Parashat Yitro

The Woman’s Role in Judaism by Yitzy Adlin

The Jews arrive in Midbar Sinai, the Sinai desert, three months after they left Egypt. Moshe goes up the mountain where Hashem gives him the conversation he should have with the Jews before they will receive the Torah: how He took us out of Egypt and how the Jews were going to be the chosen nation. Hashem starts by saying
כה תאמר לבית יעקב ותגיד לבני ישראל ,so shall you say to the house of Yaakov and tell to the sons of Israel. Rashi tells us that בית יעקב refers to the women whileבני  ישראל refers to the men. מהר”ם שפירא מלובלין asks why doesn’t it refer to the women as בנות יעקב which would be a consistent terminology with the men?בני ישראל as The Bait Halevi and others ask another question here. Why did the women merit to be told about kabbalat Hatorah before the men? The Midrash Rabba explains that women do mitzvot with zrizut, swiftness, so they merited being mentioned first.
The פרקי דר״א says that it’s natural for men to follow after the wants of the women, so if the women want the Torah, the men will too. Rabbeinu Bachya has a different reason. He says it’s because the woman has the power to influence her sons to make them want to go to learn; she’s the one who is home with them, the one who gives them all sorts of things to influence them to learn Torah. He adds, that’s why a woman should pray for her children when she lights candles Friday night, for it’s her mitzva to influence her children to be illuminated with Torah. Prayers are more accepted when doing a mitzvah, so at her mitzva of lighting the candles, she prays that her children be illuminated with the light of Torah.
The daughter of the Chafetz Chaim reported that when the Chafetz Chaim’s mother was getting on in years and it was becoming known throughout the world that her son was the Gadol Hador, she was asked by some family members what merit she had that her son was so great. She answered them, “don’t ask me; I don’t know that I did anything significant that would merit this “. They kept asking that there had to be something. She kept saying, “no, no. nothing that I can think of.” They didn’t let her alone so she said, “all I can tell you is what my mother told me right before I got married. She said ‘my daughter, we were commanded to raise our children to Torah and Yirat Shomaim. Therefore, I’m asking you for one thing. Whenever you have free time, take this siddur that I’m giving you now and pray to Hashem that you should merit to raise your children to Torah and Yirat shomaim. Don’t forget to cry tears when you pray’. Then she handed me a siddur with tehillim. That’s it; that’s all I did” continued the mother of the Chafetz Chaim, “whenever I had a spare moment, when I finished the house work or waiting for the potatoes to cook, I took out my siddur and cried to Hashem that my son should grow up to be a Talmid Chacham and Yirei Shomaim”.
This demonstrates the power of a mother’s tears and prayers. When a mother davens for her child, the sky is the limit. That’s why the Torah calls the women בית יעקב for the women set the tone for the house; the purity of the house starts with the woman; if the woman ensures that the home is a sanctuary for purity then the men will follow her lead. When she prays for her children, they will follow too.
This shows us how important the woman’s role is in Judaism. We must take this message to heart and not forsake this opportunity to strengthen our own commitment to Torah and Tefila, thereby meriting to bring our children closer to Hashem!
something to think about 
When Accepting The Torah Became a Matter of Life of Death
The gemara (Shabbat 87a) tells us, “SheKafa Aleihem Hakadosh Baruch Hu Et HaHar K’Gigis”. At Har Sinai Hashem held the mountain over Bnei Yisroel and told us that if we accept the Torah all will be well, but if we don’t then we will die. Why was this necessary given that a few days earlier we all proudly proclaimed in harmony Naaseh V’nishma(We will do and we will listen)?
Rav Yeruchom Levovitz explains as follows. We know that there are levels of creation;
1) The domem (inanimate objects) has no nefesh (true soul. it has only a sustaining power.) at all. And its name testifies on itself (domem means ‘silent’).
 2) Things that grow 3) living creatures 4) humans who speak. Each one is a step above the one below. What happens when the creation fails to live up to its level? If a flower stops growing it does not become inadamate, rather it dies and disintegrates. The same goes for an animal that is no longer alive. It doesn’t continue to grow, nor does it remain in its same state, it decomposes.
Klal Yisroel is in a class apart from the rest of humanity, as we are a creation called “Yisroel”. Yisroel is defined as Hashem’s people, the people who live by the Torah. The ramification of this is that as soon as we stop living by the Torah we don’t lose our status as Yisroel and become just another human being. That is not the way it works. Rather we slowly disintegrate into a nothing.
After Bnei Yisroel joyfully accepted the Torah, Hashem taught us this crucial lesson. As Torah Jews we must live by the Torah for without it we lose our entire purpose and being. We don’t have an option to give up our uniqueness and live like the rest of humanity. Relinquishing our status of Yisroel is equal to giving up existence itself.
Parsha Summary 
First Aliyah: Yitro, Moshe’ father-in-law, having heard about all the miracles that G‑d wrought for the Israelites, came from his native Midian to the Israelite desert encampment—bringing along Moshe’ 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.
Second Aliyah: Yitro observed Moshe passing judgment 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’ shoulders, would eventually wear him down. Instead, he advised Moshe to appoint a chain of command 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’ time to teach the Israelites the teachings of the Torah that he hears from G‑d.
