Torah Portion of the week – Yisro – How Love Breaks All the Rules – Etiquette and Being Close – A Powerful Parable about the New Rabbi – A Great Story about the Or Sameach and Peace in Your Home – Breaking the Ego
The Torah Podcast Transcript
044 the Torah Podcast – How Love Breaks All Rules – Etiquette And Being Close
Torah Portion of the Week – Yisro
Rav Miller from Gateshead explains, “After the Jews went through the parting of the Red Sea, Yisro the father-in-law of Moshe, came to meet him. It seems obvious that Moses would have given the respect to his father-in-law to come out to greet him. But the verse says, ‘I, your father-in-law Yisro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.’” Rashi explains, “If you will not come out to greet me for my sake, then come out for your wife’s sake. And if you won’t come out for her sake, then come out for her children’s sake.” That’s why the verse says, “I am coming with your wife and her two sons.” Rashi continues to explain that also Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, the leaders of Yisroel, also came out, and therefore the whole of klal Yisroel came out to meet Yisro. All the Jewish people came out to meet him. One question is, he said, “It appears from Rashi that Moses didn’t want to come out to greet him, because the way that Rashi explained it, “Please do it for my sake, and if you won’t do it for my sake, do it for your wife’s sake. And if you won’t do it for your wife’s sake, so do it for her children’s sake.” What do we need all this for? Of course it’s natural that Moses should go out and greet his father-in-law. Secondly, why does the verse say, “Come out for the sake of her two children?” What do you mean, ‘Her two children?’ It’s his children. Why are we referring to the children as ‘hers?’
In order to answer these questions we have to go a little bit further in the Parsha. The verse says, “On the following day, Moses sat in judgment over the problems the people brought him. And the people stood before Moses from morning to evening.” Rashi explains that Moses was sitting like a king, while the people stood. This is exactly why Yisro rebuked Moses. The verse says, “What is this thing that you do to the people? Why do you sit alone with all the people standing by you from morning to evening?” It bothered Yisro that Moses was sitting and all the people were standing. He felt it was not fitting for the dignity of klal Yisroel, the Jewish people, except, that’s a bit problematic. Could it be that Moses didn’t have kavod for the Jewish people – he didn’t have honor for the Jewish people? Secondly, Moses himself was the humblest man on earth. He was the humblest man in history. How could it be that Moses was acting in an incorrect way and Yisro was rebuking him for such behavior?
In order to begin to answer we need to bring the Gemara in Shabbos 31a. The Gemara says, “One time a non-Jew came to Shammai and said he was willing to convert to Judaism if he would teach the entire Torah on one foot. Shammai pushed the guy away. But later this man showed up to Hillel, and Hillel answered him. What did he say to him? ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to others.’ That’s the entire Torah. The rest is all commentary. Now, go and learn.” The question is, why did Hillel put it in a negative form? He could have stated it the way that Rabbi Akiva stated it which is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Rav Miller wants to answer, “That was the correct way to say it, in the negative.” Why? Because a person who is outside of Torah who doesn’t have Torah, the only way he can get to truth is through a process of elimination. It has to be in the negative, pushing this away and pushing that away. So, Hillel answered, “Whatever you don’t like, don’t do to somebody else.” He didn’t tell him what to do, he told him not what to do which is similar to Yisro. How does it connect with Yisro? We know there’s a verse in this week’s Parsha that says, “And Yisro said, ‘Now I know that the Lord is great above all other deities.’” Rashi explains, “This teaches that Yisro is familiar with every other form of idol worship in the world. There was not one religion that he hadn’t tried. He tried everything. But it was through the process of elimination that he came to realize that the Torah was true. He rejected every other religion, and that’s what led him to the truth.” But this approach to find the truth has a critical eye. It’s focusing on negativity. This is not true and that’s not true, and this is wrong and this is wrong. But this is the thing that led Yisro to convert. In that sense, it’s very positive to have a critical, intellectual eye – to see the truth, to see what’s wrong. Yisro was extremely sensitive to any type of imperfection. He’d see that black dot on a huge white piece of paper. This is what caused him to be critical of Moses. He felt that something was wrong. How come Moses is sitting and all the people are standing? There’s something incorrect here.
