Lessons in Appreciation
Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky
1. The Mechanism to Process Spirituality
The Torah tells us that at the splitting of the Sea, Hashem's presence was
so manifest that even the Jewish maidservant who witnessed this miracle
said, "Behold, this is my G-d I will glorify him!" The Chazal tell us that
the maidservant experienced a level of revelation at the Sea that was
greater than any revelation every experienced by the prophet
Yecheskel. Although the maidservant at the Sea saw G-d in a more revealed
and obvious manner than the prophet Yecheskel, she remained a maidservant
after the experience while Yecheskel became the prophet of his generation.
The maidservant's life was not changed in any way as a result of her
experience. How come the revelation of G-d did not cause the maidservant to
become more than a maidservant? Yet, Yecheskel's level of revelation was
far less than that of the maidservant and he dedicated his entire life to
G-d. How do we understand this?
We read in this week's parsha that after hearing what Hashem had done for
the Jews, Yisro was so affected that he decided to leave Midian and join
the Jews in the desert in order to cleave to Hashem. Yisro was not the
only person to hear about what Hashem had done to Egypt. The entire world
knew that G-d had destroyed Egypt and redeemed His people, yet Yisro was
the only one to be affected while the rest of the world remained unchanged.
The Gemara in Zevachim says that when Hashem was giving the Torah at Sinai
the earth began to quake and the nations of the world ran in fear to their
prophet Bilaam. They said to Bilaam that Hashem was destroying the world,
but Bilaam explained that the reason why the earth was shaking was because
Hashem was giving the Torah to His people. Upon hearing this news the
nations of the world calmed down and returned to their pagan and idolatrous
lives. The nations of the world were not affected in any way despite the
fact that they clearly understood that Hashem was giving the Torah at that
moment. With that level of clarity they should have gone to Sinai, yet
they remained unchanged.
We see that people can hear about and understand the occurrence of
momentous events and yet remain unchanged. The maidservant at the Sea
remained the maidservant after witnessing the revelation of G-d despite
having a level of clarity that was greater than Yechezkel the prophet. The
nations of the world heard about the miraculous events surrounding the
Jewish exodus from Egypt, yet only Yisro was affected. The entire world
knew that Hashem was giving the Torah to the Jews but they nevertheless
continued in their pagan ways. Why was Yisro affected and not anyone
else? Why was Yecheskel a prophet who dedicated his life to G-d, while the
maidservant at the Sea did not change?
The answer is that understanding is not the only prerequisite for being
affected by G-d. One must devote himself to constant growth and preparation
in order have clarity to be affected. The Chazal tell us that Yisro had
devoted his life to exploring and serving every conceivable deity in the
world and consequently concluded that Hashem was the One and Only G-d. He
developed the capacity to appreciate Hashem through his lifetime of
exploring other deities and realizing that they were all false. It was
because of this conditioning and training that Yisro had the capacity to
change his entire life and join the Jews after hearing how the All Powerful
G-d turned nature upside down in order to redeem His people.
Yecheskel, the prophet, devoted his entire life to the service of
Hashem. Every moment of his life was invested in performing G-d's
Will. It is because of this dedicated conditioning and development that
Yecheskel appreciated and internalized every experience. For Yecheskel,
seeing Hashem was not an external occurrence - it was part of his total
being; whereas the maidservant at the Sea was a mere maidservant prior to
her revelation of G-d. How could a maidservant truly appreciate that
revelation and be affected by it? What preparation or development did she
have prior to that moment that would give her the capacity to be
affected? This is why the maidservant returned to being a maidservant
after seeing G-d in the most absolute and obvious manner.
Often people have spiritual experiences in life such as praying at the
Kotel in Jerusalem, meeting a special individual, or hearing about some
miraculous event. However the moment that the spiritual experience is over
the person returns to his prior perspective completely unaffected by the
Without the ongoing development process and conditioning through the study
of Torah and the performance of Mitzvos it is not possible to develop a
capacity to be affected by Hashem's presence in this world. Knowledge and
understanding are only some of the prerequisites needed for being affected.
