EXODUS 18:1-- 20:23

10 DOWN, 613 TO GO


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This study is sponsored by our good pious jet set friends David and Miryam Noll of Jerusalem, in celebration and gratitude to God for their daughter, Esther Tehilla, whose first birthday is 2/13/97, and for her truly great grandmothers, Carol and Reen, and in memory of her grandfathers, Stuart Wohlgemuth and Claude Noll, z"l.

"With each child, the world begins anew" (Midrash).

"Know you what it is to be a child? is to believe in love, to believe in loveliness, to believe in belief... To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wildflower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour..."-- Francis Thompson.

"When God expelled Man from His revealed Presence in Eden, he compensated him with a baby's smile; so when he expelled the Jews from His Presence in the Temple and the Holy Land, he gave them the Talmud"-- Harav Hagaon Prof. David Halivni Weiss.

Friends, Jews and Countrymen (tourists and non-Jews are welcome too), lend them your ears--



May this demonic scene be a lesson to our non-Jewish Jews. Let them see what they have gained by sacrificing their religious ceremonies and customs, their patriarchal way of life, their espirit de corps..., in order to amalgamate with Amalek. (from Amalie Taubels' letter on an anti-Jewish riot in Prague, 1848).

Amalek * came from far-off to start a never ending war with God and His kingdom of priests, Israel. His unbounded pagan spirit combats man's return to internal and external Eden, via Israel in Israel (cf. Mein Kampf). Last week's portion, B'shalach, ended with his TEMPORARY defeat, and God's warning to Israel-- watch out for his re-appearance in every generation, until that day when God and His Name will both be One. This week's portion brings another gentile visitor from far-off-- Yisro; but he comes to rejoice with, and aid, the redeemed Jews (cf. the Great Danes). A Noachide fellow traveller, he identifies with Israel's mission; some say he even became Jewish. Yisro's a theologian, an explorer of the spirit, a seeker and searcher; having tried the rest, every form ofidolatry, he's now found the best-- Torah (Michilta, Rashi on 18:11). Parshat Yisro contains exactly 3 complete "chapters", Exodus 18-20; but most other portions don't jibe with the chapter division of the Torah, probably done by non-Jewish printers (but Rav S. Z. Kahane claims that they consulted Jewish scholars).

* The numerical equivalent of "Amalek" is 240, as that of "safek", "doubt"; lack of faith may both bring Amalek, and be a response to his destructive evil-- cf. Hitler. Saddam Hussain, "almost Amalek", = 239.

GENTILES & GENTILES: Ibn Ezra, as Rashi, posits that the Torah is not in chronological order; Yisro's story is told here, before the Revelation at Sinai, tho he only arrived after it. Why?-- Israel was just told to exterminate genocidal Amalek, before he destroys us (cf. Hamas); the Jews might conclude that all non-Jews are evil-- so many tried to eliminate Israel in all ages and places. The Torah now brings in Yisro, prematurely, to remind us that there are also righteous non-Jews, to whom we owe love and gratitude-- cf. Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem, Druse soldiers, and all the fine Brits in Don't Ask the Price, the memoirs of Marcus Sieff, president of Marks and Spencer; his family's own egalitarian righteousness-- true concern for their employees and customers, and a stress on cleanliness and quality-- is universal Judaism in action; their Zionist involvement in the birth and building of reborn Israel is Jewish Judaism in action; a similar model is Aharon Feuerstein of Boston, who put his workers' needs first in rebuilding his destroyed Malden Mills plant; he adds traditional observance and learning to the model of a Jewish businessman; Isi Liebler and Rav Yosef Guttnick are similar models of Torah and Derech Eretz for those "down under", in the land of kangaroos and cowboy hats.

Joseph Baron, also author of A Treasury of Jewish Quotations, source of many of our quotes, opened Stars and Sand-- Jewish notes by non-Jewish notables (JPS 1943), with: "This volume is being released at a time when the world is rocked by the storm of total war, when civilization is rent by the fury of resurrected paganism, when the material and human wealth of the nations, cultivated so laboriously thru the ages, is wasted by greed and lust. It is also a time of superior idealism, of a glorious manifestation of the heroic capacity of the soul of man. A broadened sense of human kinship, a deepened hunger for liberty and justice, a heightened courage and readiness for self-sacrifice, spell hope for the world of tomorrow. The disinherited Jews of Poland stand firmly to the last man by the crumbling ramparts of Warsaw, and their loyal coreligionists in North Africa prepare the way for the triumphal march of the hosts of America and Britain, and fighting France. Starved and enslaved Christians, in the subjected lands (YF: very few of them), share their last morsel of bread with, and choose to walk by the side of, their tormented Jewish compatriots. After the fires, a still small voice is heard, transforming despair into prophetic faith and zeal. May this book bear witness to the conscience of mankind, and help to fill our hearts with trust and confidence in the moral and spiritual destiny of man (12/42)."

But, in his introduction, he cites many non-Jewish writers, e.g. Milton and Augustine, who praised ancient Jews, while mocking and/or despising Judaism and contemporary Jews; others, e.g. George Eliot, began anti-semitic, and later repented; some befriended the Jews at first, to assimilate them, then hated them rabidly, urging their persecution, when they clung to their faith, e.g. Mohamad and Luther, Hitler's "teacher". Baron describes the German atrocities in 1942; Dr. David Morrison vividly portrays American Jewish reactions to them from 1933, when most people already knew what was happening, in Heroes, Antiheroes and the Holocaust-- American Jewry and Historical Choice.

GENTILES & JEWS: But, per Ramban, the Torah is indeed written in chronological order **-- Yisro's first coming is indeed BEFORE Sinai; he returns home, perhaps to convert his followers, comes again during the 2nd year, and stays. Non-Jews share God's Torah-- at least its religion for universal mankind, the 7 Laws for the Sons of Noach (see our books, videos, tapes, kippot and bumper stickers on Noachism). This alternative to Islam (or Alexander Shindler's religion?) must be conveyed to Israel's Arabs; they too must feel part of Israel's mission-- we seek funding to spread this message. Judaism first discourages, but finally welcomes, sincere converts. So we read Ruth on Shavuot-- such model converts fully share the holiday of the giving of the Torah. Judaism is particularistic universalism!-- it's aim is not to over-Jew it, to cut the Jew off from the world, but to train him to be its spiritual leader. Jewish priestly separatism ultimately benefits all mankind. So the Torah is to sanctify life, not replace it-- some scholars spend their lives on complex details of agricultural and business laws, without ever growing a plant or negotiating a transaction beyond daily life necessities.

** see Zev. 116a, Mech., for both views-- why does one medieval authority pick one talmudic view, another the other, as do Ramban and Rashi, regarding the propriety of Nazarite vows?-- probably each selects that view which seems most reasonable to him, in interpreting the Torah, or that which fits his general philosophy of life and/or Torah, rather than acknowledging both views-- Rashi, who apparently had vineyards and made wine, tends to denigrate nazarites and asceticism; but Ramban, a doctor, keenly aware of the afflictions of the body, and its interference with the life of the spirit, due to illness and lust, praised both-- see our Naso study.

THE NUMBERS GAME: We read 75 verses this week; but a total of only 72 verses is given in the mnemonic (author unnamed) at the end of Yisro-- "Yonadav" (Yisro's valiant descendant-- 2Kings10, Jer. 35); such discrepancies occur several times, per Phil Chernofsky; his NCSY Israel Center's weekly Torah Tidbits (an antidote for those who find our giant complex banquet too much!) are also available at TOP. Our similar monthly Jerusalem Jewish Voice studies, 1989-91, also began at NCSY. They're available in loose leaf books, disks or as short and summary parsha studies on Internet. Phil's studies stress parsha statistics, e.g. how many verses, letters, laws, etc. in each parsha. He resolved this week's discrepancy: the Decalog is chanted as such this week (10 verses), with Taam Elyon cantillation, in most communities, as on Shavuot; thus there are 72 verses in the portion. In Jerusalem, it's generally read like the rest of the Torah in Yisro, with Taam Tachton cantillation (13 verses); so there are 75 verses in Yisro-- in Jerusalem! If the unknown compiler of holy statistics also read it the Jerusalem way, he may have confused Ch. "20" with its "23" verses, counting 72, rather than 75! We too can give a mnemonic for each reading's number of verses, reflecting its leit-motif-- 75 = DA ECHUD (ALEF), KNOW "ONE", or AD ECHUD, WITNESS (to) ONE, reflecting Yisro's monotheistic leitmotif.