Third Aliyah: Moshe accepted his father-in-law’s suggestion, and set up a judicial system. Yitro then returned to his native land.
Fourth Aliyah: Six weeks after leaving Egypt, the Israelites arrived in the Sinai Desert and encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moshe ascended the mountain, where G‑d gave him a message to transmit to the people. Included in this message was G‑d’s designation of the Israelites as His “treasure out of all peoples” and a “kingdom of princes and a holy nation.”
Fifth Aliyah: Moshe conveyed to the people G‑d’s words, and the people in turn accepted upon themselves to do all that G‑d commands of them. G‑d then instructed Moshe to have the Israelites prepare themselves, because in three days’ time He would reveal Himself atop the mountain to the entire nation. The Israelites were commanded to sanctify themselves, and were warned not to approach the mountain until after the divine revelation. On the morning of the third day, thunder, lightning, a thick cloud and the piercing sound of a shofar emanated from the mountaintop. Mt. Sinai was smoking and trembling, while the sound of the shofar grew steadily louder. Moshe escorted the shuddering and frightened nation to the mountain, and settled them at its base.
Sixth Aliyah: G‑d descended upon the mountain, and summoned Moshe to its summit. G‑d instructed Moshe to again warn the Israelites about the tragic end that awaited anyone who approaches the mountain itself. Only Moshe and his brother Aaron were allowed on the mountain during this time. G‑d then spoke the Ten Commandments to the Israelite nation. They are: 1) Belief in G‑d. 2) Not to worship idols. 3) Not to take G‑d’s name in vain. 4) To keep the Shabbat. 5) To honor parents. 6) Not to murder. 7) Not to commit adultery. 8) Not to steal. 9) Not to bear false witness. 10) Not to covet another’s property.
Seventh Aliyah: The Israelites were left traumatized by the overwhelming revelation, the awesome “light and sound” show. They turned to Moshe and asked that from then on he should 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.
Facts of Life: Take this Serious
Elevating the Mundane    By Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg
At the beginning of Parshat Yitro the Torah describes how after Yitro decided to convert to Judaism, he brought various Korbanot(sacrifices). “Vayikach Yitro olah u’zevachim l’Elokim – Yitro brought both a korban olah and Korbanot(sacrifices) shelamim” (Shemost18:12). Why did he bring both types of Korbanot(sacrifices)?
Perhaps the answer is that this double korban symbolized Yitro’s transition from non-Jew to full-fledged ben Yisrael. The halacha is that a non-Jew cannot bring a korban shelamim, only a korban olah (Menachot 73b). Some explain that this is because according to the non-Jewish world’s perspective, kedusha (Holiness) requires a total separation from physicality; to live a life of holiness, a person must deny himself physical pleasure. For a non-Jew, the korban olah is the only way to serve Hashem because a non-Jew feels that a spiritual life requires total sacrifice.
However, the Torah has a different perspective. While there certainly is room for a korban olah which is completely burnt on the mizbeach(Altar), there is also a place for a korban shelamim, in which part of the korban is burnt on the mizbeach, part is given to the kohein, and part is also eaten by the owner. The korban shelamim shows that the Torah believes that man can partake of the physical world, he can enjoy physical pleasures like eating and drinking, and still be serving Hashem. Kedusha does not require a person to abstain from the physical world. It requires that he elevate and sanctify the physical world. By bringing both an olah and a shelamim, Yitro demonstrated that he understood this message.
This idea can also help explain a puzzling Gemara (Pesachim 68b.) which says, “All agree that to fulfill the mitzvah of simchat yom tov on Shavuot, one must have some physical pleasure because on Shavuot the Torah was given to the Jewish people.” On all other yomim tovim, the Rabbis argue as to whether a person can choose between total immersion in spiritual pursuits (kulo l’Hashem) and complete involvement in physical activities (kulo lachem), or rather he should split the day chatzi l’Hashem v’chatzi lachem – he should engage both in spiritual endeavors like praying and learning Torah, as well as physical activities like eating and drinking. But on Shavuot, everyone agrees that some physical enjoyment is necessary.
At first glance, the opposite seems more logical. After all, Shavuot is the day that the Jewish people received the Torah, a day on which we celebrate the value of ruchniyut(spiritual concerns) in our lives. Why must there be some portion of lachem on that day? If anything, everyone should agree that on Shavuot one can choose the option of kulo l’Hashem to fulfill the mitzvah of simchat yom tov!
The answer is that precisely because Shavuot is the day of kabbolat haTorah we have to eat and drink to celebrate the yom tov because Shavuot is a day that we declare our commitment not only to learning Torah, but to living a Torah lifestyle as well. And there is no better way to demonstrate the Torah’s perspective on life than by elevating ourselves through eating and drinking (see Beit Halevi).
As Jews, the ultimate level we can aspire to is not to separate ourselves from the world, but to engage in physical activities – even the most mundane – and imbue them with a sense of kedusha. When we eat and drink l’shem shomayim(For Sake of Heaven), in a refined way, when we dedicate some of our resources to tzedaka and hiddur mitzvah, we demonstrate that we have internalized the message of the korban shelamim. We do not have to abstain from physical pleasures in order to reach the ultimate level in avodat Hashem(serving G-d). All we have to do is live for a higher purpose.