We witness miracles every day; however, how have they impacted on our
lives? Evidently we need to continuously engage in developing our
2. Understanding is more than Knowledge
We read in this week's parsha, "Moshe went out to greet is father-in-law
(Yisro) and ...Moshe told his father-in-law all that Hashem had done to
Pharaoh and Egypt for Israel's sake - all the trouble that had befallen
them on the way - and that Hashem had rescued them." What was the purpose
of Moshe sharing this information with his father-in-law Yisro (who was not
a Jew)? This information seemingly had no relevance to Yisro.
Rashi cites the Mechilta, which explains that the purpose of telling Yisro
about all the wondrous events surrounding the Jewish exodus was to draw
Yisro close to Torah. (Moshe wanted Yisro to stand with the Jews at Sinai
to receive the Torah.) We see from this Chazal, that the more a person
understands and sees the Hand of G-d in this world the more that person
will come close to Torah. If we were to comprehend Hashem's ongoing
relationship with existence then we would be drawn closer to Torah.
A person may believe in G-d as well as believe that he is doing His Will by
being a "good person." However, if it is not in conformity with the Torah
then that person's conduct is incorrect. The only way to be truly a "good
person" with respect to G-d, is that one must follow the Torah. The way for
one to understand this is to observe and see the Hand of G-d in existence.
Moshe did not share the detailed events about the Jewish exodus with Yisro
for the sake of keeping him abreast of current events; Moshe wanted Yisro
to appreciate that everything that happens in this world is due to G-d's
involvement. What happened to the Jewish people was not a mere "event."
If a person has the proper perspective and ongoing cognizance he would be
able to see Hashem's involvement in existence. The question is - How does
one gain this perspective? Is it through the study of Torah? It is
possible to study Torah on an intellectual basis and not gain a Torah
perspective. The only way to achieve this level of clarity is to
concentrate on increasing one's "fear of Hashem." As it says in the verse,
"The prerequisite to wisdom is the fear of Hashem." Therefore, one must
study Torah with the intent of increasing his awareness of G-d and not just
for gaining information and intellectual advancement. As we see, Moshe
informed Yisro of the Jewish exodus not for intellectual or factual
purposes, but rather to increase Yisro's appreciation of Hashem and thus
bring him closer to Torah.
3. Breaking through the Interference
The Torah states, "Yisro, the Minister of Midian, the father-in-law of
Moshe, heard all that G-d had done for Moshe and Israel, His People -
that Hashem took Israel out of Egypt." After Yisro heard all that Hashem
had done for the Jewish people, he abandoned his position as Minister of
Midian and his community to join the Jewish people in the desert. What did
Yisro hear that caused him to abandon his life in Midian? What is "all
that G-d had done..."?
Rashi explains that "all that G-d had done..." means that Yisro had heard
that Hashem had taken the Jews out of Egypt. The revealed miracles and the
plagues are not mentioned as being part of what Yisro had heard. He was
impressed by the mere fact that Hashem had taken the Jews out of
Egypt. Why was Yisro impressed? By the time of the tenth and final plague
(the killing of the first born), Egypt was already decimated and in
ruins. At that point the Jews did not need G-d to take them out - they
simply could have left Egypt.
The fact is four-fifths of the Jews did not leave Egypt because they did
not want to leave and therefore perished during the plague of
darkness. Despite seeing the plagues and the miracles, they did not have
the clarity to want to leave the country of their bondage. After seeing
the Hand of G-d in such an obvious manner how could they not have the
clarity? Evidently life is more than clarity of mind - it is a sense and
an internalization of reality. What prevents this sense and internalization?
The Mishna Brurah ( a commentary on the Code of Laws) states that the value
of the Pesukei D'Zimra is to break through the layers of (spiritual)
impurity that exists in the world so that Hashem receives our prayers
without interference. There are forces in existence that can prevent and
interfere with our prayers as well as our actions. These forces are not
something that we can visualize; nevertheless, they are part of reality.