Numerical excursions (gematria), like any force, can be used for good or for bad. 75 also = HELEM-- shock, and LAMA-- why? True, FARATZTA, YOU SHALL SPREAD FORTH, = 770 = BEIT MESHIACH, HOUSE OF THE MESSIAH = the Eastern Parkway address of Habad-- but Israel is to spread in 4 directions, W-E-N-S (Gen. 28:14); 4 x 770 = 3080-- the Broadway address, of heretical JTS!

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Lighter than bran is a son-in-law who lives in the house of his father-in-law (B.B. 98b)

CH. 18: Yisro, priest of Midian, Moshe's father-in-law, hears of Exodus and comes to the Jews in the desert; he brings Moshe's wife, whom her husband had sent back to Midian, and HER two sons, Gershon and Eliezer. Yisro's delighted with God's deliverance of Israel. He praises God and deeply experiences His supremacy. Later, he watches the huge queue, waiting all day, for Moshe to personally dispense justice; he suggests an overhaul of the judicial system (cf. Rabbinical courts today and the new special conversion courts). Moshe should review the entire Torah with the people systematically, rather than teaching it by the case method, as he sits in judgment. God Himself so teaches Torah-- first He gives 10 Axioms, followed by detailed laws in Mishpatim (Nigel Wallis). Yisro proposes a hierarchy of leader-judges for groups of 10, 50, 100 and 1000, who will be quickly available to adjudicate. Moshe should only judge the "BIGGEST" cases, after teaching the people the law (18:22). Yisro views justice as a secular function, a means to achieve optimal economic and social relations; the best legal minds should thus deal with matters bearing the highest social and financial impact.

Moshe accepts Yisro's advice, but makes one change-- he'll personally deal with only the "HARDEST" (not the "BIGGEST") cases, tho only $10 is involved; easy cases, tho involving a billion bucks, can go before a judge of 10 (18:26). Moshe does not share Yisro's pragmatic view of justice as a socio-economic tool, but views it, primarily, as an independent value per se, an indispensable basis for the kind of society and world which God wants-- "JUSTICE, JUSTICE, YOU SHALL PURSUE" (Deut. 16:20). R. SHIMON B. GAMLIEL SAYS: "THE WORLD ENDURES VIA 3 THINGS-- JUSTICE, TRUTH, AND PEACE, AS SAID: `THESE ARE THE THINGS YOU SHALL DO (for Jerusalem to be rebuilt)-- SPEAK TRUTH, EACH MAN TO HIS COMPANION; TRUTH AND JUDGEMENT OF PEACE (not naked destructive truth) EXECUTE IN YOUR GATES'" (Zech. 8:16; Avot 1:18). Yisro went home (cf. Num. 10:29ff).

CH. 19: After traveling over six weeks, the Jews arrive at Sinai on Sivan 1. They "encamp" (singular, "as one man, with one heart", a prerequisite for divine Revelation-- Rashi) opposite (east of-- Rashi) the mountain. Tolerant friendly Modern Orthodox Rabbi Reuven Bulka, who wisely maintains warm fruitful relationships with his non-Orthodox colleagues, notes that we sing, during the Passover Seder, that "If He had drawn us near before Mt. Sinai and not given us the Torah-- it would have been enough for us!" But of what value is a visit to Sinai per se? It's not even innately holy! (cf. Uman). He answers that God's "drawing us near to each other at Sinai", engendering Jewish unity, is itself of vital import and significance.

Moshe ascends toward God. God tells him to gently remind the House of Yaakov (the womenfolk-- Rashi), and strictly tell the children of Israel (the men-- Rashi) in detail of all He's done to Egypt to free Israel-- women, naturally religious, created more like His Own Personality or Will (Kirtzono), may need less formal legal structure and learning to reach God; it may even crimp their intuitive flow; only they determine their child's Jewish essence; men must recognize that they are not women-- unlike women, their socialization and spiritualization don't come easily; they require elaborate intense religious structures of learning, observance and public prayer-- see Rav Avi Weiss' great gripping, yet scholarly, Women At Prayer-- a halachic analysis of women's prayer groups-- there's a copy at his sister's (Sara Tov) charming Bird of Paradise Cafe at 56 Habad, next to TOP.

But Avi and his book were condemned in Orthodoxy and Feminism: How Promising a Shidduch? (The Jewish Observer, 4/97) by Rabbi Nisson Wolpin and Levi Reisman. Their condemnation reflects the ultra-conservative tunnel vision of The Observer and its rabbinic heroes-- their basic position is that the social world has not changed, that Eastern Europe, especially Lithuania, was the only authentic expression of our Torah Tradition, that only its rabbis are authoritative-- the older the better, and that that which was good enough for Grandma and Grandpa is good enough for us!

They criticize Avi for "doing his own social activist thing", w/o consulting gdolim, great rabbinic scholars; but his gadol, Rav J. Soloveichik, like a good father and like Weiss' own father, Rav Moshe, and his other teachers (but unlike most Agudist G'dolim) indeed encouraged his pupils to develop their own independent reasoning and conclusions, not to follow him if they felt that he was wrong, after considering all aspects of an issue; we have no sanhedrin today to issue authoritative decisions (Chazon Ish). While the Observer will not hesitate to use Rav Soloveichik in an attempt to discredit Rav Weiss, they would be the last to follow his modern model of a completely coed Jewish School (Maimonides) and high level absorption in secular civilization, sending his own children to Harvard. In his book, Rav Weiss explores, considers and cites the words of many great torah scholars thru the ages, unlike the Observer article, which includes almost no traditional torah sources to back up its argument and its accusation that Rav Weiss and his distinguished Orthodox rabbinic colleagues are clearly breaking with "mesorah" (should they use leeches and speak only Yiddish too?).

Tho God's universal, Israel will be his special treasure-- IF they truly listen to His voice and keep His covenant, the ultimate goal of every State of Israel-- AND YOU SHALL BE TO ME A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS (to humanity) AND A HOLY (model) NATION (6). We MUST maintain law and order in Israel; but can we blame Arabs for not seeing us as their inspiring leaders, as entitled to the land?-- we're so far from what we should be; yet, even now, we treat Arabs better than does any Arab nation or the PLO Authority. Their own West Bank employers often paid them only $6 a day, despite record profits from their boycott of Israeli goods (cf. Lebanon).

The people's unanimous response to Moshe's challenge is: "All God's said, we'll do" (19:8). Rav Azriel Ariel claims that the combination of free-will acceptance of Torah and Divine compulsion to do so is always necessary. Force on its own harms man's individual personality, while human choice alone would diminish the connection to the human level, making it dependent upon man's mood. But I prefer the view of Saadya Gaon, who claims that man, on his own, could rationally come to the entire Torah (cf. Moshe's swan song in Dvarim), but mitzvos are needed meanwhile to keep him from going off the deep end and developing unbreakable bad habits, while engaged in his long hard search. So God predicts that, in the end of days, human reason and man's still pure soul will come to freely accept God and His ways, that they'll call Him "ishi", my mate, rather than "ba'ali", my Master, as peace and harmony prevail between man and nature, and man and man (Hosea 2:18). Moshe relays Israel's pledge, but will find it hard to collect!

God then informs Moshe of His impending public revelation. Moshe must sanctify the people; anyone touching the mountain will die. Their ritual purity requires 2 days' abstinence from sexual relations (19:10). Moshe adds a 3rd day, to assure ritual purity-- for a woman who expels semen within 3 days of intercourse is ritually unclean (19:15, per R. Yose, Shabat 87-- this is a model for later rabbinic legislation to protect Torah laws). On day #3 at dawn, thunder, lightning and thick clouds appeared on trembling Mt. Sinai-- an intentionally terrifying display (cf. 5:22, 25-6, Deut. 4:10-1)! Literal fear of God is necessary for most Jews to heed His word, tho perhaps not for Eliyahu (Rav Yehuda Henkin-- see 1K19:11-12). But Rav Mordecai Gafni notes that Eliyahu's God-intoxication, implied by his name, is not accompanied by patient loving tolerance and friendship toward his fellow Jews. Yet Achav (literally: brother-father), while profane, is really concerned with his people's needs and welfare. All Israel are awe-struck by the intense wail of a shofar. As it grows louder and louder, they hear Moshe speak and God respond. Then God calls Moshe to ascend, twice warning the people to keep back and stay alive. MOSHE RETURNS TO BE WITH HIS FELLOW JEWS! (cf. his "going out" of Pharo's pleasure palace, to see and save his people).

