Yitro 5772

February 5, 2012

7 min read


Yitro (Exodus 18-20 )

GOOD MORNING! Can you imagine celebrating a New Year for trees?  Jews do -- and have for thousands of years.  Wednesday, February 8th is Tu B'Shevat (the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat) and the New Year for trees!

The 15th of Shevat is the New Year for trees and in the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, it was used for calculating tithes from the fruit of trees.  This is the date the Talmud tells us that trees stop absorbing water from the ground and instead draw nourishment from their sap.

How do we celebrate Tu B'Shevat?  We eat fruit -- especially the fruits for which the Land of Israel is renowned.  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.

In recent years, people celebrate Tu B'Shevat by planting trees in Israel.  If you can't get to Israel, you can always purchase trees to be planted in Israel from the Jewish National Fund (Jnf.org or call 800-542-TREE).  There are 5 million trees that need to be replaced after the Carmel Forest fire last year.  Just as others have planted for us, we plant for those who will come after us.

The Kabbalists in Safad created a Tu B'Shevat Seder (similar to the Passover Seder) to delve into the inner meaning of the day.  There are explanations and meditations on the inner dimensions of fruits, along with blessings, songs and deep discussion.  You can find it at http://www.aish.com/tubshvat .

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!

Man is compared to a tree (Deut. 20:19).  In Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers found in the back of most Siddurim, Jewish prayer books, available at your local Jewish bookstore, at JudaicaEnterprises.com 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).

Like a tree, our roots are the source of nourishment for our life.  A Jew's nourishment is the Torah -- the knowledge and the means for us to make a spiritual connection to the Almighty.  The Maharal teaches that just like the tree grows branches, flowers and fruits to fulfill its purpose, a man must work to produce moral, intellectual and spiritual accomplishments to fulfill his purpose.  These are the fruits of our existence!

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 -- this and more are available at http://www.aish.com/tubshvat .


Hear classes on...
Download to Go
or Listen FREE On-Line


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 restated 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

The Torah states regarding the preparation for receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai:

"And the Israelites encamped there near the mountain" (Exodus 19:2).

The Hebrew word for "encamped" is "vayichan."  What is particularly interesting is that "vayichan" is in the singular form; the grammatically correct form would be "vayachanu." What do we learn from the word "vayichan"?

Rashi, the great commentator, tells us that the singular form is used to tell us that they encamped "as one person with one heart."  From here Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz commented that we see that love of our fellow man is a prerequisite for accepting the Torah.

Rabbi Yitzchok of Vorki noted that the word "vayichan" besides meaning "encamped" also comes from the word "khain," which means "finding favor."  That is, the people found favor in the eyes of one another and therefore found favor in the eyes of the Almighty.

When you just see the faults and shortcomings of another person, you become distant from him.  However, when you see the good and positive in other people, you become closer to them.  This unity is a fundamental requirement for accepting the Torah.

How is this developed?  We find in the book Nachal Kidumim that togetherness between people is possible only when there is humility.  When the Israelites came to Mount Sinai, which is the symbol of humility, they internalized this attribute.

When you have humility, you do not feel a need to gain power over others or feel above them by focusing on their faults.  When you have the trait of humility you can allow yourself to see the good in others.  The traits of love for others, seeing the good in them, and having humility go hand in hand.  By growing in these traits you make yourself into a more elevated person who is worthy of receiving the Torah.


Honor the Memory of Rabbi Noah Weinberg. We are now observing the 3rd yahrzeit of Rabbi Weinberg, founder of Aish HaTorah. All that Aish does is because of him. If you wish, you may donate to have the merit of writing a letter in the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll) being written in his memory. Go to: RabbiWeinbergTorah.com


(or go to http://www.aish.com/sh/c/)

Jerusalem 4:46
Guatemala 5:47 - Hong Kong 5:59 - Honolulu 6:09
J'Burg 6:36 - London 4:47 - Los Angeles 5:14
Melbourne 8:07 - Mexico City 6:15 - Miami 5:54
New York 5:06 - Singapore 7:03 - Toronto 5:22


The hardest arithmetic to master is
that which enables us to count our blessings
--  Eric Hoffer


In Loving Memory of

Rabbi Noah Weinberg


Next Steps