But if you go back to Parshas Bereishis, you’ll see that the Jews had a mesorah, a tradition for such a thing. The possuk said, “And God appeared to Avraham among the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day.” Rashi explains that even though Avraham tried to stand up in the presence of God, God commanded him to be seated. God said to him, “You sit down and I shall stand. And this will be a sign for your children that I will be standing in the assembly of judges while they remain seated. The judges won’t remain seated, as if Hashem is standing there, watching the judgment.” The Maharal explains there that he who loves someone doesn’t care in the slightest if the other is sitting while he’s standing. In other words, the sweeping aside of conventional norms and barriers is a sign of love. It’s the inner closeness and devotion that makes nothing of the externals of life. When you’re with your family, your mother, your father, there’s a love there that breaks the barriers of formal behavior. The Bereishis Rabba says, “Ahava mekalkel es ha shura,” love destroys order. This was the promise to Avraham Avinu. So dear is the Jewish people to God that the demands of respect and defiance will be neglected. In other words, God’s going to stand and the Jewish judges are going to sit.
This answers our first question – how can it be that Moses sat while the Jewish people stood? It’s because since there was such a love between Moses and the Jewish people, and the Jewish people to Moses, nobody paid attention to the etiquette. Nobody paid attention to the rules. Who’s sitting, who’s standing, it doesn’t matter, it’s family. What did Yisro see? He was an outsider. He came from the outside. He was looking at it from an intellectual, critical point of view. That was his darecho, that was his way. For him, you were breaking the rules. It was against manners. It was against etiquette. But that was only because he was coming from the outside. The insiders, the Jewish people themselves, didn’t have these feelings. It was not a question of kavod, honor. Moses was humble, and it wasn’t a slight to the dignity of am Yisroel, the Jewish people.
Now, you’ve got to hear this. We know that the talmidim, students of Rabbi Akiva, 24,000 died during the Sefiras HaOmer period. The Rabbis tell us the reason was that they didn’t give honor one to each other. The question is, how could it be that the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva didn’t give honor one to each other? We know that Rabbi Akiva, one of his main dictums was, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I’m sure all the talmidim knew about it. These were the students of Rabbi Akiva so of course the students had that quality of love, one for the other. How could it be that they didn’t give kavod one to the other – honor? The answer is, just the opposite. Because of the love, because of so much love they had one for the other, they didn’t give the honor. In other words, there was such a feeling of family and love that they forgot to honor each other in a proper way in terms of manners, in terms of etiquette. We said that’s not so important. No, the answer is you need both. You have to have the love and the etiquette, the love and the kavod. But this is a beautiful understanding of why the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva were punished. They loved each other, but they didn’t give the proper kavod. In order to answer the second question which was – why was Yisro so involved with getting the proper greeting that everybody should come out to meet him? Like Rashi said, “For my sake, for your wife’s sake.” Also, what does it mean, “Her children – for her children’s sake?” The answer is the same answer. Where was Yisro coming from? He was coming from a place of middas hadin, judgment; a critical eye. The way to get the truth is to push away everything to find the truth, the purity of truth which is something we need. We need a critical eye. We need a critical mind. We develop all day our minds in the Gemara, sitting in the Beis Midrash. It’s a very important aspect, but the problem was he was still an outsider and he was now trying to become an insider. Since he was so sensitive to criticism, he was worried that if Moses did not give the proper honor to him, he wouldn’t be accepted in klal Yisroel as a Jew. That’s why he said, “Come out for my sake, and come out for your wife’s sake,” because Yisro’s daughter was also not Jewish. Make sure you come and you give the proper kavod to me, that the Jewish people should see that your wife is also Jewish, because you’re giving kavod to her by giving kavod to me. Thirdly, do it for her children. Why? Because if you won’t accept me and her as being 100% Jewish, so then the children are also not Jewish. Since he was so sensitive to rejection, he was requesting all these things, because he was still at the stage of becoming an insider. He wanted to be Jewish and he wanted to be accepted.
