• Dvar for Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)

    Parshat Yitro chronicles Moshe’s father-in-law’s visit. As Yitro observed Moshe sitting and rending judgments for the people all day, he realized that the process was bad for the people and Moshe and that a more sustainable system must be installed. Yitro suggested a hierarchal judicial system that will allow people to “reach their place in peace” (18:23). Why would this delegation increase peace? If anything, being more removed from Moshe’s direct teachings would seem worse.

    The Netziv (19th-century scholar) asked this question and explains by quoting a Gemara (tractate) in Sanhedrin (6a). The Gemara there says that the preferred mode of conflict resolution is mediation because then both sides get at least some of what they want, thereby increasing overall peace while having a judge decide by definition means that one side loses. The one caveat is that if the judge has already analyzed the case and knows who is wrong and who is right, mediation is no longer allowed. With this, we can now understand that Moshe preferred justice, and his actions promoted true justice. However, for the good of the people and overall peace, Yitro argued that compromise was preferable, an argument that Moshe agreed with and implemented.

    What’s fascinating about this conclusion is that because Moshe was essentially a judge, he was unable to mediate. This necessitated a delegation that enabled others to thrive and contribute to their new Jewish brotherhood. We all have our strengths and limitations, and when we recognize each of those, we are able to rely on others to maximize our individual and collective potential.

  • Dvar for Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)

    Parshat Yitro contains the first time we are introduced to the ten commandments, often overshadowing other important messages conveyed in our Parsha. One such message can be found when the Torah describes the Jews leaving Rephidim and leading to Har Sinai (Mount Sinai), where they would end up accepting the Torah. Why does the Torah tell us that they left Rephidim, when it seems rather obvious that they left where they were to get to Sinai?

    Rephidim was not only where the Jews were attacked by Amalek, but was also known to be the only oasis in the region, a fact Amalek used to their advantage when planning the attack on the Jews. Once the battle was over, the Jews were able to enjoy the comforts of that oasis. It is therefore important for us to know that the people were not only willing but excited to leave the comforts of their environment to accept a Torah with many unfamiliar and sometimes difficult rules and attributes. Comfort sometimes breeds complacency, a lesson easily overlooked but also a key to personal change and growth.

  • Dvar for Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)

    Parshat Yitro describes Yitro hearing of the travels and trials of the Jews, Yitro being moved to convert, coming to Moshe for the conversion, and then leaving Moshe. If Yitro was so moved, why would he ever leave a situation where he’s surrounded by G-d, clouds, heavenly food, and Moshe as a teacher? And how could Moshe, as a leader, allow Yitro to just leave the camp?  After all, he was the only Jew not to have witnessed the giving of the Torah.

    Rabbi Leibowitz, in Majesty of Man, explains that Yitro was so moved by G-d, the Torah and the Jews that he felt that he had to go back to his home to try to convert his family and friends. Yitro was willing to give up being surrounded by what he obviously believed in and wanted to be around, just for the sake of others. If this was the determination of someone that had no responsibilities toward the people he was trying to help (in terms of converting them), how much more determination should we demonstrate when we actually have a responsibility to help one another!? The Parsha is named after Yitro because he was willing to change his life for Judaism. He was so proud of Judaism that he didn’t hide it, but went out and told others how beautiful it is. If we expressed the Yitro that we undoubtedly have within us, those around us are bound to be moved.

  • Dvar for Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)

    The last sentence of this week’s Parsha states that ramps should lead to the altar (Exodus 20:23). Why are ramps used and not steps? Rashi says the issue is one of modesty. If there were steps, the robe of the priest would be upset while he climbed them, revealing the nakedness of his limbs. With ramps, this would not occur.

    Rabbi Avi Weiss offers another idea. The altar symbolizes a central place of spirituality, the ramps connecting the ground with the altar teach that in order to reach the higher world of the spirit one must be in constant motion.  Ramps imply perpetual movement, whereas steps can offer rest. In the world of the spirit, one can either ascend or descend, never can one stand still.

  • Dvar for Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)

    Parshat Yitro describes Yitro hearing of the travels and trials of the Jews, Yitro being moved to convert, coming to Moshe for the conversion, and then leaving Moshe. If Yitro was so moved, why would he ever leave a situation where he’s surrounded by G-d, clouds, heavenly food, and Moshe as a teacher? And how could Moshe, as a leader, allow Yitro to just leave the camp?  After all, he was the only Jew not to have witnessed the giving of the Torah.

