Parashas Yisro 5780 The Power of Teshuva

The Parashah’s name is very strange. Usually, the Torah names the Parasha after either great people of great events. So, why would the Torah name the most important Parasha, the one that made us a nation, after the lowest possible person, a high priest of idolatry, who was famous for having served all existing idolatries? Aren’t the 10 commandments more important? Similarly, the first words of the Parasha call out: “And Yisro heard”. What did the Torah find so compelling and relevant about Yisro, the most prevalent idolater that ever lived, to share his feelings in the Saint Torah?  The next few Verses will overload us with the information that he was Moshe’s father in law. If it was mentioned once, it would’ve been informative, but why the constant repetitions?  The Mekhilta [Rabbi Yishmael 18:1:1] explains: “What did Yisro hear that caused him to come and join the Nation of Israel? Rav Yehoshua says, he heard the war with Amalek, which is the Torah portion juxtaposed with this section. Additionally, He heard of the prospective giving of the Torah and therefore came to become Jewish. As when the Torah was about to be given, all the kings of the world started trembling of fear and convened with the wicked Bilam.  They asked him: all those terrifying sounds and lightnings are they reminiscent of the upcoming destruction of the world as done by the generation of the flood? Bilam replied: Fools! Hashem has already promised to Noach that he would not bring another flood to the world, as stated in Isaiah (54:9) “For this to Me is like the waters of Noach, for which I swore that the waters of Noach would no more pass over the earth.”  The Kings retorqued, that maybe Hashem wants to use a different method to destroy the world? maybe with fire? Bilam answered: He will bring neither a flood or fire, Hashem is about to give the Torah to His people, as stated in Psalms (29:11) ”Hashem will give strength (oz=Torah) to His people.” After hearing this they stood up and said (Ibid.) “May Hashem bless His people with peace.” 

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Rav Eliezer said: Yisro heard the splitting of the sea and therefore came to join Israel. For the splitting of the sea was heard from one end of the world to the other, as Rachav the harlot said to the messengers of Joshua (Joshua 2:10-11) “For we heard how Hashem dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you went out of Egypt … our hearts melted, and no spirit was left in a man before you.” Rachav the harlot was ten years old when Israel left Egypt, and all forty years that Israel was in the desert, she plied her trade. At the end, she converted, saying: Hashem, I have sinned in three areas: niddah, challah, and candle lighting. Forgive me by virtue of three things: the rope, the window, and the wall, viz. (Ibid. 15) “And she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the side of the wall, and she lived within the wall.”… The Midrash Tanchuma (Yisro 2:1) explains the fundamental teaching of this passage with frightening simplicity. “Some hear and lose (their reward), while others hear and are rewarded. King Yoash heard and lost (his reward), as stated: “The king then hearkened unto him” (II Chron. 24:17), and right afterwards the verse says : “So they executed judgment upon Yoash” (ibid., v. 24). Similarly, the peoples heard, and they trembled (Exod. 15:14). However, Yisro heard and was rewarded. Despite that he had been an idolatrous priest, he joined Moshe, and entered under the wings of the Shechinah. Therefore, he became worthy of adding the portion dealing with judges to the Torah of Israel.  Many have converted to Judaism through the ages, but very few have deserved such a standing as Yisro [maybe Ruth too]. What did Yisro do that was so different than other converts? And what’s the correlation with the deserving to innovate a portion of the Torah? The verse in Micah (7:8) says: “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, Hashem will be my light.” and Chazal explain: “Had I not fall, nor would I rise, had I not sit in the darkness I would not appreciate Hashem’s light.” The lesson is that the fall and the sitting in darkness are what lead a person to see the truth.  The Midrash (Bereshis Raba 65:22) translates the verse; “And he smelled the smell of his clothes and blessed him,” (Genesis 27:27), as he smelled his traitors [in Hebrew it’s almost etymologically the same word], such as Yosef Mishisa and Yakum the man of the bundles. As when the romans conquered Israel, they arrived till the Beth Hamikdash and despite their hatred were too afraid to enter. They

