The Torah Portion of "Yitro"
Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l
"And Yitro heard..." (Shemot 18:1)
Rashi says that Yitro was called by seven names, and tells us that the reason why he was called by the name "Yeter" (which is word which implies something additional) is because one section of the Torah was added because of him: "And you shall see..." (Shemot 18:21). It has been asked, why does Rashi cite only "And you shall see..." (Shemot 18:21); aren't the words of Yitro also recorded in several verses prior to that? And the explanation is that the main point is the advice that Yitro gave to Moshe (to appoint judges to assist him), and what that was written before that were only questions to Moshe, such as (Shemot 18:14): "Why are you sitting alone?"
"And Yitro heard..." (Shemot 18:1) (in Hebrew: "Vayishma Yitro")
Rashi explains, and what was the report that he heard and came? The splitting of the Sea of Reeds (Yam Suf) and the war against Amalek. The Hebrew word "Vayishma" (which means "And he heard") is spelled with the letters: Vuv Yud Shin Mem Ayin. These letters are Roshei Teivot (initial letters) for the words: "Sh'ma M'ilchemet A'malek V'kriat Y'am Suf, which means "He heard the war of Amalek and the splitting of the Sea (of Reeds). And it is necessary to explain, why was it precisely these two miracles which caused Yitro to come? But the answer is, that after there were so many miracles for Israel and the whole world knew about it, like what the Sages said on the verse "and the waters split" (Shemot 14:21), that all the waters in the world split (and not just Yam Suf), and in spite of all that, Amalek had the brazenness to come and wage war with Israel. Therefore, Yitro said, if there is so much evil in the nations (such as Amalek that still wanted to wage war against Israel after all those miracles), it is necessary to separate from them, and that is the explanation of "he heard and came".
"And her two sons, of whom the name of one was Gershom, for he had said, 'I was a sojourner in a strange land'. and the name of (the other) one was Eliezer, 'for the G-d of my father came to my aid and saved me from the sword of Pharoah'" (Shemot 18:3-4)
Apparently, it would have been appropriate for the first son to be called Eliezer, because the miracle of the sword of Pharoah had already happened before Moshe came to Midian, so why did he give the name "Eliezer" only when he had his second son? And in addition, what kind of benefit was it to give a name to a son based on the concept that "I was a sojourner in a strange land"? But the explanation is that at the time that Moshe came to Yitro, Yitro had not yet converted to Judaism, and Moshe was afraid that they (he and his family) might learn from Yitro's deeds. Therefore Moshe made haste to call his first son Gershom, for he said "I was a sojourner", for by means of this Moshe requested to establish that here in the land (of Midian) he is only in situation of being a sojourner in a strange land, and that it is not a place which is appropriate for serving Hashem. And there are those that say that behold, it is written in the Mechilta that Yitro said to Moshe that he is giving him his daughter Tzippora on condition that his first son participate in Avodah Zara (idol worship), and that was before Yitro converted to Judaism, and Moshe agreed with him. And there are those that question this, because how is it possible that he agreed? And the Baal HaTurim gives an explanatiopn that Moshe knew that in the end he would certainly cause Yitro to return to the proper path and he would change his opinion. And since Moshe had agreed with Yitro (about the condition that this son would participate in idol worship), he didn't want to give the name "Eliezer" (which has a reference to G-d) to the first son.
"...the name of one was Gershom...and the name of one was Eliezer..." (Shemot 18:3-4)
It has been asked, why is it written the second time also "and the name of one", rather than saying "and the name of the second"? And the explanation that the Sages say it that when Moshe went up to the Heavens he heard the Holy One Blessed Be He say "Rabbi Eliezer My son says that the Red Heifer is at the age of two years", and Moshe said -- if only that would be a descendent of mine! And that was Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol who descended from Eliezer (Moshe's son). And that was the meaning of the verse saying "and the name of one was Eliezer", that is, it was a reference to the one that was special, and this is Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol who was the teacher of Rebbe Akiva.
