Torah Fax    

Friday - Shabbat February 5 - 6

Torah Reading:  Yitro (Exodus 18:1 - 20:23)
Candle Lighting Time 5:00 PM
Shabbat ends 6:02 PM

Outside Inside 

Just before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, arrived with Moses’ wife and two sons to join the Jewish Nation in the desert.

The Parshah tells us, “Yitro, Moses’ Father-in-law, took with him, Tziporah, Moses’ wife… and her two sons. One of them was named Gershom, because he said, ‘I was a stranger in a foreign land,’ and one was named Eliezer, because, ‘The G‑d of my father came to my aid and rescued me from Pharaoh’s sword.’”

But why, precisely at this point, when Yitro was bringing Moses’ children back to him in the desert, was it necessary for the Torah to tell us the meaning behind their names?

The answer to this question perhaps lies in Rashi’s enigmatic commentary that Yitro was not sure that Moses would accept him. Yitro thus sent the message to Moses in advance of his arrival: “If you will not come out to greet me for my sake, then come out for your wife’s sake, and if you do not come out for your wife’s sake go out for her two sons’ sake. 

It is incredulous that Moses would hesitate to greet his own father-in-law, or that his father-in-law would entertain the thought that Moses would shun him. It is even more puzzling that Yitro imagined that Moses might not even go out to greet his wife and children!

It may be suggested that Yitro was not really concerned that Moses would not accept and embrace his children, wife and even himself. Yitro’s question was not about Moses accepting them but why and how he would accept them:

Would Moses accept them solely as members of his family or would he treat them as members of the Jewish community?

Phrased differently, Yitro’s quandary was: Would Moses embrace them with love and affection simply and solely because they were his closest relatives, his flesh and blood? Yitro concluded that if that was the extent of his relationship with them, Moses would most likely greet them in his role as a private citizen and family member.

But Yitro wanted more than that.

Yitro wanted to know if Moses would accept them in his capacity as the leader of the Jewish people. Would he accept them because they were sincere people who wished to join the Jewish community? 

Would Moses accept them as an integral part of the Jewish people despite the fact that they were not raised in Egypt and did not share in the experience of bondage with their brethren? Perhaps, Yitro thought, Moses would not feel that they were qualified to be members of the Jewish nation since they did not share their trials and suffering.

The Ten Commandments that the Jews were about to receive begin with the words, “I am G‑d, Your G‑d, who has taken you out of Egypt, from the House of Bondage.” It links our relationship with G‑d to our role as slaves in Egypt. How then could Yitro and his family become a part of this community when they were not in Egypt and were not witnesses to the slavery that crushed the backs of their brothers and sisters?

Yitro was uncertain if they qualified as members of a community without the history and experiences of the community. Can an outsider become an insider? Does one need a shared history to be a part of one’s destiny?

“Perhaps,” Yitro thought, “Moses would not go out and accept me as a member of the community for my sake because of my idolatrous past. Perhaps, I am not worthy of entering into the community of Monotheists? Maybe his wife who grew up in that idolatrous environment was also not worthy of being accepted into the Jewish fold.” But, Yitro was hoping that Moses would, at least, accept her children into the nation of Israel notwithstanding their status as “foreigners.”

What was Moses’ response?

The Torah continues: “Moses (together with Aaron, Nadav and Avihu and a huge welcoming committee –Rashi) went out to greet his father-in-law, and he (Moses) bowed down and kissed him.” And the Torah the tells how Moses recounted to his father-in-law all that G‑d had done for Israel, which prompted Yitro to strongly praise G‑d.

Moses’ response was an unequivocal yes!

Yitro, his daughter and grandchildren, were to be embraced not just as Moses’ family members, and not just as “honorary” members of the Jewish people because of their close relationship with Moses, but as an integral part of the Jewish nation.

Yitro passed the test of entry into the Jewish nation with flying colors.

It mattered not that he did not share in the suffering of the Jewish people. What mattered was that he rejoiced in their salvation and recognized that it was G‑d’s hand that brought them out of Egypt and performed all of the miracles for them. 

This explains why, when the Torah introduces Moses’ sons, it says that one was named Gershom because he said that he was a foreigner in a strange land. In other words, by invoking his naming of his son Gershom, the Torah underscores how he too was a foreigner in a strange land. And that being a foreigner—and not experiencing the suffering of his people—did not preclude the option of becoming a full-fledged member—and indeed the leader—of the Jewish people.

Furthermore, his second child was named Eliezer because of the way G‑d was constantly helping him. This meant that the criterion for entry into the Jewish nation is not just sharing in the negative experiences of our history; it is also determined by one’s ability to appreciate the continuous role G‑d plays in one’s life and in the life of the Jewish people.

Thus, Yitro hints to Moses: “One can even be a foreigner, but it shouldn’t prevent me from entering into the fold just as it didn’t prevent you from joining the Jewish people and even becoming their leader. Why should it stop me and my family from doing the same?”

How did Moses join the community of Israel after such a protracted absence in a foreign land?

It occurred after Moses’ son Eliezer was born at which time he acknowledged G‑d’s role in saving him, in general, and saving him from Pharaoh’s sword, in particular.

The lesson we can derive from this narrative is that contrary to the notion that one must be able to relate to the suffering of the Jewish people to be part of the Revelation at Mount Sinai, it “suffices” for one to share in and identify with the positive experiences of the Jewish people, and recognize that they were/are orchestrated by G‑d.

To be sure, it is important for us to study and know Jewish history and relate to the relentless suffering of our people. However, the emphasis of Jewish education for a child and even for an adult does not have to be on the sad past of our people. A child can grow up and even be unaware of the suffering and still become a strong member of our people. As long as they are inculcated with the awareness of the miracles of our survival and prosperity as a people, and know that it is because of G‑d’s role in our history, their identification with the Jewish nation will be strong. 

Moreover, as we approach the Messianic Age, even greater emphasis should be placed on the current miracles that we see on a daily basis and the view that the future will even be better. And while we must always be mindful of the threats to our people and do everything to counteract them, we must also be aware that the strongest weapons against the forces of evil are joy and optimism that derive from faith and trust in G‑d. And while we might still be in exile (“strangers in a foreign land—Gershoms”), we are also grateful for G‑d who continuously “saves us from the sword of Pharaoh” (“Eliezers”); from those who, in the words of the Passover Hagadah, “stand against us in every generation to destroy us.” But as we conclude that piece, “The Holy One, blessed is He always saves us from their hand.”  

Moshiach Matters  

What kind of changes will occur when Moshiach comes? Since Moshiach encapsulates only good, joy and Simcah, it is clear that any change that will brought about my Moshiach in the world will only be positive and good. Whoever is suffering, will see and end to that suffering; whoever is successful will see an even greater increase in that success. 

Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit www.moshiach.com  

© 2001- 2010 Chabad of the West Side