CH. 20: God then reveals Himself on Sinai and proclaims the essence of His covenant-- The 10 Commandments or Decalogue; "10 STATEMENTS" is more accurate-- they contain more than 10 commandments; also statement #1-- that God's the only ultimate reality, the Continuing Creator of Nature and Intervenor in Human History (as at Exodus)-- may be an axiom, rather than a "command"; per Abarbanel (Rosh Emuna, $25 from TOP, in English), belief in a Commander must precede any Commandment; that belief itself can't be commanded-- either it exists or it doesn't. Maimonides, who includes Statement #1 among the commandments, interprets it as referring only to acquiring the "knowledge of this concept", not the belief per se; one who has faith must THEN develop and define her basic perception, knowledge and awareness of God (Yad, Y. H. 1:5, per E. Touger). As Halacha and Tanach, such study does not damage the holy female soul, unlike talmudic bickering and abstraction (Rav S. Aviner). Rav Moshe Tendler urges us to rationalize our faith as much as possible, lest it collapse under its own over-weight (see our study of Bo).

Belief in God's existence is elementary, common sense, to anyone whose eyes aren't closed to the incredibly intricate and interrelated world of Nature, revealed by science (see The Great Chain of Life, J. Krutch). At Sinai, God proclaims the corollary truth, far more relevant, yet far less obvious-- that His prime concern is what Man does and what happens to him or her, tho ultimate individual reward and punishment may be far off, perhaps not in this world.


I. I AM GOD YOUR LORD, WHO TOOK YOU OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT, THE HOUSE OF SLAVES-- not "OF SLAVERY"; Egyptians were SLAVES to their own sensual and aggressive impulses. Ultimate freedom, bestowed on Israel at Exodus, is INTERNAL, the ability to transcend worldly existence via Torah. In this First Statement, God commands belief in His Providence, per Yehuda Halevi (Kuzari 1:89); but, per Rambam (Guide), Divine Providence over individual members of species is limited to human beings, and only to the extent that they're unique individuals; He relates to trees, birds, etc. only as groups, not caring what happens to one driven leaf; others disagree. Perhaps Halevi reads: "I, God (= 26-- ahava, love = 13, + echad, One = 13) of love and ultimate unity, am also there when I appear only as the Lord (= 86 = hateva, nature) of seemingly impersonal diversified nature"; so our grand conclusion of Yom Kippur is "God-- He's the Lord" (see Hirsch's similar great interpretation of Psalm 20).

II. YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER LORDS "IN MY PRESENCE"-- but God's Presence is everywhere and forever! So what's the limitation? But this phrase adds that even His servants, those "in His presence", may not be worshipped, e.g. the sun and angels (rebbes and roshei yeshiva too?). They're not Him, tho "part" of Him. Vilna Gaon prohibits all prayers to angels, e.g. on Y.K., and in Shalom Aleichem on Friday night. Likewise, don't idolize the outer form of mitzvos, whose inner meaning is primary (Kotzker, Fun Unzer Alte Otzer II:82-- cf. the Wall).

YOU SHALL NOT CARVE OR REPRESENT THAT IN HEAVEN ABOVE, ON EARTH BELOW (or UNDERGROUND), OR IN THE WATER BELOW THE EARTH (deep down, way below shore level). Man fears realms which he can't reach, roam and conquer. The sea and the earth comprise one globe-- Ibn Ezra, way before Columbus! Ramban adds: don't worship even demons beneath the water (see Job 26:5), and reflections in the water (see Mechilta); some say that there's no prophecy or Divine Revelation at sea-- see Artscrolls Yona 1:3. DON'T BOW DOWN TO THEM, NOR SERVE THEM, FOR I, GOD, AM YOUR LORD, AN AVENGING POWER (towards those who deny My exclusive power), WHO TAKES THE SINS OF FATHERS INTO ACCOUNT, AS RELEVANT TO THEIR DESCENDANTS, FOR 3-4 GENERATIONS (per Rav Leo Jung z"l), FOR THOSE WHO HATE ME, AND WHO DOES KINDNESS FOR THOUSANDS (of generations) FOR THOSE WHO LOVE ME AND KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS (vs. Reform, Alonian & non-Jewish belief that one can maintain love of God without keeping mitzvot; true love is expressed in deeds). Kuzari (1:89) prohibits ascribing any physical property to God, Who's even more limitless than human souls; He may, however, will that His desire become concrete, e.g. in the engraved tablets and Sinai's voices. This verse proclaims that God's reward and punishment is proper and rational, tho often beyond human comprehension (Kuzari 5:21).

III. YOU SHALL NOT BEAR GOD'S NAME IN VAIN-- GOD WILL NOT HOLD SUCH A MAN GUILTLESS. Speech (especially Hebrew), a sign of Divinity in Man, is a powerful holy force, as is God's Name-- He uses both to create His universe.

IV. KEEP THE SABBATH DAY IN MIND; MAKE IT DISTINCTLY HOLY. WORK 6 DAYS, PERFORM ALL YOUR TASKS, BUT THE 7TH DAY IS HOLY TO GOD, YOUR LORD. DON'T DO CREATIVE PHYSICAL WORK ON IT-- YOU, YOUR SON, YOUR DAUGHTER, YOUR MALE OR FEMALE SERVANT, YOUR ANIMAL AND THE STRANGER IN YOUR GATES. Jews revive the universal Shabbat celebration of Creation, forgotten by the rest of mankind (but cf. 7th Day Adventists). It's message, that all share 1 Creator, leads to the message of Exodus, that one Jew may not enslave another (Rav S. Riskin-- but educative slavery of idolaters was permitted). Our sanctification of sacred time should lead to all time being considered a sacred gift of God, an opportunity to experience the wonders of His world and His Torah; boredom is an alien concept to a sensitive spiritual being (Rav N. Cardozo).

V. HONOR (treat well) YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER. This connects Divine and interpersonal morality. Care and reverence for one's parents, his life-giving origin and link to God, leads to gratitude and awe vis-a-vis God, per Rav. J. Soloveichik (in his talk at the inauguration of Rav Charles Weinberg's impressive new shul in Malden, Mass., a prelude to his perhaps even more impressive involvement in Jerusalem's Plaza Hotel-- unfortunately, its staff trashes these studies when we leave them for tourists-- protest! See Blidstein, Honor Thy Father and Mother for a comprehensive study of this mitzva). Rav Shmuel Salant urged his pious Jerusalem parishioners to accept aid from their non-observant kids in the USA-- why deprive them of their one mitzva, honoring their parents? (quoted by Rav Azriel Ariel). Should institutions also accept donations from all donors, on the same principle, if their teachings are not affected thereby? Should they make those donors who do not live according to their teachings officers?

VI. DO NOT MURDER (people; but killing sinners and enemies is sometimes commanded).

VII. DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY means "don't take another's wife". The Torah permits polygamy, solving the problem of surplus women-- if women sleep only with their husbands, all paternity is clear. Only Ashkenazim accepted R. Gershom's 1000 year (recently expired) ban on polygamy (strongly deplored by Y. Emden in Sh'alot Yavetz II:15); Israeli rabbis outlawed it for all Jews in 1951, with a grandmother clause for hitherto polygamous Sephardim-- but today's Sfardim may also practice polygamy, per Rav Ovadia Yosef.

VIII. DO NOT STEAL (per Targum Yonaton) or DO NOT KIDNAP (per Mechilta, San. 86); theft is prohibited in Lev. 19:11-- YOU (plural) SHALL NOT STEAL.

IX. DON'T GIVE FALSE WITNESS AGAINST YOUR NEIGHBOR. Hearsay evidence is also forbidden; you may only testify as to what you saw.

X. DO NOT COVET (envy) YOUR NEIGHBOR'S HOUSE, WIFE, MALE OR FEMALE SERVANT, OX OR ASS, OR ANYTHING BELONGING TO YOUR NEIGHBOR. Some prohibit even envious feelings; others say that only ACTION is forbidden, e.g. taking a walk with his wife or pressuring him to sell his house, even for a high price. The Radviller (Esser Orot, p. 66) says that failure to heed this 10th fiat sends one back to "GO", the first command-- trust Providential God; He decides what each should have.