    Rabbi Leibowitz, in Majesty of Man, explains that Yitro was so moved by G-d, the Torah and the Jews that he felt that he had to go back to his home to try to convert his family and friends. Yitro was willing to give up being surrounded by what he obviously believed in and wanted to be around, just for the sake of others. If this was the determination of someone that had no responsibilities toward the people he was trying to help (in terms of converting them), how much more determination should we demonstrate when we actually have a responsibility to help one another!? The Parsha is named after Yitro because he was willing to change his life for Judaism. He was so proud of it that he didn’t hide his Judaism, but went out and told others how beautiful it is. If we expressed the Yitro that we undoubtedly have within us, those around us are bound to be moved.

  • Dvar for Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)

    The last sentence of this week’s Parsha states that ramps should lead to the altar. (Exodus 20:23) Why are ramps used and not steps? Rashi says the issue is one of modesty. If there were steps, the robe of the priest would be upset while he climbed them, revealing the nakedness of his limbs. With ramps, this would not occur.

    Rabbi Weiss offers another idea. The altar symbolizes a central place of spirituality, the ramps connecting the ground with the altar teach that in order to reach the higher world of the spirit one must be in constant motion.  Ramps imply perpetual movement, whereas steps can offer rest. In the world of the spirit, one can either ascend or descend, never can one stand still.

  • Daily Aliya for Yitro, Shlishi (3rd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Moshe accepts Yitro’s suggestions and selects the judges. Commentaries point out that the actual qualifications of the judges that Moshe selected were more “modest” than Yitro had recommended. In theory, the very highest caliber person should be sought after as judge. In reality, we often have to settle for the best we can find in our society. In other words, even if our current leaders don’t live up to those of our past, doesn’t mean we should respect them any less.

    Moshe sends Yitro off on his journey to Midyan (to convert his family – Rashi).

  • Daily Aliya for Yitro, Sheni (2nd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Yitro observed Moshe adjudicating all the disputes that arose among the Israelites. Yitro suggested to Moshe that such a system, one that placed such a great burden on Moshe’s shoulders, would eventually wear him down. Instead, he advised Moshe to appoint a hierarchy of wise and righteous judges and to delegate his responsibilities—with Moshe presiding only over the most difficult cases. This would also free up Moshe’s time to teach the Israelites the teachings of the Torah that he hears from G‑d.

    Why does it take an outsider to realize that Moshe was doing things inefficiently? Many times we’re so busy getting through our lives that we fail to stop and see the bigger picture. Meanwhile, our friends and family see snapshots of our lives, and can often point out things we may not realize or notice. Such was the case with Yitro, who wasn’t caught up in the whirlwind of miracles and life-changing events. To Moshe’s credit, he realized Yitro’s suggestions were good ones, and adapted them.

  • Daily Aliya for Yitro, Rishon (1st Aliya)

    General Overview: In this week’s Parsha, Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, Yitro, arrives at the Israelite encampment, and advises them to set up a smoothly functioning legal system. The Israelites experience the Divine revelation at Mount Sinai and hear the Ten Commandments.

    Aliya Summary: Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, having heard all the miracles that G‑d wrought for the Israelites, came from his native Midian to the Israelite desert encampment—bringing along Moshe’s wife and two sons. Moshe warmly greeted his father-in-law and recounted to him all that G‑d had done to the Egyptians. Yitro thanked G‑d for all the miracles and offered thanksgiving sacrifices.

  • Daily Aliya for Yitro, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The Israelites were left traumatized by the overwhelming revelation, the awesome “light and sound” show. They turned to Moshe and asked that from thereon he serve as an intermediary between them and G‑d—Moshe should hear G‑d’s word and transmit it to the people. Moshe agreed. The reading concludes with a prohibition against creating idolatrous graven images – considering that no image was seen when G‑d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai – and the commandment to erect a sacrificial altar. The altar stones should not be hewn with iron implements, nor should there be steps leading to the top of the altar.

    Metal implements represent the sword, which shortens life; the Altar represents the lengthening of life. From this rule comes the custom to remove or cover the bread-knife during Birkat HaMazon, since our table is likened to the Altar.

Back to top