Jew represents something unique, but their response to that realization is one of malice, vicious hate and a desire to destroy.  Amalek was the incarnation of evil, and regarded Matan Torah in a completely different manner (than did Yisro).  He attacked us without provocation and for no reason, other than that we were a unique and separate entity.  Amalek and their descendants will continue to react this way throughout history.  The gentiles will react to us in one of two ways, either as Yisro or as Amalek, and we must be prepared for both reactions” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Shemos, p.146-147).

How timeless is our Torah and the lessons we derive from it.  While the Yisro’s of the world represent the tzadikei umos ha’olam, the Amalek’s of the world represent the enemies who arise to destroy us in each and every generation.  Hence, the Torah records both the battle of Amalek, and the story of Yisro, as the prologues to Matan Torah.  When truth is heard, when morality is the call of the day, when G-d’s voice silences all the noise, when the Lawgiving is a universal event that beckons all to join; how will the nations react?  As the Rav notes, “Amalek and their descendants will continue to react this way throughout history.”

This past Sunday, we returned from having spent nine moving, meaningful and impactful days in Eretz ha’Kodesh, Eretz Yisrael.

On Sunday (1/21) my son and I spent 55 minutes at the shiva tent (in the Gilo neighborhood of J’lem) of the family of Uriah Goshen HYD, 21 years old, killed in battle in Gaza.  We spoke with his grandmother, his mother and father, aunts and uncles, and mefaked (commander) in the IDF.  We were the only Americans there and they were extremely attentive, interested, and appreciative of our visit.

On Monday (1/22), while at the site of the Nova Music Festival, we met the parents of Romi Gonen, 23 years old, who was kidnapped on Oct. 7 and remains held in Gaza by Hamas y’s.  I told Romi’s mother (in Ivrit), that I would like to say something to her… but I have nothing to say.  I did tell her that she and her family are not alone; all of Am Yisrael is one heart, one soul, and we are crying, praying, and learning on their behalf.  Ultimately, we hugged, as no words in any language sufficed.

On Tuesday (1/23), my husband, myself and our son attended the levaya of Elkana Yehuda Sfez HYD, on Har Herzl.  Elkana Yehuda, of Kiryat Arab, fell the day before in Gaza in the disaster that claimed the lives of 21 soldiers.  Rav Schwartz, the chief rabbi of Hebron-Kiryat Arba was maspid the niftar, and screaming, he demanded that Elkana Yehuda tell the RS”O “dayeinu, maspik!”  Enough – more than enough! – have fallen.  The time for geula is at hand.

On Thursday (1/25), Tu b’Shevat, we once again were back at Har Herzl for the shloshim of Elisha Yehonatan Lober HYD, the first cousin to the Yaniv brothers, and third grandson of Rav Shmuel Yaniv to fall this year.  Elisha Yehonatan leaves behind an 11 month old baby boy and an expectant wife, as well as his parents and many siblings.

Ha’kedoshim Uriah Goshen, Elkana Yehuda Sfez, and Elisha Yehonatan Lober, HYD, all lie in the same section of Har Herzl, just a few kevarim apart from one another.  As I stood on Har Herzl for the shloshim on Thursday, listening to the hespedim, kadish and Kel Malei Rachamim, in the cold J’lem air, bowing our heads before the mounds atop the fresh graves, the timeless words of Hashem to Moshe echoed in my mind and heart: שַׁלנְעָלֶיךָ, מֵעַל רַגְלֶיךָכִּי הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עוֹמֵד עָלָיו, אַדְמַתקֹדֶשׁ הוּאremove your shoes from upon your feet, for the ground upon which you stand is holy ground (Shemos 3:5).

Until yemos ha’Moshiach, we must contend with the descendants of Amalek in each dor, who respond to elevated living, spirituality, morality, and an ethical, faithful, exalted way of life, by attacking our nation and keviyachol, battling Hashem.

But in the eschatological era, when the whole world will be filled with knowledge of Hashem – כִּי תִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, לָדַעַת אֶתכְּבוֹד ה, כַּמַּיִם יְכַסּוּ עַליָם, For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Hashem, as the water covers the seabed (Habakuk 2:14) – the path of Yisro will be the chosen one.  When multitudes will recognize the glory of Hashem and the Truth will finally prevail.  וְהָיָה בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים, נָכוֹן יִהְיֶה הַר בֵּיתהבְּרֹאשׁ הֶהָרִים, וְנִשָּׂא, מִגְּבָעוֹת; וְנָהֲרוּ אֵלָיו, כָּלהַגּוֹיִם (Yeshayahu 2:2).

May we merit to witness it speedily and in our days.

,בברכת ונתתי שלום בארץ ושמחת עולם ליושביה


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