Friday, January 17, 2014

Dvar Torah for Parshas Yisro

       This week’s parshah, Parshas Yisro, contains the most important event in history, the giving of the Torah. Chazal teach us that if Bnei Yisrael had not accepted the Torah at this time, there would have been no purpose for creation, and the world would have instantly returned to its original state of nothingness. Yet even with the importance of this event, I would instead like to focus on the man for whom this parshah is named, Moshe’s father-in-law, Yisro. I will also be doing it in a little different style than what I normally do for this Dvar Torah.
       At the beginning of the Parshah, Yisro travels into the desert along with Moshe’s family to join Bnei Yisrael. Moshe greets him and affords him a tremendous amount of respect, bringing the entire nation along with him to greet Yisro with him.
       The next morning, Yisro observes Moshe judging the nation and takes issue with the process. The way the system worked was that Moshe was the lone judge while everybody who had a question or complaint would approach him and get their problem answered. Yisro felt this was disrespectful to the people that they had to stand and wait for a long time to have their questions answered. He also felt that by carrying this burden alone, Moshe would eventually become worn out. So he designed a new system where Moshe would appoint judges over a certain number of people. Whenever the person’s appointed judge could not resolve their problem, he would send the case up to another judge who was responsible for a larger number of people until eventually the case would work its way up to Moshe. This way, the simple problems were taken care of right away, making sure the people did not have to wait, and only the most difficult problems came to Moshe, thereby making sure he would not become worn out. Moshe listened to Yisro’s proposal, and without any hesitation, implemented his plan in full.
       This is an amazing story. Yisro was not Jewish, nor had he spent time amongst the Jewish People before this, so he would have no idea how judgments were supposed to work. Furthermore, while Yisro was a first-rate philosopher, he had tried every religion in the world before deciding that Judaism was the correct one, he was in no way a Torah scholar! And yet, he comes in and right away starts making changes which Moshe decides to implement immediately! Without even consulting Hashem! How could Moshe make these changes simply based on Yisro’s ideas? In my opinion, what should have happened was that Moshe should have told Yisro that while his suggestions were very logical, he simply did not have the experience with the Torah system necessary to know this is how things work. Or if Moshe decided these ideas could fit within the Torah justice system, at the very least, Moshe should have consulted Hashem before implementing Yisro’s plan!
       We see from here two very important principles of Judaism. The first is that this story is another example of the idea of how once the Torah was given to the Jewish People, it was ours to do as we pleased. This does not mean that we are allowed to change any of it, that is strictly forbidden by the Torah itself. What it mean is that the Rabbis, or anyone who knows how to properly study Torah, can draw any further conclusions they can understand from the written text of the Torah. This means that Moshe was able to decide the best way to judge cases and spread the knowledge of Torah without consulting Hashem. This is a very short explanation of a long discussion which is not our place to get into at the moment. Really, my main point is the next one.
       Chazal teach us a very important idea, “(If they tell you) there is wisdom amongst the nations, believe them. (If they tell you) there is Torah amongst the nations, don’t believe them.” This means that while the greatness and spirituality of our Torah knowledge and lifestyle was not shared with the nations of the world, this in no way means that they still do not have wisdom, some of which can even be applied to our lifestyle which is based upon Torah. 
       In practical terms, this means that anyone who may come up to us with a thought, even if it comes from an un-Torah educated mouth or culture, we must still take it into serious consideration. These ideas have the potential to come from a place of wisdom.
       This is what we learn from the story of Yisro. As we said earlier, Yisro had no Torah background, how could Moshe take his proposal for the system of Torah courts into consideration? The answer is that Yisro’s idea made sense, it came from a place of wisdom. Moshe realized this while listening to the proposal and therefore decided to put it into practice.
       How many times do we hear thoughts or ideas from people who we feel are “unqualified” to comment on, or “unconnected” to the subject we are dealing with. And how many times do we brush away their ideas because of this? Are we any smarter or more committed to the well-being of the Jewish people than Moshe was? These ideas do have the potential to help us. This does not mean that we must listen to ideas which attempt to undermine our Torah way of life. However, what it does mean is that when someone makes a suggestion to improve upon an existing system, we cannot dismiss it offhand. Let us learn from the story of Yisro to broaden our perspective and appreciate the wisdom Hashem has given all human beings and use it to improve our understanding and  further our commitment to the Torah way.

Shabbat Shalom!

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