"And Yitro rejoiced..." (Shemot 18:9)
The explanation is that he was happy, and according to the Midrash the explanation is that his flesh became prickly and he developed gooseflesh, because he was aggrieved over the destruction of Egypt. (from Rashi) [Translator's Note: The basis of Rashi's explanation is that the word in Hebrew "Vayichad" can be simply translated as "rejoiced", but it also has the same root letters as the Hebrew word for "prickly".] The Mashgiach HaRav HaTzaddik R' Yechezkel Levenshtein said to the students at the Mir Yeshiva in Shanghai during the frightful days of the Holocaust, that we see from this verse that it is natural that when someone hears of the sufferings of his people, even if he is disconnected from them for ten generations, he will nevetheless have his flesh become prickly. And if we currently hear about the sufferings of our fellow Jews and we don't feel anything and our flesh does not become prickly, this must only be because our sins and transgressions have caused our hearts have become stupid and our nature has changed (for the worse). Another explanation is that Yitro thought he was coming to the desert to live a life of sorrow and suffering in order to bring himself to the acceptance of the Torah. Now that he came to the desert and saw that they had everything good, he was aggrieved because the Torah was not being received in suffering, because the Sages say that we are given reward for one Mitzvah done in suffering more than for a hundred Mitzvot that are done easily.
Yitro's advice was that there would be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. There were 600 rulers of thousands, 6,000 rulers of hundreds, 12,000 rulers of fifties and 60,000 rulers of tens. The sum total of all the judges was 78,600. The judges needed to have four qualities: that they would be men of strength (that is, they needed to be wealthy), men with fear of Heaven, men of truth, and that they would hate financial gain (that is, that they would find bribery repugnant).
"...every great matter they shall bring to you..." (Shemot 18:22)
Why was it stated in the advice of Yitro to Moshe that "every great matter they shall bring to you..." (Shemot 18:22), and afterwards when Moshe chose the judges it was stated: "the dificult matter they will bring to Moshe" (Shemot 18:26)? And the explanation is that Yitro who was a convert to Judaism thought that a legal Torah case involving a lot of money needed to be brought to a greater judge, which is how it is done by the other nations. Moshe said to him that for Israel, that is not the case; a judgement involving a small amount is the same as a judgment involving a larger amount. If a case is complicated and difficult, even if it only involves a small amount, it needs to be brought before a greater judge; and a judgment of a simple case, even if it involves a lot of money, the smaller judges can decide it.
"They journeyed from Rephidim and arrived at the desert of Sinai and they encamped in the desert (or wilderness); and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain" (Shemot 19:2)
There are 3 preparations for receiving the Torah: 1) "They journeyed from Rephidim...', means that they left the trait of having weakness of hands, which is laziness. [Translator's Note: The basis for this interpretation is that although the word Rephidim is a place name, it is also similar to the Hebrew word "Refayon", which means weakness.] 2) "...and they encamped in the desert (or wilderness)", each one needs to regard himself as if he is a desert (or wilderness) in order to abandon his physical lusts and to humble himself. 3) "...and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain", means that all of Israel were together in unity. [Translator's Note: The basis for this is that the singular verb is used for encamped, and as Rashi interprets it: "as one man, with one heart".] (from the Ohr HaChaim)
"...and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain" (Shemot 19:2)
The word for encamped in Hebrew ["vayichan"] is similar to the word for "grace" or "favor" in Hebrew ["chein"]. And "opposite the mountain" is a hint about opposing the Evil Inclination. The Sages say that the Evil Inclination is similar to a mountain, and if everyone will find favor (or grace) in the eyes of his fellow, that is the greatest weapon we can have against the mountain which is the Evil Inclination.
"So shall you say to the house of Yaakov and tell to the children of Israel" (Shemot 19:3)
The "house of Yaakov" refers to the women, and the "children of Israel" refers to the men. It is written in the Midrash, why did the giving of the Torah begin with the women? Because the commandment about the Tree of Knowledge was said by Hashem to Adam, so that he would tell Chava, and that commandment ended up being broken. Therefore in the giving of the Torah Hashem said "I will start to tell the women first" and that will be successful.
