This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Yitro (5768)
This week’s portion is named after one of the most active idolaters ever (see Rashi on 18:11) and in it we learn about the most important and fantastic event of all time; the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
It is important because for the first and only time in history G-d actually spoke “face to face” (Deut. 5:4) to an entire nation; millions of eye witnesses, and officially revealed the meaning of life and the purpose of Creation.
And fantastic because ‘G-d’ here means the Creator of ALL being; spiritual, temporal and physical (for instance; the ‘gods’ of the other religions worship and each of us humans) constantly!
In fact this idea is so contrary to human intelligence that none of the religions, including those who profess to replace Judaism, or even the most bizarre science fiction books have invented anything like it. And the few history books that do mention it, always fail to accurately describe it.
But nevertheless the giving of the Torah remains undoubtedly the most verified and eye-witnessed event ever and has survived over 3,300 years of opposition, often quite violent, from atheists, agnostics and anti-Semites.
But was it really necessary?
All the other religions seem to have gotten along just fine believing the private revelations of one or a few men and they have billions of followers while Judaism is among the LEAST populated!
Why couldn’t Judaism just be based on the revelations of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.. or even of Moses? Why did G-d have to PERSONALLY speak to EVERYONE.
And why is this week’s earth-shaking Torah portion, named after an idolater?
To understand this here is a story that just occurred to me on a flight from Israel to New York.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe and his predecessors taught that each and every Jew, with no exceptions, wants to do all the commandments.
The Rebbe then went on to prove it by telling his Chassidim to go even into the streets if necessary and ask Jews to put on Tefillin (phylacteries). And it worked! Jews of all ages and backgrounds began doing the commandment of Tefillin, many for the first time.
So, as a follower of the Rebbe, every time I am on a daytime flight from or to Israel (Tefillin are only performed in the day) I take out my Tefillin, walk down the aisles of the plane, search for Jews and ask them to put them on.
This most recent flight was no exception.
The first man I approached was an elderly, neatly dressed fellow, perhaps in his eighties. I held out the Tefillin, excused myself and asked him if he was Jewish. He looked at me in a perplexed way and just shrugged his shoulders in a way that indicated that he wasn’t. So I just smiled and said, “Sorry, this is a commandment for the Jews and I’m just looking for Jews.” And I started to leave.
He kept the same puzzled look on his face and said. “Oh, I’m Jewish.”
I turned back and asked him if he was sure; was his mother Jewish? (a child born of a gentile mother must properly convert in order to be Jewish) and he answered “Oh, yes. Sure.”
So I asked him if he wanted to put on Tefillin and when he again shrugged his shoulders, which I interpreted to be in disinterest, I explained that they are a commandment from G-d that Jews have been doing for over 3,000 years, it only takes two minutes and it doesn’t cost money.
So he again shrugged his shoulders and said, “Okay!”
A few minutes later, as he was taking them off, I asked him if he had ever put on Tefillin before. I was certain he would say something like, ‘Yah, once, at my bar-Mitzva.’ But he replied, “Nope, never! I mean, I saw them once before, but I never did it.”
I thanked him, explaining that I like to see Jews in Tefillin, shook his hand and continued around the plane looking for ‘customers.’ But everyone else refused. Especially a large group of college students returning from an organized tour of Israel; they all admitted that they were Jewish but nothing I did or said aroused even their slightest interest or even curiosity. Until finally I managed to take two of them aside, a male and a female, strike up a conversation with them and find out why.
All of them had been bought up in either reform or completely assimilated families and simply had no idea what Judaism was, none what so ever! So I began to explain it to them. I explained how the G-d of the Jews is ‘one’; namely that He creates everything including us and is, therefore, the only real being. I explained how G-d also has a personality, how He took the Jews from Egypt, gave us the Torah, wants us to be His partners, gave us the responsibility of fixing the world and is pleased by our deeds, especially commandments likeTefillin.
They asked questions; why we pray, what are the commandments, what is a Jew etc. etc. and I tried to answer. In fact they seemed deeply affected by the answers but after a conversation of almost an hour, when I said, “Maybe now you would like to put on Tefilin” the answer was ‘no’. So we exchanged email addresses and parted in a friendly way.
As I sat down I asked myself, why is it the first fellow, who had absolutely no reason to put on Tefillin, nevertheless did so, while they, after hearing all the reasons, refused? That they refused was no wonder, the wonder is, where did the first man get the urge to do something that has no comparison in the world?
It is inconceivable that any non-religious gentile would ever do a religious ritual – especially such a complicated one and especially in public - for no reason! The only possible answer is that this is precisely what happened at the giving of the Torah.
Because at Mount Sinai the NATURE of each and every Jew for all time was changed….in DEED; the Jews became servants of the Creator to make this Physical world a blessed place. As G-d said to the Jews just before giving the Torah: “You will be to Me a nation of priests and a Holy folk.” And this is what that first fellow felt… and what he DID.
But in the arrival of Moshiach EVERY Jew will feel, and do, this… without exception. And so will every gentile. As the Mimonidies writes that all mankind will worship ONLY the Creator according to the Torah and there will be no ‘other’ religions. (see the essay on 7 ‘Noahide Commandments at www.ohrtmimim.org/torah)
And that is why this Torah portion is named after an idolater. Yisro’s realization of the truth was a preparation for the giving of the Torah and a foretaste of the world unity it will bring.
Now it’s all up to us. Each and every one of us. We just have to do everything we can to reveal....
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