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decided to send in a Jew, and to convince him they offered him to keep anything he could take out. Yosef Mishisa offered himself for the job. He went in and came out with the Menorah. Even the Romans were astonished and told him, this item is too holy to suit you, go in again and take whatever you want. Yosef refused stating “It’s enough I angered Hashem once, I’m not going back in.” The romans started threatening him with torture, but Yosef was adamant in his refusal.  The Romans nailed him down on a board and started sanding down his skin then his flesh, but Yosef would remain steadfast in his refusal to reenter the Bais Hamikdash. He was only moaning “woe to me who angered my Creator”. After he died in the hands of the Romans, a Heavenly voice stated, Rav Yosef Mishisa is welcome to Olam Haba. Rav Chaim Shmuelovitz asks: Yosef was obviously an heretic, as he had no second thoughts before entering the Bais Hamikdash and stealing the Menorah. So, where did he get the strength to endure such a torture and not abdicate? Where did he find the will to do such a complete Teshuva to the point, he elevated himself to the level of Rabbi Akiva? [as the Heavenly voice called him Rav Yosef]. Rav Chaim answers: He heard the call! If Goyim have more respect for the Menorah than I do, it surely means I went astray and therefore my feelings towards Hashem are numbed. He decided to do a complete Teshuva. This illustrates the words of the above Pasuk “Though I have fallen, I will rise,” meaning because I fell, now I can rise. “Though I sit in darkness, Hashem will be my light,” despite my feelings are numbed toward the Torah, it’s due to me going astray, therefore I must do a complete Teshuva to return to the light. The level of light deserved is in accordance to the level of Teshuva. Yosef’s Teshuva was so complete that the Heavenly voice referred to him as Rav Yosef. The Midrash relates another story. Rav Yosi Ben Yoezer was taken to the gallows on a Shabbos. While crossing the marketplace, he saw his nephew Yakum riding a beautiful horse and adorned with expensive clothing. Seeing his uncle chained and taken to the gallows, Yakum told him; “see where the life of abstinence you endured took you, and see me who surrendered to all my passions!” In other words, the Torah promises to extend the life of those who follow its commandments, thus you will be hanged. While me, who supposedly the Torah admonishes, live a life of luxury and wealth. Rav Yosi replied; “if Hashem is treating in such a way those who followed the Torah, even more so for those who ridicule it”. These words

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penetrated Yakum’s heart like a sword. He immediately went and accomplished on himself the 4 death penalties. At that time, Rav Yosi saw angels taking up to heaven a bed on which his nephew was lying. He then said Yakum preceded me to Olam Haba. 

The Talmud (Avoda Zara 17a) relates a story about Rabbi Elazar ben Dordai that was so promiscuous, that his reputation was that he did not leave out any prostitute without visiting her. Once, upon hearing that there was a harlot overseas who would take a purse of dinars for her hire, he took a purse of dinars and crossed seven rivers to reach her. As he was with her, she passed wind and said: Just as this wind will not return to its place, so too Elazar ben Dordai will never be received in repentance.   This statement pierced Elazar’s heart, he thereupon went and sat between two hills and mountains and exclaimed: O, ye hills and mountains, plead for mercy for me! … Unable to get any help he realized the Teshuva depended upon him alone! Having placed his head between his knees, he wept aloud until his soul departed. Then a Heavenly voice was heard proclaiming: ‘Rabbi Eleazar b. Dordai is destined to the world to come!  Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi [upon hearing of it] wept and said:  Some may acquire eternal life after many years, others in an instant! Rabbi Yehuda also said: Repentants are not only accepted, they are even called ‘Rabbi’! Now we understand Yisro who heard the call and repented all the way. He realized he was Moshe’s father in law, the very Moshe that enacted all those miracles that were heard through the world. How was he so obnoxious for so long and closed his eyes and his ears to the obvious. The truth hit him so hard, that he took a sword and made his own Brith Mila. In an instant he mutated from “Kohen Midian,” the high priest of Midian to become the true father in law of Moshe Rabbeinu. He gained his world to come in an instant.  We all hear the call several times during our lifetime, but very few decide to not repel it and in contrary embrace it. These are the true servants of Hashem and will deserve the Olam Haba of the true Tzadikim.  

Rabbi Fridmann

By Rabbi Fridmann * rabbifridmann@badatzmiami.com * 305.985.3461

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