At the end of the day, both these perspectives are needed. You need the critical eye, but you also need the love and the love happens to be a higher level. The love breaks the rules of etiquette. Therefore, the rules of honor – who comes first, who comes last, who sits down, who stands up – it breaks down, because it’s like a family. On the other hand, we see you need etiquette. You can’t reject the etiquette, and that’s what Yisro was saying. That’s why the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva passed away, because you need the love and the fear together. To me, the tremendous chiddush is, how do you look at your wife, your kids, your family, your friends? Are you looking at them through the eyes of love, or through the eyes of din, judgment? Now you have a way to measure. Are you demanding kavod? You have to stand up for me. You can’t talk to me that way. Or no, everything flows, everything’s good and there’s love in the house. It’s also very interesting in terms of organized religion, in terms of the religious world. Where are we holding? Are we holding in a place of love, or no, we’re just looking at externals. Who stands up, who do you talk to or you don’t talk to? All these things of kavod and honor have to be broken down. The more there is love, the more those things will be broken down. On the other hand, of course we have to have the proper order of things, and the Rav sits in the front and the talmidim. Of course there’s an order. But love will break it down. This is what we need to bring into our communities, to break down this order to a certain extent, and also to keep the order. But this is a beautiful and new understanding.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno brings this possuk, “And Moses went up to the presence of God.” The Midrash in Shemos Rabba says, “When Moses went up to Hashem to receive the Torah, the heavenly angels wanted to harm him. They wanted to kill him.” It’s a little bit of a strange idea. He wants to explain with a parable. One time there was this big scholarly Rav of a large city who was the Av Beis Din. He was very busy, working very hard to serve the people, and he was a huge talmid chacham. As he got older, it became too hard for him. He wanted to write a letter to the next small town to ask them if they would accept him to be their Rav, where things would be calmer, less people asking him questions, and he could retire there. Before he sent the letter, he wanted to speak to the leaders of his community. He wanted to ask them if they agreed.
He spoke with them, and of course they agreed. They saw the Rav is getting old, it’s harder for him to run the community, and it would be better for him to move to a smaller place. When the people of the small community heard, they were all excited. They were going to have this big Rav come to their town, so they sent him a very nice carriage to go pick him up, to bring him. When the carriage came, the elders of the big city started to block the door of the Rav and not let him out of the house. The Rav said, “What do you mean? Why are you not letting me go? You agreed to let me go.” They said, “No, we’re not preventing you. You can go.” Before the Rav was able to leave the house a bunch of other people came by, and started to attack the wagon driver. They unhitched the horses, they took the carriage away. They didn’t want him to leave. The Rav said, “What’s going on here?” They explained to the Rav, “Since you wrote a letter to the other city asking them that you should be the Rav there, they might think that we kicked you out. We want to make sure that the message is clear. We really don’t want you to leave. But since it’s better for you to leave, we’re going to let you leave.”
That was the moshul. The nimshul, conclusion is – Moshe Rabbeinu when he went up to receive the Torah, the heavenly angels knew that the Torah was not suitable for them. It’s really for man. But it could be that the Jewish people would think that the angels didn’t want the Torah. They might be wondering why did they want it? Why were they willing to give it to human beings? So what happened is, the angels tried to hurt Moses in order to show the Jewish people that they were not willing to let go of the Torah; how important the Torah really is.
Great Stories – the Or Somayach
In this week’s Parsha we have a verse that says, “And I make known the statutes of God and His laws.” In other words, statutes are chukim, are mitzvos – commandments that have no reason behind them. We don’t understand why we do them, for example basar v’chalav, meat and milk. Or shaatnez, you can’t mix wool and linen together. There’s no reason for these things. But it’s a very small percentage of mitzvos. The question is, why in this verse does it say, “I will make know the statutes of God and His laws,” and it’s referring to the entire Torah – that the entire Torah itself is like a statute, which means unknown. We don’t know the reason, but it’s not true; we know the reasons for most of the things. Why does this possuk refer to the entire Torah as being that the reason is not known as to why we need to do these mitzvos?
One time the Or Somayach had a certain person that used to work for him, in a synagogue. He did everything for him – anything the Or Somayach would say he would do. But one time the Or Somayach asked him to do something and he disagreed. The Or Somayach said to him, “You never listen to what I say.” The man protested, “This is the first time that I ever disagreed with you. How can you say I never listen?” The Or Somayach answered, “Ada Rabba, just the opposite. This proves that everything you did up till now, you just did it because you agreed with me. As soon as you disagree, you speak up and you don’t want to do it. So, you haven’t been listening to me, you’ve been listening to yourself. It happens to be, you agree with me.”
