Parshas Yisro
Exodus 18:1 - 20:23

Yisro's Contribution / Our Contribution ©

By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

This study of the weekly parsha is dedicated in the loving memory of Mr. Samuel and Mrs. Miriam Goodman, may they rest in peace.

Our sages say that Parshas Yisro was added in honor of Moshe's father-in-law. This parsha named after Yisro expresses his wisdom and powerful contribution to our system of justice in the Torah. Yisro was a man who understood government, politics and justice. He was Priest of Midian. He was a consultant to Pharaoh. And then he was an advisor to Moshe our teacher. Yisro was a convert to Judaism. He was a former spiritual leader of Midian. It is for these reasons and others that this week's parsha was named after him. In fact within our Torah there are only a few Parshos named after people: Noach, Chayei Sarah, Yisro, Korach, Balak and Pinchas. Now, holy reader, one can already begin to sense how very special Yisro is.

Here we have Yisro, a very great man, whose contribution to our system of justice has secured him an unsolicited place within the very words of Torah. His contribution was in advance of the instruction commanding Jews not to add to our Torah nor to subtract from our Torah as recorded in Deuteronomy 4: 2 and 13:1.

Now, dear holy reader, this instruction has caused considerable controversy among all groups of Judaism. It is difficult for the Reform and the Orthodox to find common ground on so many issues; yet there are VERY CLEAR, DISTINCT COMMANDS in the Torah that even young readers can understand. So why all the difficulty?

Well, there are no more Avrahams, Yitzchoks, Yaakovs Yosiefs and Moshes; yet there are many rabbium who look in the mirror and see one of these men. On the other hand the Torah has ZERO TOLERANCE for Jews who intermarry, work on Shabbos, use Hashem's name in vain and swim in non kosher food, etc.

So what is a Jew to do?

Our contribution to Judaism is in living an observant life as the Torah dictates, not as a pseudo copy of Moshe or as a Jew constipated with assimilation. Holy reader, it is understandable why Jews in both extremes get stuck...

On the one hand we have the Orthodox who say that poultry is "MEAT". One asks why. They are told because poultry may be prepared in such a way that it may appear like beef, goat, etc. and create confusion. G-d forbid a Jew may eat beef or goat with cheese thinking it was poultry. This explanation is understandable until we see all the kosher products that look like shrimp, bacon, beef, etc.

On the other hand, there are the groups that question G-d's existence, the authority of the Torah, the authority of the rabbium who wrote the prayers in the siddurim, etc. I simply cannot understand this. I cannot understand extremely educated Jews, deep in wisdom, lost in the positions of such considerations. One must ask, "Why am I a Jew? What makes me a Jew?"

We are Jews because we were born Jews. We are Jews because we observe the Torah Commands. We are Jews because Judaism is a way of life!

One must ponder, how can Judaism survive with so many extremes gnawing away at it?!! The answer is not complicated! Does one build a house on a foundation of sand or concrete? Who preserves the Torah? Who attacks the Torah? Who passes Torah tradition from generation to generation to generation? Who gets lost and confused because of assimilation, etc..?

Dear reader, Hashem intends for every Jew to make a difference! G-d desires that every Jew should make a powerful and positive contribution. G-d did not intend for our contribution to make Torah observance more difficult. Neither did G-d intend for our objections to G-d, Torah or rabbium to subtract from the foundation of Torah observance.

What is a Jew to do? How can a Jew observe a book he / she does not believe? How can a Jew honor a book in which G-d is represented in the masculine ignoring the feminine? What is a Jew to do? How can a Jew observe or even respect a book that he / she does not believe was divinely inspired because they do not believe in G-d? Well, dear ones, we could go on and on with these types of objections, they seem to be endless for Jews.................

Yet that does not free us from our required Torah contribution. Actually these problems are understandable when one considers that Moshe our teacher stood day after day hearing the complaints and problems of this new Jewish nation, B'nei Yisroel. He was such a wise man. He was educated by the very best professors in the top universities of the world, yet he stood there day after day hearing the complaints and problems and judging B'nei Yisroel. Then one day his father-in-law, Yisro, made a contribution. He recommended a system of justice that would free Moshe from such unnecessary time constraints.

Holy reader, if our teacher Moshe got drawn into and wrapped up in his situation we can also. Sometimes we need a breath of clear mountain air or a splash of fresh ocean mist to clear our thinking. Yisro was that change that Moshe needed. This discussion is the possibility for change, for our change. It's a matter of how we view situations!

Our contribution to Torah should NOT be a harsh and difficult life that few will attempt to follow!! Our contribution should NOT be one that leaves little or no trace of Judaism for our children or our grandchildren. IT IS TIME TO GET REAL!! Our Jewish contribution has to be framed by the bounds of Torah. Our contributions must be within the system of Torah Judaism AS WAS YISRO'S!! Again our contribution is learning, keeping, fulfilling and guarding what G-d has already given!! And frankly, when push comes to shove, it is better -- if one is to err -- to do so within the bounds of Torah and not in the outer limits.

Good Shabbos,

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

- PS -

Story: Helping Those Of Modest Means
Dear reader, one of our staff members after reading this discussion shared a story with me of a young woman who was a baal teshuva {one who begins their return to Torah Judaism / Torah Observance}. She was of modest means living in a nice two room basement apartment and driving an auto constantly in need of repair. This young woman was a member of a wealthy congregation. Essentially she often went without meals because the cost of kosher food was so prohibitive outside the larger Jewish communities of New York, Los Angles, London and Israel. Upon hearing this story I inquired what we paid for kosher cheese. Then I investigated the price of non kosher cheese. Holy reader, the price difference was incredible!! Kosher cheese was almost 300% higher.

3# kosher cheese = $15.89
$5.33 a pound

5# non kosher cheese $5.99
$1.80 a pound

I remembered the days when Naomi and I did not purchase kosher cheese simply because we could not afford it. These days we try to make a 3# block of cheese last 4 - 6 weeks. It is difficult because our diet is mostly vegetarian, but we manage.

Now the point to this story is simply this: please be aware of other Jews' needs and help them when you can! A person does not need to be a Torah scholar to understand need! This is a positive way to make a contribution to Torah. Another point to this story is kosher products should be more affordable! Food prices are high but kosher food - especially meat, milk and cheese - is much higher!! This is very harsh for the individual or family attempting to live an observant life. This past week Naomi and I were informed that our health insurance would increase over 300% next month. This is awful BUT what about the person or family that has NO HEALTH INSURANCE?! Over the past three months our heating costs have doubled! Dear reader, what about the Jew next door or down the street? Are they all right? Assisting one another is certainly a great Torah contribution!


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