This mind-blowing, but external, Divine pyrotechnic display will impress even the least sensitive. But, after some words with the people, Moshe returns to the Divine mist, a deeper inner region, to really know God and get further instructions (Likutei Maharil). Moshe's again told to warn Israel against idolatry. Sacrifices are to be brought on an altar of earth; the eventual stone altar is not to be made of hewn stone, a profanity due to possible association with swords. A ramp, rather than steps, must lead to the altar, to prevent even a suggestion of immodest exposure of the priest's nakedness (he wore breeches). In normal life, we may use swords and steps. While working on man's highest spiritual potential, in the Tabernacle and Temple, even the slightest suggestion of animal aggression and sensuality is to be avoided. Wherever God's mentioned (in the tabernacle and temple), He'll (again) come to the Jews and bless them. These few rules of delicate detail lead to next week's reading, Mishpatim-- grounding Sinai's 10 grand principles in detailed laws for every aspect of life, saving man from both his pleasure pursuits and his power trips, from the sins of Adam and Eve and that of Cain, respectively franchised and popularized in the Flood and Tower generations.


The man who never made an enemy never made anything (Paul Muni; cf. Moshe, Aharon, David and The Malbim)

YISRO, PRIEST OF MIDIAN, MOSHE'S FATHER-IN-LAW, HEARD ALL THAT THE LORD (of nature and judgment) DID FOR MOSHE AND ISRAEL HIS PEOPLE, THAT GOD (of love and infinity) TOOK ISRAEL OUT OF EGYPT (18:1). Rashi quotes the Talmud, Zev. 116-- Yisro came upon hearing that the Red Sea had split, and that "there was war" with Amalek; Rashi then adds that Yisro heard "all that the Lord did FOR THEM-- manna, Miriam's well, and (the victory over) Amalek". Exodus itself is a wonder-- that a people so assimilated could return to God, and separate themselves from generations of Egyptian decadence (cf. USSR). Rav Kanatopsky (Night of Watching) points out Rev. Yisro's dual role-- 1) MIDIAN'S PRIEST and 2) MOSHE'S FATHER-IN-LAW (only the latter and greater title is used hereafter). As priest of Midian, he was interested in the supernatural splitting of the sea, God manipulating nature. As Moshe's father-in-law, he was more interested in his welfare-- the manna, the well, and reuniting his family. So, as a father-in-law, he rejoices upon the VICTORY OVER AMALEK. As a Professor of Theology, he comes running when he hears only that AMALEK HAS STARTED A WAR-- anyone whom Amalek attacks must be filled with God's presence.

Rav J. Soloveichik understood Satmar's view-- a non-observant State of Israel opposes our national mission, to return humanity to itself and God, back to Eden; he also appreciated Rav Kook's opposite view-- salvation's a gradual process, as all plant, animal, and human growth. We pray that God "make David's plant of salvation grow speedily". Israel starts its redemption with long-delayed physical growth (e.g. agriculture, army, and industry), "TO BE A FREE PEOPLE IN OUR LAND". FIRST, Israel makes up for the previous UNDEREMPHASIS of the physical, among helpless diaspora Jews; only LATER, Israeli Jews, basically holy, will also develop their spirit, when they feel empty, spiritually bankrupt, amidst material success. They'll then return to God and Torah in a new, wholesome yet intense, way, not giving up their new "body"-- "TO BE A HOLY PEOPLE IN OUR LAND" (see and buy our bumper sticker on the new improved hatikva; cf. Rebecca Goldstein's The Mind-Body Problem). In Israel, Torah will blend with derech eretz, basic human development. This new model will inspire the world-- even Esav was in awe of the new Yaakov-Yisrael, who both mastered the world of Lavan and sanctified it with Torah. Then "Torah will go forth from Zion and the word of God from Yerushalayim" (Is. 2:3). Who's right, Rav Kook or Satmar?--

In every age, Amalek tried to end Israel's mission, by destroying an essential Jewish institution-- e.g. learning Torah, Shabat, Circumcision, Pesach, etc. His hand is on God's throne, holding back universal recognition of His sovereignty. Similarly God's hand is "on His throne", swearing, by it and for it, to war with Amalek in every generation (17:16). Today no Amalek clone cares in the least if we keep mitzvos. Our enemies today only oppose one aspect of Judaism-- ZIONISM-- the belief that Jews should live in Israel and determine their own agenda and defense. Rav Soloveichik concludes that Amalek often has a better sense than we do, as to what will further our Messianic destiny-- their boundless rabid hatred of Zionism is the best proof that it IS today's holy vehicle to begin the Messianic process. 20th Century Amaleks, e.g. Saddam Hussain, teach us that Rav Kook, not the Satmar Rebbe, was right-- God too is a religious Zionist! His very first command to Avraham, who waited 75 years for His appearance, was to settle in Israel, His "Only Holy Land"! There he'll get to know both God and himself, and be a blessing to all mankind (Gen. 12:2-3).

A single enemy is one too many (Asher ben Yechiel, Hanhaga, c. 1320)

2) MOSHE'S PROGENY: YISRO, MOSHE'S FATHER-IN-LAW, TOOK TZIPORA, MOSHE'S WIFE, AFTER HE SENT HER AWAY, AND HER TWO SONS, OF WHOM ONE WAS NAMED GERSHOM... THE OTHER ELIEZER (18:2-3). This is the first birth announcement of Moshe's honorable #2 son, "Eli-ezer", meaning: "FOR THE GOD OF MY FATHER WAS MY HELP"...(18:3). #1 son Ger-shom's name is repeated (cf. 2:22); it means: "FOR I WAS A STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND". Probably, Gershom was circumcised at the dotel on the Midian-Egypt expressway, while Eliezer was still in utero (OR Eliezer was the baby, tho only named later). Yisro, as a father-in-law, gives Moshe 2 reasons to take back his wife and children, despite his pressing public mission-- 1) Moshe relates to God as "God of my father" (in naming Eliezer; so He appeared at the bush)-- his sons must also experience God thru THEIR father. 2) Just as he mourned exile, in naming Gershom, so his sons must go to Israel. They're not mentioned again; Moshe's grandsons were ordinary tribal princes (I Ch. 23:13-17); tho Moshe was the first high priest (Lev. 8, Ps. 99:6), only Aharon's sons continued this role.

Moshe's one noted grandson was infamous-- Y'honatan ben Gershom ben Menasha served as a levite priest in an idolatrous Danite temple (Judges 18)-- cf. many rabbis' sons today, Jackie Mason, Al Jolson. Do great rabbis kids feel neglected, when dad's busy with the public? Are they influenced by his prominent secular buddies?-- cf. Chaim Herzog. "M'nasha" is written (v. 30) with the nun suspended in the air, so that his real name, Moshe, appears as we read it straight across (B.B. 109b). Y'honatan was wavering betwen his true ancestor, Moshe, and his adopted role model-- wicked Menasha. He may be the bad old prophet, who caused Iddo's demise (IK 13:11ff; see Song of Songs Raba 2, Yer. Ber. 9:2, San. 11:5). He's also called Shevuel, "he who returned to God" (I Ch. 23:16. This is his name as David's Temple treasurer (I Ch. 26:24). Some rabbis (B.B. 110a, Jer. Tal. Ber. 9, Yalkut Shimoni Shoftim) posit that he really mocked idolatry, but officiated at the Danite temple just to make a decent living (and to have plenty of free time to study? Cf. orthodox rabbis in conservative pulpits, e.g., Arye Kaplan); he recalled Moshe's adage-- better to work with "avoda zara" (idols), then to subsist on donations and handouts; but Moshe meant unpleasant labor, also called "avoda zara", "strange service" (cf. Avot 1:11-- "SAGES, GUARD YOUR WORDS...").

Once David realized that Rav Y'honaton was preoccupied with money, he appointed him temple treasurer-- then he fully returned to God (cf. Shas MKs)! Sons of saints often crave normal material life, sons of sinners the spirit. The moral may be that one must follow deep inclinations, but can choose HOW to act them out-- a born murderer can become a shochet; a dominant angry female may make a fine traffic cop on Jaffa Road! Any socially useful expression is fine! So much for alleged conflicts between Freud's unconscious primal drives, Rambam's innate traits (M. T. Daot I) and free will. For egocentric Freud's engaging, but somewhat sad, bio, read Helen Walker Puner's Freud-- His Life and His Mind; she shows how his unscholarly, almost foolish, Moses and Montheism, written late in life, when he was afflicted with cancer, was his projection of his unconscious wish that his father-model, Moses, had not been Jewish, the immediate cause of the destruction of his home and career in Nazi Austria.