When it comes to most of the commandments which we understand, it could be we’re doing them because we understand them. They make sense to us. But we also do the mitzvos we don’t understand, but we do it begrudgingly. The verse says, “And I make known the statutes of God and His laws.” In other words, the entire Torah should be like a chok, like something we don’t understand, because we should be fulfilling it just because God said to do it. That proves that we’re subservient to the Master of the Universe.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Nachman Diament speaks about breaking your ego. One time there was a man who married a woman, and this man happened to hate earrings. He didn’t like earrings, so, he never allowed his wife to wear earrings. His kids started to grow – what happened as the kids got older, the teenage kids, the girl says, “Abba, can I have earrings?” At first he says, “No, I don’t like earrings. You shouldn’t have earrings.” But what happened, one time he left one of his daughters to babysit for all the kids. They went away for a week. This 16 year-old girl babysat and took care of the entire house. He was very happy with her. On the way home, they were trying to think of a gift that they could buy the daughter. All of a sudden the husband says, “You know what? Let’s buy her earrings.” The wife was in shock. “I thought you hate earrings.” He says, “Yeah, it’s true. I hate earrings, but she worked so hard, she did such a great job. I’m going to do it for her.” This is the midda that you need in your house. The ideal situation is where each family member wants the good of the other family member, above and beyond their own needs, or what they think. Leshem Shamayim, 100% for the sake of heaven. It’s true, the husband didn’t want earrings. He doesn’t like earrings, he hates earrings. But his daughter wanted earrings. The same thing with the husband and wife – do it for your wife; do it for your husband. Forget about what you like, what you don’t like. He says, “If you have a house like that, you have the shechina. This is what brings holiness and God into a house, when each one seeks the welfare of the other one.
Like the famous story of Aryeh Levine when he went to the doctor with his wife and he said, “My wife’s foot is hurting us.” He was one with his wife. Rav Diament said that this shouldn’t be such a chiddush, new idea. That’s the famous story. He doesn’t understand why it’s so famous, that should be normal. He brought a proof from this possuk, “And Moses grew older and went out to his brothers, and he saw their burdens.” Rashi explains, “And he saw their burdens and shared their sorrows.” Why does he have to see their burdens and share their sorrows? What’s it going to help? The Jewish people were suffering, and now Moses happens to know what’s going on. Why? Because he went outside and he saw what was going on. How is it happening in the Jewish people? The answer is, when the other person knows that you care about them, that helps their suffering. If your wife knows you care, so she feels relieved. If the husband knows that the wife cares about him, he feels that things are being taken care of. It takes the burden off. The Chazon Ish explains the couple should be like a right and a left hand. The right hand never says to the left hand, “Hey, what are you doing?” And the left hand never says to the right hand, “Why are you doing that?” Let everybody do what they need to do, and give them support even if you don’t agree. I’m not saying it’s easy, but that’s the thing that’s going to bring holiness into your house. There’s no question of self, that the right hand is worried that the left hand is getting more kavod, more honor. He’s jealous. The left hand is jealous of the right hand. No. It’s one body. When a person goes into a new marriage, they shouldn’t keep their old baggage. “I do like this, I used to do like that.” Forget about what you used to do. You’re now married. You have to change your habits to fit the situation. But it’s not simple, because society pushes against it. Society says, “Think of yourself. Be yourself. If you don’t do it, no one else is going to do it for you. Express yourself.” And the famous one, “Don’t be a freier.” That’s an Israeli term, “Don’t be a sucker.” In other words, don’t help people who don’t really need help. In the house, this is totally wrong. If your wife asks for a glass of water, but it happens to be she’s standing closer to the sink and you’re further away, go get the glass of water for your wife. She asked for a glass of water. She’s closer to the sink? No, but she’s doing something. Maybe she’s busy, maybe she can’t do it. Don’t look at, “I’m a freier. I’m not going to do this, I’m not going to do that.” Take the judgment out of the house, and bring love into the house.
He brings a beautiful proof for this. We know when Eliezer asked Rivka to bring water to the camels, but he was there with a bunch of servants. He himself was a strong man, and he has a dozen servants with him. He asks this young girl, “Can you please bring water to my camels?” She could have answered, “What do want me to do it for? You have all these workers, so do it yourself.” No, she did it anyway. She didn’t say, “Oh, I’m a freier. The test of chessed, kindness, is allowing the other person to take advantage of you. A tremendous chiddush. In your house you should allow people to take advantage of you. That’s called love. That’s called chessed. That’s called giving. Don’t look at it as if someone’s taking advantage of me. It’s the wrong perspective. So, it’s a question of breaking your ego. I know it’s a very high level but it will bring tremendous love and holiness into your house.
That’s it for this week’s podcast. Please, I’m asking you if you could do me a personal favor – go to iTunes and give me a rating on the podcast. If people comment and give a rating, this will bring the podcast up that more people will see it. And of course, please share it with your friends.