Yitro (Exodus 18-20 )
In the Torah Portion named after him, Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, visits the Jewish people in the desert and, convinced by the miracles of the Exodus, joins the Jewish people. However, he then decides to return to his own people in order to persuade them to convert as well.
The Chiddushei Lev1 makes a penetrating observation on Yitro’s actions. We know that the Jewish people attained an incredible level of closeness to God in the desert. They were surrounded by the Clouds of Glory, they did not have to involve themselves in any regular physical activities and concerns about earning a livelihood. They ate manna from Heaven and learnt Torah directly from Moshe himself. It is certain that had Yitro remained with them in the desert, he would have merited to learn a great amount of Torah and to grow in spirituality. Yet, Yitro decided to forego all of this and returned to his people in order to positively influence them.
The Chiddushei Lev observes that we learn from here that if Yitro was willing to leave the Jewish people in the desert in order to convert non-Jews, something that he was not obligated to do, then all the more so, we must be prepared to leave our own place of learning to help our fellow Jews2, whom we are obligated to try to positively influence. Moreover, the Jewish people have the additional factor that was not relevant to Yitro, of kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh – that each and every Jew is responsible for one another. The Chiddushei Lev continues that one should not be in fear that he will be adversely spiritually affected by leaving a place of learning in order to positively influence his fellow Jews, because if that is G-d’s will, then he will not lose out.3
Indeed, the Chiddushei Lev notes that the Chatam Sofer points out that one actually gains when he takes out time from his own learning in order to teach others. The Talmud relates that one of the Amoraim noted that he learnt the most from his students, even more than from his teachers and friends.4 The Chatam Sofer explains that when a person teaches others, he receives great siyata dishmaya (Heavenly assistance) in the time that he devotes to his own learning.
The Chiddushei Lev then addresses a commonly cited Rabbinic source that seems to contradict this idea: The Mishna in Pirkei Avot5 describes the account of the great Rabbi of the time of the Mishna, Rebbe Yossi ben Kisma, who was approached by a wealthy man to leave his place of Torah to dwell in another city that was lacking in Talmidei chachamim. The man offered him an immense amount of money in his attempt to persuade Rebbe Yossi to come to his city. Rebbe Yossi replied, “if you give me all the silver, gold and precious pearls in the worldI will only live in a place of Torah.” It would seem from here that a person should not leave a Makom Torah even in order to teach Torah.
However, the Chiddushei Lev argues that the case of Rebbe Yossi Ben Kisma differs significantly from the contemporary situation. He understands that the man did not want Rebbe Yossi to come to teach Torah, rather to give honor to the city that a great Torah scholar was in their midst. That being the case, Rebbe Yossi understood that he would be unable to influence this place if that was their intention in bringing him there.
Rabbi Zev Leff makes another pertinent point with regard to this story. He asks a fundamental question – if one takes this story literally, that one should never leave a Makom Torah (place of Torah) even in order to teach Torah, then how could any place become a place of Torah in the first place. Rather, it must be that when a group of people come to a new place, they can transform that place into a place of Torah through their positive influence.6 In the case of Rebbe Yossi he would have had to come alone and his ability to transform the city would be greatly limited.
One may ask that the lesson of the Chiddushei Lev is very convincing but is not so pertinent for many of us, given that we live in established places of Torah and for many reasons, it is impractical to leave them to a place that is empty of Torah.7 Yet, there still seem to be ways to apply his principle in our own lives. One is that even if a person lives in such a pace, it is still feasible for him to sometimes venture out to other areas in order to teach Torah. In this vein, the Talmud8 teaches that a person who teaches Torah in a place where there are no Torah scholars, is comparable to a myrtle tree in the desert that is precious to the passersby because it is the sole source of a pleasant aroma. Thus, if it is possible, a person can try on occasion, to visit such places in order to teach Torah. A final point is that nowadays one can reach distant places even while remaining in his own location through media such as zoom and there are wonderful organizations that can set up chavrusas and provide excellent teaching material.
May we all merit to spread Torah to all areas where Jews are found.
By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
- Shemot, 18:27.
- Needless to say, for many people, this may not be possible for a variety of reasons, nonetheless, there are ways in which this lesson can be applied in our own lives.
- Clearly, there are numerous variables involved that must be taken into account when considering the effect on one’s children, yet many children who grew up in such a way can testify that they only benefitted from being part of a family whose whole purpose was to positively influence their fellow Jews.
- Taanit 7a.
- Pirkei Avot, 6:9.
- This has indeed been the case in many areas such as Gateshead, Dallas, Huston, Phoenix, Atlanta and more.
- Needless to say, that each person should follow his Daas Torah to guide him based on his specific situation.
- Rosh HaShana, 23a.
Reprinted with permission
Additional: Personally, I hope the above story helps to make Jews also think about bringing the message of Torah to non-Jews and hope that Noahides can inspire Jews enmeshed in Christianity to return to Judaism.(Angelique Sijbolts)
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