Per R. Elazar, Moshe's sons didn't excel because their mother was Prof. Yisro's daughter, not a traditional Jewish girl, deeply rooted in holiness; Aharon married Aminadav's daughter, Elisheva, and had even a truly great grandson-- Pinchas (B.B. 109b). Scholars should marry scholars' daughters, who can properly train their sons should they die (or "kill themselves" in study and communal affairs), and who appreciate and tolerate their husband's preoccupation with Torah (cf. Goldstein's heroine, Renee, a former Bet Yaakov girl, who first left Bet Yaakov for Barnard, then left Torah and her nagging negative mother to marry and serve a cold self-centered mathematical genius instead of a kollel fellow; so Freud's family, and much of norma life experience, were subordinated to his intellectual passion-- Puner). Perhaps Moshe's sons couldn't be great Jews, as they never experienced Egyptian servitude.

3) TOWARD A JUST ISRAEL: Yisro's plan of decentralized local justice is practiced in modern China; each building, plant, apartment block or enterprise has its internal courts, with possibilities of appeal. An Israeli Torah equivalent could end expensive drawn-out legal procedures; quick free justice could be obtained for most cases from the nearest "judges of tens"; hard cases might reach the courts of 50, 100 and 1000; the very hardest would go to the Chief rabbis! Besides great savings of time and money, people would get much more involved in study of Jewish law, and develop many fine judges-- cf. the quick successful mediation techniques of S. Mandelbaum (Divorce Your Lawyer, $15 from TOP; she chaired a seminar on Aguna problems, featuring Rav Marvin Antelman, last week) with prolonged divorce litigation, generating hate and enriching lawyers; all involved, including the lawyers, may lose their souls in the process-- is there a special section of hell for vicious divorce lawyers?

4) YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN: ALL the people SEE THE VOICES on Sinai (20:18)-- there were no blind or deaf Jews; the voices were transformed into visions (Rashi-- cf. multi-media sound and light shows). Yoel Lerner suggests that SEE here means "apprehends spiritually and intellectually", more than just HEAR. The Gerer Rebbe gives a satirical interpretation-- if the 10 Words could only be heard, not seen, "LO", lamed alef, "YOU SHALL NOT", might be understood by "pious" Jews as "LO", lamed vov, "FOR HIM (God)"-- YOU SHALL STEAL (take $$ from the non-observant or the government), "FOR HIM", YOU SHALL MURDER (stone cars on Shabat), and "FOR HIM", TAKE ANOTHER'S WIFE ("she's my soulmate- without Batsheva or Mary Jane, I can't achieve my spiritual destiny, etc."); thus they had to SEE that LO was spelled with alef, "YOU SHALL NOT..."-- even for Me!

5) LEGAL DEPARTMENT: Sefer Hachinuch, following Rambam, counts 17 laws in our portion, 14 within the 10 Proclamations. Ramban eliminates 2. Shabbat is to be both REMEMBERED and OBSERVED, by making kiddush and by refraining from specified creative tasks. S. H. includes havdala in "remembering" Shabbat (man learns by contrast) and its two messages-- 1) the Lord is Creator and Perpetuator of Nature. 2) God intervenes in nature and history, to take the Jews out of constantly recurring replicas of Egypt, Mitzrayim, the "place of narrowness", of slavery to both one's own biological impulses, and to alien culture.

6) YISRO'S RABBINIC BIOGRAPHY: Magician Yisro saved infant Moshe's life in Pharoh's court and gave up idolatry; he was highly critical, seeing thru Pharoh's perversity; he protested persecution of Israel and fled; as a result, his descendants sat in the Sanhedrin's chamber of hewn stone-- tho Job felt similar revulsion, he kept quiet, knowing that his protests wouldn't help; later, when he cried over his affliction, God asked him why he was crying, since it didn't help; he replied that he had to express his anguish anyway; God then asked him why he didn't feel similar anguish when Jews were killed and tortured (midrashim, e.g. Shmot Raba I:9, 26, expounded by Revolutionary Rav M. Gafni). "Heretic" Yisro was defrocked by his former flock, so his daughters had to water their sheep and were harassed. He recognized Moshe as Israel's potential redeemer; Moshe would not leave Yisro w/o his permission, violating his oath to Yisro and decent human relations, even for God's mission (see Shmot Raba IV:1-2; Conservodox Prof. Zev Falk, addressing the rabbinic Bonds group last week, claimed that our sense of morality must prevail even over apparent halacha, turning God's harsh side into mercy! But Rav JBS pointed out that such attitudes turn Man into God-- we must sacrifice even our own limited sense of morality to God's will, as Avraham eagerly departed to sacrifice Yitzchak).

D. THE HAFTARA, ISAIAH 6,7:1-6, 9:5-6

opens with God's first call to Isaiah, in the year of King Uzziah's death (or leprosy-- II Ch 26:19ff): "Whom shall I send and who will go for us?" (6:8). The book of Isaiah opens, however, with Chs. 1-5, his LATER major theme-- Judah's impending destruction (Ibn Ezra, Rashi; Radak disagrees). Isaiah here sees a vision of God and his Divine throne; 6-winged fiery angels (seraphim), who surround the throne of Glory, unceasingly intone the trisagion, calling to each other in UNISON: "Holy, holy, holy is the God of hosts, (yet) the whole world is filled with His glory (6:3)"; you can find it anywhere if you look hard and deep enough-- God has offices, the "glory" of His Nature and nature, everywhere; but it's easier to find Him in Jerusalem, His home town (Ps. 135:21), especially in His den, the Temple Mount. Would you like to see an angel?

Isaiah, as the Jews at Sinai, feels inadequate for such experience; he has "unclean lips", dwelling amidst an unclean people. A seraph purifies him of sin, touching his mouth with a burning coal, from the altar-- compare the hot coal put on little Moshe's tongue, via Gavriel, affecting his speech, after Yisro's suggeston to Pharo, duly rewarded, saved Moshe's life (see Shmot Raba I:26; that midrashic passage also claims that Pharo's daughter's kindness in saving Moshe is rewarded by even God calling Moshe "Moshe", the name which she gave him; should we call Jewish kids saved by non-Jews in the Shoa by the names they gave them?-- perhaps not, for, unlike Pharo's daughter, they didn't give them Hebrew names, assuming that "Moshe" is Hebrew). The haftara continues sans seraph. God tells Isaiah that the Jewish people are repressing their Divine souls; they'll not repent until tragic exile, of which he is to warn them-- first for the North, then for Yehudah-- forces them to become a stronger, more beautiful, tree from a trimmed trunk. The Haftara concludes with Isaiah's revelation that one who will be a great "restorer to God" (Hezekiah) has already been born-- it can't refer to Jesus (an incorrect Christian reading), born hundreds of years later!-- All nations must come and learn from Yaakov and his God-- Is. 2:3 (not teach him-- missionaries beware!).

WHAT'S A SERAPH? Angels both serve and praise God, and carry out His missions to Man. While we literally give "lip service" to angels, especially in our mornings prayers, very few of us really factor them into our world of relevant experience; while we may say "hi!" and "bye!" to them on Friday night, in the Shalom Aleichem hymn, the Vilna Gaon opposed this poem, lest we utter its heretical verse, where we pray to the angels, rather than to God, to bless us! Most angels' names end in "e-l", a Divine Name denoting God's power. I surveyed Jewish traditions of angels in our November 1992 Jerusalem Jewish Voice. Few sane individuals seriously study angels today, despite their frequent, tho usually anonymous, Biblical appearances. I used one such study, A Dictionary of Angels-- including the fallen angels, 15 years in the making by Gustav Davidson, to learn a bit about seraphim. It's published by The Free Press (1967), which also recently published Era Rappaport's defense of Jewish terrorism, howbeit with an academic overview by observant observant sociologist Wm. Helmreich (Letters from Tel Mond Prison: An Israeli Settler Defends His Acts of Terror, well reviewed by Galina Vromen in the ridiculously post-dated JR of 2/6/97). The Dictionary also includes non-Jewish angelic tradition, which may also be worth reading-- spiritually savvy non-Jews, even evil chaps like Bilaam, can also perceive angels; also, some non-Jewish traditions may be based on old Jewish sources, long forgotten by us-- cf. Gregorian chants.

Both Danny Gwirtzman and I bought this old book the same day in 2 different book stores; when we happened to meet that afternoon, I told him about my great new book!