The Egyptians were engaged in idolatry, witchcraft, incest, and adultery;
and their level of spiritual impurity was such that they are referred to as
an "abomination." Egypt was a stronghold of impurity that the Jews were
exposed to for 210 years. How was it possible for the Jews to shed this
impurity when they left Egypt to receive the Torah at Sinai? Evidently a
great miracle was needed to purge the Jews from this impurity. This is
what impressed Yisro - that Hashem was able to take the Jews out of their
spiritual impurity and give them the capacity for Sinai. Yisro had
experimented with every form of idol worship in existence and was able to
appreciate the dimension of this miracle because he truly understood the
meaning of spiritual impurity. The fact that Hashem was able to free the
Jews from their spiritual bondage was what impressed Yisro to join the
Jewish people in the desert.
We ask Hashem in our daily prayers that He should free the bound and raise
the fallen. This refers not only to physical freedom but also to spiritual
redemption from the spiritual impurities of existence.
4. The Caliber of Individual Needed to Teach Torah
In this week's Parsha Yisro observed how Moshe was single-handedly
judging the Jewish People. Yisro advised Moshe, his son-in-law, that he
should not be the sole judge of the Jewish people because eventually he
would wither from the enormous strain and become incapable of handling the
position. Yisro therefore suggested to Moshe that he select judges and
form a judicial system. Moshe went before Hashem and asked if he should
establish a court system. Hashem agreed. Why didn't Moshe understand that
he could not continue to judge by himself as Yisro had said? Why did Moshe
believe that he should the judge the Jewish people without others to assist
him? Didn't he know that he would eventually become aged and incapable of
fulfilling that role?
Before Moshe passed away he admonished the Jewish People and recounted that
they were satisfied when he decided to appoint judges and create a judicial
system (Parshas Devorim.) Moshe said in his admonishment that Jews were
happy with the new judicial system because they believed that the new
system would be in their best interest. Rashi cites the Chazal and
explains that the Jews should have understood and expressed their
preference for having Moshe as their teacher since he had learned the Torah
directly from Hashem and had sacrificed for the Torah. They should have
insisted that Moshe be the only one to adjudicate for them. The Jews
understood that Moshe's judgment was strict and that he could not be
swayed; however, the new judicial system would provide them with numerous
judges that would be lenient and easy to influence. This is why Moshe
admonished the Jews.
Moshe represented the word of Hashem and understood that just as he
affected the Jews at Sinai when they received the Torah through him, he
could continue to influence them on a daily basis if he served as their
judge. Since Moshe was the conduit for the Torah, he believed that he was
the most qualified to render judgments regardless of how old and withered
he would become. Nevertheless, the Jewish people did not seem to concur
with this belief since they readily accepted a new judicial system without
Although Moshe accepted Yisro's suggestion to start a judicial system, he
understood that only his transmission of Torah to the Jewish People would
have the greatest impact.
A person must be at a special level to teach Torah and make an impact. For
example, Rav Shach z'tl was teaching a Torah class during a time when scud
missiles were being launched against Israel. He was asked by a student
what they should do if the missile siren were to sound during the
class. Rav Shach told them that the Torah that he was going to be teaching
them was so powerful that the class would not be interrupted. This is in
fact what had taken place. It was only after the class ended that the
missile siren sounded!
Once, an ordinary person had heard the Vilna Gaon say the Shema. He was so
affected by that event that he dedicated his entire life to the study of
Torah. We see that the person who teaches Torah not only imparts knowledge
but also transmits spirituality to his students. Moshe wished to remain
the sole teacher and judge of the Jewish people because he understood his
capabilities. Unfortunately the Jews did not.
Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Kalatsky is the founder of the Yad Avraham Institute, a New York-based learning center whose mission is to disseminate Torah to Jews of all backgrounds and walks of life.