Thursday, February 1, 2018



In the late 1950s, Rabbi Yechiel Perr, a rosh yeshivah in Far Rockaway, married Miss Shani Nekritz, daughter of a rosh yeshivah from Novordok, and granddaughter of Rabbi Avraham Yoffen.
Rabbi Yoffen arranged the wedding. Many of the most well-known roshei yeshivah in the United States attended, so it was difficult to decide who would receive the various honors during the chuppah. However, there was one blessing under the chuppah that was given to a rabbi no one knew. When asked why he was honoring this Jew, Rabbi Yoffen replied that he had his reasons, and wouldn’t see anything more. The real reason was only revealed after Rabbi Yoffen’s passing.
The unknown rabbi had a small shul in the Bronx. Many years before the Perr-Nekritz wedding, he married off his own daughter and invited Rabbi Yoffen to the ceremony. Rabbi Yoffen was a busy man, and knowing neither this rabbi nor the couple, he hesitated to accept the invitation. But the rabbi begged him to attend, so he finally agreed. Since Rabbi Yoffen didn’t own a car, he expected the insistent rabbi to arrange his transportation. But he didn’t. Rabbi Yoffen and his rebbetzin took a train and a bus to the wedding.
Despite all this trouble, Rabbi Yoffen received no honors at the chuppah, and no recognition of any kind. Rebbetzin Yoffen was very upset and wanted to leave immediately after the chuppah. But Rabbi Yoffen felt that they should stay until he had a chance to dance with the chosson.
Years later, when Rabbi Yoffen married off his granddaughter, he went out of his way to honor this rabbi from the Bronx under the chuppah. This was in tandem with a mussar concept he learned in Novordok: When angry with someone, go out of your way to help them. That’s how one improves his middos.

Of all the miraculous events that transpired during the time of the exodus, and afterwards, including the plagues, splitting of the sea, falling of the manna, battle against Amalek, there was none as seminal as the giving of the Torah at Sinai.
It is axiomatic that the name of each parsha in the Torah is not haphazard or flippant, but is a worthy title that connects to the essence of that portion of the Torah[2].  Prima facie, it seems shocking that the parsha which contains the giving of the Torah should not only be introduced with the narrative of Yisro, but should be titled after him. Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, was unquestionably a great man. He was a noted idolatrous priest, who searched for truth, and subsequently rejected his stature and false beliefs, to profess his belief in Hashem. He gave his daughter as a wife to Moshe, and left his prominence behind to join the Jews in the desert.
When he arrived, and saw the process by which the nation received instruction from Moshe, by waiting on line for many hours, he rebuked Moshe and suggested an alternative approach based on a hierarchy of judges. His advice was heeded.
Yisro was obviously wise and sagacious, but it still begs the question – should his story serve as the introduction to the giving of the Torah? It is all the more intriguing according to the opinion that Yisro only arrived after the Torah was given[3]. According to that opinion, the Torah deviates from the chronological presentation of events[4], to ensure that Yisro’s story serves as the introduction to the giving of the Torah.
Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh offers a poignant and moving explanation:
By presenting the narrative of Yisro before the giving of the Torah, the Torah is conveying a deep and fundamental truth about why Klal Yisroel was chosen to be the recipients of the Torah. Hashem was demonstrating that there is great wisdom to be found among the nations of the world. They have tremendous insight, innovation, and can accomplish great things. This was demonstrated by the fact that Yisro, who was not a native of the Jewish people, yet his wisdom and advice was appreciated, and had a great effect upon the entire nation.
The Torah is showing that the Jewish people were not chosen to be the recipients of the Torah because they are the wisest or the keenest of all the nations. In fact, it is possible that there are wiser individuals from the nations of the world than from the Jewish people. Rather, the Jewish people were chosen “because of His kindness and His love for the forefathers.”    
The Ohr Hachaim concludes that one should ponder this point.

The opening words of Pirkei Avos state: “Moshe accepted the Torah from Sinai”. The question is that Moshe didn’t accept the Torah from Sinai; he accepted the Torah from Hashem, at Sinai?
Moshe was worthy to be the transmitter of the Torah from heaven to earth because he internalized and personified the lesson of Sinai. Chazal[5] note that when Hashem was about to give the Torah, the other great mountains – Mount Tavor and Mount Karmel – bragged that they were tall and imposing, and therefore, worthy to be the place where the Torah would be given. Sinai however, was far smaller, and did not deem itself worthy for such an important event. It was in the merit of its humility that, counterintuitively, it was indeed chosen from all the other mountains to be the place where the Torah was given.
Moshe was worthy to receive and transmit the Torah because he was the humblest of men. In that sense, he indeed received the Torah from Sinai, i.e. from following the example of Sinai.[6]  
In the shmoneh esrei of Shabbos morning we state: “Moshe rejoiced with the gift that was his portion, because he was called a trustworthy servant. A crown of pride atop his head was given to him, when he stood before you on Mount Sinai, and the two Tablets of Law he brought down in his hand…”
Moshe rejoiced in his being worthy to bridge the physical world with the celestial spiritual world, as it were. By transmitting the Torah to this world, he gave humankind the ability to bring holiness into the world, and elevate the world into a place worthy of the Divine Presence. Moshe was given that incredible merit because of his unparalleled humility.
The Jewish People were given the Torah, not because of their intellectual prowess and abilities, but because of their open hearts, yearning to connect with their Creator. That uniqueness was imbedded in their essence by their holy patriarchs and forbearers.
The Jewish people have undeniably contributed incredible things to humankind throughout the generations. Our society, and the world throughout history, would appear vastly different without the contributions of Jews, for good or for better. However, that is not what makes us great, and that is not why we were chosen to be the recipients and bearers of the Torah. It is because of our desire and efforts to make ourselves worthy for that role, a role which we have been groomed for since the inception of our nation.
Yisro may have possessed great wisdom, but the Torah wasn’t given to him, or to any of other brilliant scholars of the nations at that time. Moshe received the Torah from the lesson of Sinai, and we were worthy of it because of our striving to follow his lead. It is in the parsha named after Yisro that we recognize that the greatness of our people is in our internal essence, not external knowledge or innovation.
Our greatness is not only from the study of Torah, but from our efforts to internalize its timeless messages.   

“Moshe accepted the Torah from Sinai”
“Moshe rejoiced with the gift that was his portion”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Yisro 5777.
[2] This is in contrast to the chapters we have in Tanach, which were arranged by Christians and have no meaning and often are puzzling.
[3] See the opening Ramban on Parshas Yisro
[4] In tandem with the rule of “ayn mukdam um’uchar baTorah” – the Torah is not bound to following chronology, when altering it teaches us a lesson. Ultimately, the Torah is a guidebook to life, not a history book. Although in teaching us its lessons, many historical facts are indeed found in the Torah, that is not the goal of Torah.  
[5] Bereishis Rabbah 99:1; Megillah 29a
[6] From Anaf Eitz Avos – commentary of Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt’l on Prikei Avos


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