Davidson, a consultant in angelology to Steuben Glass and The Kennedy Foundation, was Secretary Emeritus of The Poetry Society of America. He describes his own concern at his growing interest in the study of angels: "A professed belief in angels would, inevitably, involve me in a belief in the supernatural, and that was the golden snare I did not wish to be caught in. W/o committing myself religiously, I could conceive of the possibility of there being, in dimensions and worlds other than our own, powers and intelligences outside our present apprehension, and, in this sense, angels are not to be ruled out as a part of reality-- always remembering that we create what we believe. Indeed, I am prepared to say that if enough of us believe in angels, then angels exist." When wicked old Spinoza was "execrated, cursed, and cast out" from Amsterdam for holding, among other heretical views, that angels were an hallucination, the edict was drawn up by the rabbis "with the judgment of the angels". The might of the angels, in Jewish tradition, is easily a match for the might of the pagan gods and heroes. The German 17th century astronomer Kepler figured out (and somehow managed to fit into his celebrated law of celestial mechanics) that the planets "are pushed around by angels". 14th century kabbalists concluded that there are 301,655,722 angels. Enoch, Yaakov and Eliyahu were transformed into angels after death, per some midrashim. Shchina and Bat Kol may be female angels. The (not Uri) Zohar (Vayechi 232b) states: "Angels, God's messengers, turn themselves into different shapes-- sometimes female, sometimes male."

Sadducees repudiated angels, while Pharisees acknowledged and espoused them. Aristotle and Plato believed in angels (Aristotle called them intelligences). Socrates had his daimon, an attendant spirit (cf. Rav Yosef Karo's maggid), whose voice warned the marketplace philosopher (cf. me) whenever he was about to make a wrong decision. To invent an angel, a hierarchy, or an order in a hierarchy, required some imagination, but not too much ingenuity; it was sufficient merely to (1) scramble together letters of the Hebrew alphabet; (2) juxtapose such letters in anagrammatic, acronymic, or cryptogrammatic form; (3) tack on to any place, property, function, attribute, or quality the theophorous "e-l" or "irion". Hod becomes Hodeil, Gvurah Gavriel or Gaviron. Miracles, feats of magic, heavenly visitations and overshadowings are often ascribed to different angels. Angels can occupy two places simultaneously or almost simultaneously-- Michael is the archistratege of the 4th heaven (Chagiga 12b), but also governor of the 7th and 10th heavens, and our "right hand man" at bedtime.

"Seraph", literally one who burns or who is afire, would seem to involve the concept of "purifying fire", of that which separates precious metal from dross, of afflictions which purify the tainted soul. Seraphim are the highest order of angels in the pseudo-Dionysian hierarchic scheme and generally also in Jewish lore, e.g. Masechet Atzilut (in Otzar Midrashim), which names Shemuel (Kemuel or Jehoel) as their chief. But Rambam ranks them #5 of 10 (M.T.), the Zohar #3 of 10 (Ex. 43a), and Brit Menucha, by Avraham ben Yitzchak of Granada, 1648, a lowly #10 of 10, headed by Jehoel! They are the angels of love, of light and of fire. Per 3 Enoch, there are 4, corresponding to the 4 winds of the world. In rabbinic writings, they are equated with the chayot. In Enoch II, as here, they have 4 faces and 6 wings; they're not mentioned elsewhere in the O.T. (Only Testament), unless we equate them with the fiery serpents in Numbers 21:6 (cf. Deut. 8:15, and the flying serpents in Is. 14:29, 30:6), assigning them a malevolent role. As guardians of a throne, they recall the k'ruvim in Ezekiel 1, tho the latter serve as a divine chariot. They're not mentioned in early Christian literature, except by implication (Revelation 4:8). The Revelation of Moshe, a recension contained in Psikta Rabbati, 777 (the year of publication, not the brandy), speaks of "one of the 6-winged seraphim hurrying Adam to the Acherusian lake, and washing him in the presence of God"; in this book, the seraphim are said to "roar like lions". Seraph is also named one of the angels with dominion over the element of fire, of which there are quite a number.

Angels are not named in the O.T., except for Michael and Gabriel in post-exilic Daniel. "The Satan", the adversary, the evil inclination, is generally considered an "office holder", part of God's entourage, a team player, in the O.T. and Judaism. But Christianity called him "Satan", a proper name, and viewed him as a Zoroastrian dualistic enemy of God (see Fallen Angels, by Bernard J. Bamberger). Is such study of angels valuable? How would the human experience have been different had God not told us about angels?


is broadly and deeply explored by Michael Walzer in EXODUS and REVOLUTION. The very notion of a contract, freely entered into by Israel, is a major theme of Exodus. Freedom doesn't mean living at whim, slave to one's own momentary unconscious impulses (e.g. unadulterated masculinity, which must be socialized, adapted to female long-term familial and social commitment-- but female equality in the marketplace and defense, tho part of modern un?able politically correct "faith", leaves males, who can't give birth or nurse, feeling superfluous-- this begins the downfall of civilization, per Gilder, Sexual Suicide; Israeli haredi men, marginal in livelihood and defense, can take pride only in their Torah learning-- thus they feel doubly threatened by female Torah scholars).

The Jews are not only possessed of natural liberty, but also of free will. A truly free man is he who can decide what's true and right, and act accordingly and responsibly-- stay up with your sick child, tho you'll miss the stimulating lecture, remain loyal to your aging or bitchy spouse, etc. (Rav Dr. Yitzchak Greenberg, in his Pardes lecture, Choose Life, an unpublished TOP tape; he's interviewed in In The Service of God)-- Yitz urges us to make the most life-affirming choice, when there's lack of clarity or dispute in halacha (YF-- cf.: "Blessed are You... Who's given us a Torah of truth, and has planted eternal life within us"); so we must create a climate where those close to us can flourish, where they can express what they really feel, without fear of rejection, ridicule, or revenge. Subverting one's self-pride and judgment to God, so far beyond one, is quite different from subverting them to man-- due to fear of Pharoh, or from moral lassitude, that seeks a Pharoh (or Rebbe or Rosh Yeshiva?) to feed him and make his decisions.

But even Moshe seems skeptical of God's salvation, after Pharo responds to his request to let his/His people go with even harsher slavery. The Lord of Nature, of absolute inflexible laws, indeed chastises Moshe; but He immediately shifts His mode to soft gentle speech-- as the God of Infinity and Love, He realizes that Moshe's impatience and frustration is due to his deep empathy for his/His suffering folk. The Torah's law of levirite marriage (yibum) is intended to carry on the essence or "name" of a deceased childless husband, via the union of his widow and his brother; if they do not so mate, she must go thru a ceremony of dissolution of their automatic betrothal, called chalitza, in order to marry someone else. The horrors inflicted upon some childless widows today, when the brother is unwilling or unable to perform the ceremony, are portrayed by Sharon Shenhav of Na'amat (Shame, spit, and an oversized shoe, JP 1/24/97, p. 7). Shenhav's "solution" is to urge rabbinical courts to do the impossible-- to simply ignore the Torah's law of chalitza in Deut. 25:5-6, just as Ashkenazim substituted chalitza for yibum many centuries ago, before it was officially banned in Israeli rabbinic law in 1950.

But Shenhov fails to distinguish between applying one of two alternative procedures given in the Torah from throwing out the whole law. If we discard the Torah, or any part thereof, denying it's Divinity, there's really little basis left for sacrificially perpetuating the Jewish people and the State of Israel, a far worse consequence than the small number of widows who suffer from this law, w/o minimizing their tragic plight. But, as Moshe, I'd assume that Shenhav too speaks out of deep sympathy for those widows who are pressured and blackmailed, or simply ignored, by non-cooperative brothers-in-law, who refuse to give chalitza; sometimes, as in the case of Shelah (Gen. 38:11f), the surviving brother is too young to perform either ceremony.

True, we must pursue every avenue to prevent the Torah from being used as an instrument of torture, especially of widows-- perhaps even beating up the wicked brother-in-law, having the brothers of the groom sign a pre-nuptial agreement, or annulling the marriage retroactively is necessary; but we cannot simply ignore the Torah's prohibition on the childless widow's marriage to another. When Rav Kook urged reinterpretation of the Torah vis-a-vis modern life, he certainly did not intend that any part of it be discarded. In a better world, when all Jews accept, study and fulfill the Torah, such problems won't arise; all good Jewish men will gladly do the mitzva of chalitza, should the need arise. Emuna women try to bring Israel back to its Torah in Israel; but Shenhov's group, Na'amat, while trying to create good citizens, does little to promote Torah study and observance, and thus indirectly helps causes such problems as abandoned widows, when their Jewish brothers-in-law refuse to heed the Torah and the rabbis, who try very hard to help.

