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Parasha Insights

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil

The Talmud (Zevachim 116a) discusses what made Yithro, a gentile priest, come to join our nation? R. Yehoshua says it was the war of Amalek; R. Elazar HaModai says the giving of the Torah; R. Eliezer says the splitting of the sea!

  1. Nathan Ordmanz.t.l. asks that surely Yithro (originally one of Pharaoh’s advisors) heard all about the Ten Plagues, the famous exodus from Egypt, and the splitting of the sea – these were such famous events that they no doubt became the talk of the world! If so, why does R. Elazar HaModai suggest that only the later giving of the Torah stirred Yithro to come?

He offers to us the following suggestion. Originally, Yithro most certainly heard about the plagues and the exodus. As a result he abandoned his idolatrous ways, and strengthened his belief in G-d. However, Yithro mistakenly felt that he could remain a believer in G-d whilst remaining in his hometown Midyan. Although surrounded there by idolaters, he would be different, and would remain a staunch believer in G-d. R. Elazar HaModai however understood the question of the Talmud “What did Yithro hear and come” as expressing not merely what made him believe, but what made him move and join the Jewish people in the wilderness, leaving behind all his hometown luxuries!  What made him realise that to be a faithful Jew entails living together with the community amongst other Jews, in an environment encouraging and fermenting spiritual growth in Torah and Mitzvoth!

Our Torah is a living Torah! Yithro saw that by G-d giving over His Torah to our nation this implies that He wishes us to relate to Him. It is insufficient merely to acknowledge His existence, which could be carried out at home in Midyan! G-d gives us a unique way of life, demonstrating to us how to live holy lives with Him, emerging a treasured nation! The Torah calls for us to put our knowledge of G-d into practice, studying His Torah, involving ourselves with His Mitzvoth! When the Torah was given, our people stood encamped by Mt.Sinai unified “like one man with one heart” (Rashi (19:2)) with one united goal – to serve G-d in the best possible manner! Yithro now understood that to accept upon himself Torah lifestyle demands leaving the corrupt Midyan, and moving to the barren wilderness together with the thriving committed Jewish community!

Many people mistakenly think that it is sufficient to theoretically believe in G-d and be ‘a Jew at heart’! The Torah teaches us that true belief must be put into practice! Belief is no theoretical fact! Our Torah is a living Torah, a way of life! The true commendable ‘Jew at heart’ is one who takes to heart his beliefs, performing and acting in accordance! Living in an environment that encourages communal spiritual growth in the traditional Torah mode is a most vital step enhancing us towards achieving our goal!

“On this day they came to the Wilderness of Sinai” (19:1).

Our verse opens the famous Chapter dealing with the Divine Revelation at Mt. Sinai. The Torah uses the present phrase on this day rather than the expected “on that day”. Rashi explains to us that the Torah is teaching us that we must view every moment as if we are just now receiving the Torah anew! Our Torah affects every single moment of our lives. From the moment that we wake up in the morning, hundreds of religious laws and customs lead us through the day. Every step in life has its Torah solution! There is infinite wisdom and greatness contained in our holy Torah. When we sit down and study Torah, we must beware of the danger of “habit” turning our lifestyle into mere routine. Every moment of Torah study must be fresh! Every word of Torah should be approached with great excitement and enthusiasm! We must appreciate and cherish the great merit that we have to involve ourselves in studying G-d’s holy Torah!

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