"So shall you say to the house of Yaakov and tell to the children of Israel" (Shemot 19:3)
The Maharsha explains, that "So shall you say to the house of Yaakov" refers to the women, "and tell to the children of Israel" -- they, the women, will tell to the children of Israel who are the males, because it is the way of the woman to be present all day in the home and she educates the children of Israel when they are little.
"...Go to the people and you will sanctify them today and tomorrow" (Shemot 19:10)
The Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination), when he sees that someone is beginning to serve Hashem, he tells him to begin from tomorrow. And the advice for dealing with this is to answer the Yetzer Hara that you agree with him, on the condition that "you will sanctify ... today and tomorrow", also today and also tomorrow. And regarding Amalek, it is written, "go out to fight with Amalek, tomorrow" (Shemot 17:9), for it is known that Amalek represents the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination); you should fight with him on what that he tells you all the time to begin tomorrow.
"All of Israel are guarantors [in Hebrew "aravin"] one for another". (Masechet Shavuot 39a)
There is an explanation that each one needs to be sweet to the other one, because although the Hebrew word "aravin" means guarantors (of loans) it is also is similar to a word in Hebrew which means sweetness.
"And G-d spoke all these words, saying" (Shemot 20:1)
Rashi explains that the word "saying" means that on every single one of the statements of the Ten Commandments, Israel said "yes" to a positive commandment and "no" to a negative commandment. But, "I am Hashem your G-d ..." and "You shall have no other gods..." (Shemot 20:2-3) were said simultaneously (according to the Zohar Chadash at the end of the Torah Portion of Yitro). This is what is meant when it says in the Tehillim (62:12): "G-d spoke one thing, I heard two (Gematriot of Rav Y. HaChassid on the Torah Portion of Va'etchanan). And behold, at the time that the children of Israel heard the first two Commandments simultaneously, they were frightened and confused and didn't know what to answer. For if they would say "yes", it would be possible to misunderstand their words and think that G-d forbid they were saying "yes" on the prohibition of "You shall have no other gods before Me", and if they would say "no" it would be possible to misunderstand their words and think that they said "no" to the statement "I am Hashem your G-d...", and that they don't want to accept the Kingship and Oneness of His Blessed Name, G-d forbid. And regarding this problem they took advice from within their inner souls, and they all shouted as one voice "Hashem is Our G-d Hashem is One", and this statement was a good answer for both of the Commandments. For as is known, one needs to have intention at the time of reading the first verse of Sh'ma, "Sh'ma Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad" (Hear Oh Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One). When one says "Hashem Elokeinu" ("Hashem is Our G-d"), that is a reference to the first of the Ten Commandments, "I am Hashem your G-d". When one says "Hashem Echad" ("Hashem is One"), that is a reference to the Second of the Ten Commandments, "You shall have no other gods...". And this is what is hinted at when we say in the Zemirot (Songs) for Shabbat, "And everyone came in a covenant together, we will do and we will hear, were said in unity and they began and answered "Hashem is One". (from the Rav Sholom of Belz, may his memory protect us)
"Do not take the name of Hashem your G-d in vain.." (Shemot 20:7)
It is appropriate to avoid swearing even about something that is true. The Hebrew word for "in vain" is L''shav, which is spelled Lamed Shin Vuv Aleph. These letters are the Roshei Teivot (first letters) of the words in the Hebrew phrase "L'o Sh'eker V'lo E'met", which means "Not Falsehood and Not Truth".
"You shall not covet your fellow man's house...nor anything that belongs to your fellow man" (Shemot 20:14)
It can be asked, why was it stated "your fellow man's house", isn't that included in "anything that belongs to your fellow man?" And the answer that is given (tongue in cheek) is that if a person covets what another has because he has a nice house or other nice things, he is told to take into account that it's a package deal and if you get everything that belongs to your fellow man that also includes all the sorrows, obligations, and other difficulties.
We say Borchi Nafshi.
The Torah Portion of Yitro has 72 verses. The Torah Portion of Yitro has within it 3 positive commandments, 14 negative commandments.The Haftorah is "B'sh'nat Mot Hamelech Uziahu" (Yeshayahu 6)
May you all have a light-filled and happy Shabbat.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772