God first takes Israel out of Egypt and brings them to Sinai, without much moral merit or effort on their part. Once there, He gives them His factory authorized life instruction manual, Torah. Now Israel must be more active-- laboring day and night in Torah study, experience, and reflection, to absorb and follow its guidance. Dictators also give codes of law, but theirs are simple instructions, about which no one need think deeply. God promises much, but contingent on Israel doing its share. The Jews' Israeli success and continuation is in direct proportion to their closeness to God (as A Kingdom of Priests, e.g. yeshivot), which then must imbue all their national institutions, e.g. Tzahal, and interpersonal relationships with holiness (as A Holy Nation, e.g. in Bnei Brak elections-- Ex. 19:6).

The Aleynu prayer closes each service, a major message for the Jew returning to this so imperfect world-- first, the Jews, individually and as a nation, must truly praise God in word and deed; then the rest of the world will join them, as God and His Name become One on earth too. Some say freedom is to result in ultimate responsibility-- not just for myself, but for every other Jew too. All agree that 603,500 individual covenants were executed, between God and every single Jew (no one's to be submerged in "group think"-- or group dress?). One view posits that each individual covenant was made 603,500 times, each man pledging himself also to aid every other in his/her holy mission (Sot. 37b-- women too? 1,207,000?).

Ultimate freedom and responsibility stem from a close connection to God, Man's only true source of Freedom; this is to be the lot of EVERY JEW-- indeed the choice of a group to teach and administer the covenant-- Levites-- only occurs when the people as a whole show that they're still rooted in the narrow straits of Egyptian mentality (Mechilta). ALL THE PEOPLE ANSWERED TOGETHER: "ALL GOD SAID, WE'LL DO!" (Ex. 19:8)-- they didn't respond with hypocrisy, nor did each influence the other, but all so decided at once (Mechilta 2:207). So all mankind was to live together, as equals, in Eden; only when Man messed it up, running amok thru history's pleasure and power cultures, were Avraham and his descendants singled out as a kingdom of priests. So no Jewish king or ruler whatsoever may be needed-- when all of Israel act as His true kingdom of priests.

Despite this ideal, Moshe admits that Israel now needs captains of 10's, captains of 50's, etc. He's happy when Eldad and Medad become popular prophetic preachers (Num. 11:26-9); some Israeli rabbis, however, panic, when non-establishment, non-party line, folks come to grips with Torah, in their own language and frame of reference. Many rabbis remain aloof from the people, who then look to non-Jewish sources for inspiration. The same rabbis often castigate anyone who thinks slightly differently from them as "reform", condemning all their work if they differ on one point (e.g. persecutions of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Steinsaltz, Rav Riskin, Rav Yosef, and these sheets, in the Haredi yellow press, e.g. Ytad Neeman-- see our B'shalach study). Israel badly needs modern rabbis, who care for, and relate to, all Jews and all of life (e.g. Jerusalem Rabbis Adler, Gafni, Gold, Rakefet, Riskin and Spero).

Yoel (2:28-9) portrays Moshe's messianic dream: "IT SHALL COME TO PASS, FINALLY, THAT I'LL POUR OUT MY SPIRIT ON ALL FLESH-- YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS, YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS. ALSO UPON THE MALE AND FEMALE SERVANTS... WILL I POUR OUT MY SPIRIT". So Jeremiah writes (31:31-4, cf. Gen. Raba 98:9): "...BUT THIS SHALL BE THE COVENANT THAT I'LL MAKE WITH THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS GOD. I'LL PUT MY LAW IN THEIR VERY INNARDS, AND WRITE IT IN THEIR HEARTS... THEY'LL NO MORE TEACH EVERY MAN HIS NEIGHBOR AND EVERY MAN HIS BROTHER, SAYING: `KNOW GOD!'-- FOR THEY'LL ALL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST OF THEM TO THE GREATEST OF THEM". Rav A. Y. Kook saw messianic striving for independence behind contemporary chutzpa, howbeit improper, toward parents and teachers! His son, Rav T. Y. Kook, admired Shulamit Aloni's ardent questioning pursuit of truth, 40 years ago (Rav Brandwein).

We need lots of programs which provide an atmosphere for personal exploration of Torah, self, and the world, e.g. Yakar, Yavneh, Lincoln Center, Livnot, Y.U., Bar Ilan, Aish's Discovery and Fellowships, Jeff's programs at H.U. and T.A.U. (despite sometimes hostile administrations), Rav I. Chait's Bnei Torah and Zionist Hassidic Israelight; students mustn't just be clones of a particular teacher or way in Torah. A yeshiva which truly serves God should be perfectly happy if a pupil feels more comfortable elsewhere. Meanwhile, Moshe learns to agonize with day to day progress toward Exodusian, even if not Messianic, redemption-- simply to reach Israel and try to establish there a sacred society, yet also one strongly rooted in this world.

Rambam describes the Messianic Age-- "THE SAGES AND PROPHETS YEARNED FOR THE MESSIANIC ERA, BUT NOT IN ORDER TO RULE THE WORLD, NOR TO CONTROL NON-JEWS, NOR TO BE EXALTED OF THE NATIONS, OR EVEN TO EAT, DRINK, OR REJOICE. ALL THEY WISHED WAS TO HAVE TIME FOR TORAH AND ITS WISDOM, WITH NO ONE TO OPPRESS OR DISTURB THEM (a different national dream, of Soap, BMW's, and 5 star hotels, may engender the anguish of wars and intifada). IN THAT AGE... THE WHOLE WORLD WILL BE OCCUPIED... WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD (science too)... THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL WILL BE GREAT SAGES; THEY'LL UNDERSTAND HIDDEN THINGS, AND REACH A KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR CREATOR TO THE EXTENT OF HUMAN CAPACITY". He elaborates the words of Shmuel, 3rd Cent., in Ber. 34b: "THERE'S NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OUR WORLD AND THE DAYS OF THE MESSIAH, EXCEPT OUR BONDAGE TO THE HEATHEN KINGDOMS". Messianic redemption repeats Mosaic redemption. Isaiah's prophecy about the lion and the lamb lying together isn't supernatural, but simply a metaphor for Israel and the nations.

Per Ramban, Messiah will demand of the Pope and kings that they let His people go, to serve Him! Brilliant distorted Sabbatean Nathan of Gaza, possible author of the Tu B'shvat seder and a kabbalat shabbat prayer, tried to so approach the Pope. The eschatological apocalyptic era is a much later stage, involving revival of the dead for a thousand year curtain call, followed by a world of pure soul and spirit, per Rambam.


Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined (attributed to Sam Goldwyn)

R. Bachye introduces each Torah reading with a verse from Proverbs, reflecting its basic theme. Yisro's is 15:4: A TONGUE HEALS, IT'S A TREE OF LIFE; BUT CORRUPTION IN IT IS A WOUND TO THE SPIRIT (Malbim renders: Ugly speech is a SYMPTOM of a sick human soul, to be cured by Torah, the Tree of Life). Holy words of Torah heal far more effectively than herbs, drugs, etc, which only remove illness; Torah transforms one's total being, adding depth and length to his life. So bad speech causes terrible illness-- embarrassment is tantamount to murder (B.M. 59a). Ultimately, a healthy body must be sustained by a healthy soul, without bad beliefs and traits (cf. Rambam, 8 Chs., III). Human speech raises man far above animals. By it, he can draw others to God's Imminent Presence, Shchina, and to eternal life. So contact with Avraham's healing tongue was a tree of life to idolaters (Gen. 12:8), "creating" their souls. Tho information about Exodus made Yisro undertake the difficult journey to the desert (18:1), he was only truly transformed by hearing Moshe speak: MOSHE RELATED TO HIS FATHER-IN-LAW ALL GOD DID... AND YISRO REJOICED... (18:8-9).

A PIQUANT CASE STUDY: Yaakov Emden relates a striking violation of the 9th Statement in his 18th century diary, Megillat Sefer, available at TOP (Hebrew, $20):

This is what happened to my grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov, may his memory be for a blessing, when he was a young man. In the general panic to escape from the massacres, my grandfather was separated from his family and from his young wife, who remained with her father. The latter had fled the land with his son and wife, so that they should not be swallowed up in this pit of sorrow. The hooligans caught up with my grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov of blessed memory, after killing many, and destroying a number of Jewish communities, sparing no one. By the thousands and the ten thousands, they shed the blood of innocent saints, loyal to the living God, led like sheep to the slaughter...

