This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Yitro (5767)
This week's section is named after a convert to Judaism who had been the master priest of all idolatry until he heard about the splitting of the sea and the victory of the Jews over the nation of Amalek (at the end of last week's Torah portion).
But the Torah seems to be violating a very basic principle of decency here.
One of the worst crimes possible in Judaism is shaming or hurting someone's reputation. And the most common example is reminding converts of their past.
So why does the Torah actually advertise for all generations the idolatrous origins of Yisro!
To understand this here is a story. ( The Power of Ruach HaKodesh by Uri Auerbach pg. 218)
Some two hundred years ago lived in the city of Parmishlian, Poland a great holy Jew by the name of Rav Mair who became known far and wide as Rav Mair of Parmishlian.
He was a great Torah scholar in both the legal and mystical Torah but most of all he was known for his ability to help Jews in supernatural ways.
In fact this is the basis of the Chassidic approach to Judaism: just as Moses helped the Jews to leave Egypt, survive in the desert and finally enter Israel so G-d provides 'Tzadikim' in every generation to take Jews from their personal limitations (Egypt), survive in this hostile world (desert) and prepare for Moshiach.
Once a 'Misnaged' came to Rav Mair for help. The Misnagdim were learned, G-d fearing Jews that opposed the Chassidic outlook, especially the idea of believing in miracle working 'Tzadikim'.
But this Rabbi, we will call him Reb Zundel, was desperate. He had several daughters of marriageable age, didn't have a penny to his name and couldn't bring himself to ask for charity.
So he didn't tell anyone where he was going and after a few days journey was standing before the Tzadik pouring out his heart. He hoped Rab Mair would recognize his abilities as a Torah scholar and give him a job as the Dean of one of his Torah academies.
But Rav Mair didn't seem to be interested in his erudition. He just looked at him blankly and said.
"I can't help you till you bring me a pipe needle to clean my 'lilke'" (Lilke was a long stemmed pipe smoked by the Baal Shem Tov and other Tzadikim while doing miracles).
Rav Zundel was very disappointed to be given such a menial task and was tempted to just get in his wagon and head back home but … he was desperate.
It took him several hours of searching and asking; not one store carried such needles and the blacksmiths were all busy. But finally he found one old smithy in a run-down filthy hut at the edge of the town that was willing to do it.
The blacksmith told Rav Zundel to take a seat and he set to work, first lighting the fire, then finding the proper piece of metal, then finding the proper hammer and all the time he worked, he talked.
He told Rav Zundle how, a long time ago he used to be the only smithy in town. He built his house and shop far from the town so as not to disturb people with his pounding and with the smoke from his fire. But that was when he was young and strong and people didn't mind walking. Since then other blacksmiths moved in nearer to town and he was now stuck here with no one to talk to.
He had a wife and child but they died tragically in a fire over ten years ago. He considered remarrying but at his age and with his job he couldn't find anyone willing to marry him.
Then he began to involve Rav Zundel and he revealed that he was quite knowledgeable in worldly matters. Rav Zundel had never really had a conversation with a gentile before… in fact he never had really done much in his life but learn Torah and he enjoyed the conversation. In fact he felt he had found a friend. The smithy sensed that he finally had someone to talk to and began to really open up.
He talked about his past, his parents, his job and his ideas on life. But when he began talking about the riches he had saved up from the 'old days' it was a bit hard to believe.
"Thousands, that's right, thousands of Gulden right here in this room. Yep! Thousands!! That's right! Heh heh! Why!! If the people in town knew…why I'd have a lot of friends then, wouldn't I! Yep!! This place would be packed with leeches!!
"Well, here it is…. finished!!" He said as he held up the needle. "Hey you know what? I like you! I like you! You have a good heart, Zundel!! I can tell. Hey, why don't you come back and we can talk some more. Ahhh! I bet you don't believe what I said about being rich… right? I saw it in your eyes. Right Zundel? Well, look at this, just watch!"
The old smithy stood, grabbed hold of both sides of his anvil, spread his legs, braced himself, his face turned red as a beet and with one mighty heave lifted the anvil and moved it several feet aside.
"There it is! See? I was telling the truth. See?" He stooped down, brushed away some dust on a small metal box and opened it to reveal it was full of golden coins. Then he repeated his feat of strength ands returned the anvil
He refused to take money for the needle, made Rav Zundel promise he would come back to talk to him some day, shook his hand warmly and they parted.
It was dark by the time he finished and Rav Zundel was disappointed that he would have to wait till tomorrow to see the Rebbe but the conversation with the smithy gave him a good feeling.
The next morning as he was on his way to pray he noticed a group of gentiles talking heatedly in the center of the town and heard the smithy's name. It seems that the smithy had passed away last night and there wasn't enough money to bury him so they decided to raffle off his tools and his old hut. The poor fellow left no relatives or friends to pay the twenty five gulden that the gravediggers and the coffin maker were demanding.
Rav Zundel, a tear in his eye from the bad news, immediately pulled out the money, bought the old hut and everything in it and the gentiles, thinking that the poor Jew had no idea what he was doing, quickly took the money, signed the papers and set off to bury the blacksmith.
Rav Zundel proceeded to the hut, pushed and pulled at the anvil until he got the box and pried it open took out the money and counted it. It was a small fortune!!
He took the money to Rav Mair's synagogue where he finished his morning prayers and slowly realized what happened. Rav Mair taught him to find the riches in his own soul; truth even in a simple gentile and riches in a simple needle.
This explains our questions.
The Ten Commandments, as holy as they are, deal with very mundane.. seemingly unholy things like murder thievery and physical pleasure.
But the essence of them all is the first and second commandments: "I am G-d that took you from Egypt. Don't worship other G-ds"
This is what Yisro realized.
All the other religions believe that this world is basically false and purpose of creation is eternal bliss is though devotion to the spiritual; 'other' gods.
But Yisro revealed that the truth is with Judaism. Like Rav Zundel in our story. He realized that the truth can be found only in this world and even in the most mundane things in this world if life is lived according to the Torah of the CREATOR.
That is why the Torah tells us of Yisro's past. Because, seemingly, there is nothing wrong with idolatry; billions of Hindus, Buddhists, Christians etc. do it! They all worship the spiritual.
But the Talmud tells us that when Yisro realized the truth and left idolatry G-d gave the Torah to the Jews because the essence of the Torah is to bring Moshiach and make this physical world a holy place!!
This is the message of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. We can change the world!! We can stop the pain, frustration and suffering of all mankind by just doing a bit more to bring Moshiach.
Like the hero of our story; it all depends on us to connect to the Rebbe and do all we can to bring...
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