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Yitro 5771

Yitro (Exodus 18-20 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING! When is the New Year?  Would you be surprised to know that there are 4 New Years in the Jewish calendar - and Thursday, January 20th is Tu B'Shevat (the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat) and the New Year for trees!

The first mishna - teaching - in the Talmudic tractate of Rosh Hashanah informs us of the 4 New Years:

1) The first of Nissan is the New Year with regards to counting the years in the reign of the Kings of Israel.

2) The first of Elul is the New Year with regards to tithing of the animals. (One out of ten animals born from the Hebrew month of Elul until the beginning of Elul the following year was given to the Temple.)

3) The first of Tishrei is the New Year for the judgment of mankind - for life or death, rich or poor, sickness or health - as well as for counting the Sabbatical Year (Shmita) and the Jubilee year (Yovel) for the land of Israel; the counting of the first three years of a fruit tree when the fruit is not allowed to be eaten (Orlah), and calculating the tithes for grain and vegetables.

4) The 15th of Shevat is the New Year for trees with reference to calculating tithes due to be given from fruit of trees in the time of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Tu B'Shevat is a festive day.  The Torah praises the Land of Israel with reference to the fruits of the trees and the produce of the soil: "A land of wheat and barley and vines (grapes) and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive trees and (date) honey ... and you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you" (Deut. 8:8-10).  The Jewish people rejoice in the fruits, in the Land and in the Almighty Who has given us life.

It is celebrated by eating the special types of fruits for which Israel is renowned:  olives, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates -and also buxer (carob).  It's also celebrated by planting trees in Israel and if you can't get to Israel, you can purchase trees to be planted in Israel from the Jewish National Fund ( or call 800-542-TREE).  There are 5 million trees that need to be replaced after the Carmel Forest fire.  Just as others have planted for us, we plant for the future and those who will come after us.

In our home we put out a whole fruit display - especially those mentioned above for which the land of Israel is praised.  It is a time of appreciation for what the Almighty has given us and which we might take for granted.  Let your attitude be gratitude!  The Kabbalists in Safad created a Tu B'Shevat Seder (similar to the Passover Seder) with explanations and meditations where the inner dimensions of fruits are expounded, along with blessings, songs and deep discussion.  You can find it at

Man is compared to a tree.  In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers found in the back of most Siddurim, Jewish prayer books, available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242), it is written:  "A person whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds is likened to a tree whose branches are numerous, but whose roots are few. The wind comes and uproots it and turns it upside down.  But a person whose good deeds exceed his wisdom is likened to a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous. Even if all the winds of the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place" (Avot 3:22).

Just as a tree needs soil, water, air and sunlight, so does a person need to be spiritually rooted and connected with a source of nourishment.  Water to a tree, Torah wisdom for us - as Moses proclaims: "May my teaching drop like the rain" (Deut. 32:2).  Air for the tree, spirituality for us - as the  Torah states that "God breathed life into the form of Man (Genesis 2:7)."  Sunlight for a tree, the warmth of friendship and community for a person.  Rabbi Shraga Simmons wrote a beautiful article, "Man is a Tree," expanding on this theme. You will also enjoy "Fruit and the Essence of Mankind" by Rabbi Nosson Slifkin - available at

For more on "Tu B'Shevat" go to!


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Torah Portion of the Week

This is the Torah portion containing the giving of the Ten Commandments.  Did you know that there are differences in the Ten Commandments as stated here (Exodus 20:1 -14) and related later in Deuteronomy 5:6-18?  (Suggestion: have your children find the differences as a game at the Shabbat table during dinner).

Moses' father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro or Yisro in the Hebrew) joins the Jewish people in the desert, advises Moses on the best way to serve and judge the people - by appointing a hierarchy of intermediaries -and then returns home to Midian.  The Ten Commandments are given, the first two were heard directly  from God by every Jew and then the people begged Moses to be their intermediary for the remaining eight because the experience was too intense.

The portion concludes with the Almighty telling Moses to instruct the Jewish people not to make any images of God.  They were then commanded to make an earthen altar; and eventually to make a stone altar, but without the use of a sword or metal tool.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Yisro, Moshe's father in law, advised Moshe to delegate responsibility:

"And you shall seek from amongst all of the people, capable men who fear the Almighty - men of truth, who hate injustice. And you shall appoint them to be officers over thousands, over hundreds, over fifties, and officers over tens" (Exodus 18:21).

Since the people who were chosen to be judges were highly qualified, wouldn't those who were appointed over few people be envious of those who were appointed over larger numbers of people?  This could easily have led to much quarreling and arguments.

The Kotzker Rebbe replied that since one of the traits required was the attribute of truth, there would be no problem.  Those who excel in truth know the falseness of honor.  Since they were free from honor-seeking, there would be no envy and no quarrels over power.

Honor is based on an illusion.  What practical difference is there to most honor?  Very little.  Yet plenty of people make honor-seeking a major focus in their lives.  They constantly worry about what others will think of them.  They suffer tremendous pain if they think that someone else is getting more honor than they are receiving.  The more you view honor from a perspective of ultimate truth, the more you will realize how trivial and unimportant honor really is.


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Until the age of 20, we worry about what people think of us;
between 20 and 40 we ignore what people think;
at 40 we realize people don't usually think about us at all ...


Congratulations to

Samuel Pearson III

Winner of the December Donor Raffle
  Winner of the Nikon Digital Camera


In Loving Memory of a great
co-worker and friend

Dave Michel-Pujols

--  Francis Chamberland



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