When they came upon my grandfather, their leader ordered him to kneel down in front of his sword, to behead him. My grandfather stretched out his neck for slaughter, and surrendered his life to sanctify the Blessed Name. Suddenly, while on his knees to receive his death blow, when his soul had all but left him, he was touched, as it were, by an angel of God. God softened the heart of his enemy, who was sorry for him, because of his youth. Instead of swinging his sword with the sharp side, he was moved to thrust him aside with the blunt edge of his weapon, saying contemptuously: "Get up, you young puppy, and get out of here!" God had saved him from the sword of the wicked, in a very marvelous manner... After this he hid among the slain, so that passersby did not notice that he was alive... by day he was exposed to the heat, while at night he was a victim of the cold. He foraged about for food, collecting some leaves from the bitter herbs growing in the reeds, in order to survive. In this condition, he spent about eight days, until all those bloodthirsty murderers had gone away. Then he ran for his life, escaping the hands of the wicked.

...a few remnants of our people, who also hid, stood far away, watching all that happened to my grandfather. They saw him submit to the blow of the enemy who wanted to dispatch him and, seeing the murderer's sword upon his neck, assumed that his head had been chopped off. After he was felled to earth, by the thrust of the blunt edge of the sword... those people, who were watching from far away, assumed, in their general confusion, and the fear of death that had engulfed them, that his head had been thrown to the ground; so our sages say in the Gemara: "They saw that he was hit with an arrow and spear, and assumed that he was certainly dead."

Having escaped, through the mercy of God, from the hands of the enemy, these men came to a safe haven in Moravia, at Trevich, hometown of the Gaon, author of Shaar Efrayim; as Rabbi Yaakov of blessed memory was missing, they were asked whether they had seen the latter, alive or dead. To this they replied: "Yaakov is dead! With our own eyes we saw him kneel for execution, and he was beheaded."

Thus testified these refugees; though they were respectable and honest, they gave evidence about that which they had not really seen, and it was based on their words that the great Gaon, Reb Heschel, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, permitted his wife, Nechama, to remarry. As this seemed a very simple affair, straightforward, and in accordance with the law- "by the testimony of two witnesses a decision shall be arrived at", especially when an Agunah *** was concerned, the Rabbis did their utmost to release her... a permit was issued.

*** a married woman, unable to remarry, for lack of certain widowhood or divorce. See Jack Porter's book on the modern aguna, $35 from TOP.

Tho young and very beautiful, his wife did not want to accept comfort for the husband of her youth, who was, in fact, alive. This righteous woman remained pure, that a great chain might descend from her, generations of upright blessed ones... For, after a half year, the man who had been "executed" arrived on foot, and it became an outstanding marvel in Israel. From that time on, the above-mentioned Gaon, fearing another mistake, refused to issue any Agunah with a permit to remarry... he concluded that, in such a time of trouble, one cannot really rely even on two perfect qualified witneses; for him (R. Yaakov) came true: "No mishap befalls a just man". After this my revered father, the Gaon Zvi (Chacham Tzvi of Amsterdam), the glory of Israel, may his memory be for a blessing, was born from the choice marriage ....

G. A GUEST ARTICLE: Rav Kuzriel Meir, a featured speaker at Rav Antelman's recent seminar, has culled this composite picture of Yisro from the following sources: 1) Chomash, Midrash Raba, Midrash Tanahuma, Zohar, and, 2) Rashi, Abravanel, Ramban, Hirsh, R' Behyyah, Me'Am Lo'ez. It was written in memory of his father, who died in the camps of Germany, and to celebrate the 17th year of his freedom from a camp in Cambodia.

I have always marveled at the personality of Yithro-Reuel, father-in-law of Moses, friend of G-d, the mighty high priest of Media, and councilor to Pharoah. Yithro was a man who challenged his own people's beliefs about religion, and suffered exile. He fled from Pharoah, rather than play any part in Egypt's destruction of Bene Israel. Yithro, unlike any other person, had the privilege of Moses' company and wisdom for nearly forty years. According to a Midrash, Moses had long and frequent discussions with Yithro about the nature of G-d and the Jewish concept of morality. Yithro attempted to demonstrate the superiority of his thought, questioning Moses' concepts. In spite of these discussions, Yithro remained one tough cookie to draw closer to G-d. Then came the plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the drowning of the Egyptians. Still, Yithro somehow failed or refused to budge from his place of exile. Finally, he comes-- but only after the defeat of the Amelakites and the giving of the Manna. Why did he wait so long? What was it that prompted him to make his final commitment to join Bene Israel? Our Sages wondered why, as well.

What was it that prompted this stately gentleman to leave his home and tramp across the wastes to become part of our people? What stimulated him to go thru all the challenges necessary to reach the point, when he would finally become a true believer and Jewish (one opinion-- YF)? To begin to realize the trials Yithro had to endure, we only need to look at the word MIDBAR-- desert or wilderness. The word MIDBAR is really M'DABER-- without words, human words, human contact, civilization. In the desert, a person feels his isolation, his worthlessness and his frailty. Above all, he begins to feel the awesomeness of creation and his own dependence upon the grace of G-d, for his continued survival. The desert that Yithro had to cross had other dimensions, that we cannot experience, nor can we appreciate. For most of us were born Jewish, and raised in the traditions of our fathers. We have taken another route thru the desert. Yithro's journey to Judaism begins many years before we meet him in Parshat Shmot. Even tho he was the father-in-law of Moses, and was already noted in the Biblical text, we now see how great he really is-- not only does he have a portion named after him, but it begins the greatest event ever to happen to the Jewish people, the core experience of their history-- No!!-- The greatest event of the world since Creation, the core of world history. We not only learn that Yithro listens, but that he gives Moses, leader of our nation and spokesman of G-d, solid and sound advice on how to administer justice.

I cannot help but marvel at this man. How could Yithro, a fugitive forced to live so long in isolation, because he crossed verbal swords with the greatest human ruler of his day-- a man forced to live in the deserted waste lands, far from human contact, because he dared challenge the very structure of his society-- still maintain his sense of proportion and societal needs? Yithro was the man who navigated the depths of human existence; he learned all its pitfalls and rough places. He even became used to living on his own. But, Moses and Israel cried out to him: "Please don't leave us! For you are familiar with all places, where we'll camp in this desert. Stay with us, become our eyes." So great was Yithro that his offspring became scholars, and their children priests. Moses' grandchildren became priests for the idol of Dan. How strange! How did this come about?

Yithro's name was Reuel. This gives us a clue to his nature. Often we speak about the name Reuel as meaning "the friend of G-d". But another, closer look reveals that this name is made up of AL V' RA. The word El symbolizes G-d as known by the nations while Ra symbolizes the Egyptian idol as well as evil-- Idolatry and true faith. The Zohar tells us that Yithro was Pharoah's Minister of Religion. He was familiar with every form of religion-- be it from the side of holiness, or from the other side (sitra aher). In order to be a true Minister of Religion, one has to possess a sense of awe and fear, an ability to attain the concentration of heart and mind necessary to function, as well as self effacement. This allows him to maintain the constant and independent form of worship, that will sustain his personality and courtly manner, in the face of both religious truth and falsehood. Where Balaam continued to cling to his mediums of sorcery, and was dragged into corruption and death, both Job and Yithro were able to detach themselves from the apparent hold evil forces had on them, and come toward the light. Yithro was able to accomplish this thru listening (VAYISHMA YITHRO), and then he saw G-d and became His friend (Raah-E-l). It was Yithro, Midianite High priest and Ger Zedek, who aided Moses and Am Israel with divine insight. It was Yithro who guided us thru the desert. And, it was the sons of Yithro, lead by Othnael, who restored the lost 300 commandments, forgotten by Joshua, in his long process of mourning for his teacher. It was Yithro's children who became great scholars and served in the Temple.

Sometimes G-d uses the people we expect him not to use, to teach us, and/or to bring about a clearer understanding of what He expects from us. The true Ger Zedek is capable of rising to the heights of Judaism, while we, who like to think we're special, may sink lower than the animals. We find the Torah commands us 36 times to love our gerim; it also demands that we respect Bene Noah over, and even above, those Jews who intentionally violate the Torah's commands. Those who fail to learn, or who have been misguided or have strayed, we are commanded to teach. While we are expected to inspect the potential convert for his yierat shammiim, awe of God, before we accept him into the society of G-d's chosen, we readily accept the wandering Jew back to the fold, if he claims to have repented. Both the Ger and the Baal Teshuvah have the same potential-- they can rival the righteousness and learning of our greatest Sages. Both have the same Din: that it is loshen ha-ra, bad mouthing, to note their origins or past sins.

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