Accepting Belief

The events recorded in the Parashah took place in the spring of the Jewish year 2448.  At that time, there were many prosperous and advanced countries with sophisticated legal, social and economic systems.  In contrast to the other nations of the day, the People of Israel were merely a slave people; a nation of bricklayers, certainly not particularly progressive or cultured.  They were considered socially and intellectually inferior to many of the other nations of the day.  To make matters worse, they were a difficult bunch.  Insecurity and uncertainty led to the sin of the Golden Calf.  And the Torah makes reference to our difficult personality traits, referring to us as a “stiff-necked people.”  It behooves us to ask, what exactly lifted this uncultured, unruly and demanding lot from the edge of extinction?  It was a choice freely made.  The choice of the People of Israel to accept belief in One God and the laws and commandments of the Torah.

Even the name of the Parashah, “Yitro,” personifies the theme of choice.  After all, isn’t the main point of the Parashah the revelation and giving of the Torah?  Why detract from the main point with a somewhat extraneous story about Yitro and his legal system?

The answer centers on the issue of choice.  Yitro’s life was the epitome of choice.  On the first day after his arrival in the camp of the Israelites, Yitro observed the inefficient manner of governing utilized by Moshe.  He suggested that a more formal legal system (with a series of courts at different levels) would benefit both Moshe and the people.  His legal system created order out of chaos.  A social system is necessary to avert anarchy.  With anarchy, there is no ability to choose.  In a chaotic system, events happen at random.  Individuals cannot control actions, and, hence, there is no real free choice.  Yitro’s contribution was more substantial than simply a modern judicial system.  By creating order out of chaos, Yitro enabled the people to choose and to understand that choices have consequences.

Yitro’s decision to convert to Judaism also illustrates the concept of choice.  As a non-Jew, he was only obligated to follow the seven Noahite laws that govern all peoples.  But Yitro chose to accept the full yoke of Torah, to follow all 613 mitzvot.

Science of Kindness

Sefer Shmot teaches that if one sees his friend’s animal loaded with packages, he is obligated to lend assistance and unpack the animal.  However, the Gemara learns that his obligation applies only if the animal’s owner is assisting in the work.  If he stands idly by and says, “You have a mitzvah to help me; therefore, I will let you do the entire job,” the passerby has no obligation to help.  If, however, the owner is elderly, sick or otherwise impaired, the passerby is Torah-bound to act even on his own.

The art of “offering” extends to money lending as well.  (“If you lend money to My people, to the poor that are with you, do not be to him as a demanding creditor, nor shall you place any interest upon him,” Shmot 22:24). The mitzvah of free loans to the needy is one of those based upon the Divine belief that God and Torah – not man – control wealth and possessions.  Unlike civil law, Torah law requires that loans be made even if there is no security present to ensure payment.

FEBRUARY 2013
SHEVAT-ADAR 5773

Candle Lighting Times
and Torah Portions

Friday, February 1
Light candles at 5:05 p.m.

Saturday, February 2
Torah Portion: Yitro
(Exodus 18:1-20:23)

Friday, February 8
Light candles at 5:12 p.m.

Saturday, February 9
Torah Portion: Mishpatim
(Exodus 21:1-24:18)

Friday, February 15
Light candles at 5:18 p.m.

Saturday, February 16
Torah Portion: Teruma
(Exodus 25:1-27:19)

Friday, February 22
Light candles at 5:25 p.m.

Saturday, February 23
Torah Portion: Tetzavah
(Exodus 27:20-30:10)

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