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Yitro 5765

Yitro (Exodus 18-20 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING!   Rabbi Joey Grunfeld once related to me a story of the time he was asked to give a guest sermon in a synagogue in South Africa. He asked the rabbi if there was any particularly sensitive topic that he should avoid. The rabbi replied, "No, speak about whatever you like. My congregation are all yenemites."

Rabbi Grunfeld was totally puzzled by the rabbi's answer, but accepted it and gave a rousing sermon. After the services, he and the rabbi were standing at the door of the synagogue greeting the parishioners as they left. One member told Rabbi Grunfeld, "That was a fantastic sermon. It was just what the guy sitting next to me needed to hear!" The synagogue's rabbi turned to Rabbi Grunfeld and said, "See, they are all yenemites. Everything they hear is for yenem, (the Yiddish word for) 'the other guy.' "

In some respects, we are all yenemites. For instance, this week's Question & Answer on honoring one's parents, I am sure will be met with, "Thank God, this is just what I needed to give to my kids to read!" No! This is meant for you. This is just what your parents are excited about for you to read!


This week's Torah portion includes the Ten Commandments, one of which is to Honor Your Father and Your Mother. What difference does it make if a child learns this principle as a commandment from God or he picks up his attitude towards parents from his society?

A rabbi was sitting next to an atheist on an airplane. Every few minutes one of the rabbi's children or grandchildren would enquire if they could bring him something to eat or drink or if there was anything they could do for him. The atheist commented, "It's wonderful the respect your children and grandchildren show you; mine don't show me that respect." The rabbi responded, "Think about it. To my children and to my grandchildren, I am one step closer in a chain of tradition to the time when God spoke to the whole Jewish people on Mt. Sinai. To your children and grandchildren -you are one step closer to being an ape."

The Torah teaches us our obligations to our parents and our elders. It teaches us that we must stand up for our parents, a person with Torah knowledge or a person over 70 (if one has lived 70 years then he or she has wisdom about life - just through living). Our society? Note a recently seen bumper sticker: "Be good to your children. They choose your nursing home."

In the Torah perspective on the world, a parent is a paradigm for relating to God. A parent loves his child unconditionally, sets boundaries, reproves, feeds his child though the child did wrong, wants only the best for his child. A parent is not always understood or appreciated and is sometimes suspect of not having the child's best interest at heart. (Mark Twain once commented how at 17 he could not believe how ignorant his father was and how at 21 he was amazed how much his father had learned in 4 years.)

If one does not show gratitude and respect to his parents who gave him life, how is he expected to show gratitude and respect for God who not only is a partner in giving him life, but who has given him the whole world? The Torah helps us train our children in how to relate to their parents and therefore how to relate to the Almighty.

Here is what the Torah says on the topic:

"Honor your father and your mother as the Lord your God has commanded you in order that your days may be lengthened and that it should be good for you upon the Land which the Lord your God gives to you." (Deuteronomy 5:16)


"Every man shall revere his mother and his father and you shall observe My Sabbaths; I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:3)

(It is interesting to note that the Torah commands us to observe the Sabbath in the same sentence as the commandment to honor one's father and mother. This is to clarify that the same Source which commands you to honor your father and mother commands you NOT to listen to them if they tell you to violate the Shabbat or any other mitzvah.)

We see from these two verses that there are two mitzvot (commandments): (a) to honor your parents, and (b) to revere your parents.

Here are some basic halachot, (Jewish laws) instructing us how to treat our parents:

  1. A child should consider his parents distinguished, even if others do
    not consider them so.
  2. We must always speak to our parents with a soft and pleasant tone.
  3. A child must not contradict his parents (Yorah Daiah 240:1 - The Code of Jewish Law).
  4. A child must not call his parent by name (Yorah Daiah, 240:1).
  5. A child must not sit in a place where his parent usually sits.
  6. A child should fulfill his parent's requests with a pleasant facial expression.
  7. You are obligated to stand up before your father and your mother (Yorah Daiah, 240:7).
  8. A child has no right to humiliate or embarrass his parents, regardless of what they do to him.
  9. If a parent tells a child to violate either a Torah law or rabbinical law, he is forbidden to comply.
  10. A child must be careful not to awaken his parents.

Parents should make sure that their young children show respect towards them and others. If a young child forms the habit of being disrespectful to his parents or others, he will also lack respect when he grows up. (This is why I never let my children call adults by their first names even if my friends introduce themselves to my kids using just their first name.) The reward for honoring parents is long life. Therefore, if a parent sincerely loves his children, he should make sure that they fulfill this commandment.

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 are 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 Shulchan Aruch, Code of Jewish Law, states:

"If someone's parent tells him to violate either a Torah law or rabbinical ordinance, he is forbidden to comply." (Yorah Daiah 240:15)

How are we to understand this?

Before television, even before vaudeville, rabbis would travel from shtetl to shtetl, village to village, giving rousing talks to educate, motivate and entertain. (True entertainment is gaining an understanding about life!) Such a rabbi was called a "magid." One of the most famous, the Dubno Magid, answered the above question with a parable:

Three friends were inventors. One invented a telescope, the second invented a car and the third invented a powerful medicine. One day they noticed through the telescope a great commotion at the King's palace - the arrival of the country's eminent doctors. They rushed in the car to the palace to find that the princess was dying. The inventor of the powerful medicine gave her a dosage and soon she was on the path to recovery. The King offered to reward them, but asked who should get the greatest reward. The inventor of the medicine agreed to the importance of his friend's inventions, but responded "If the princess becomes ill in the future, their inventions won't be necessary, while mine will again be needed to save her life." And the king agreed.

Concludes the Dubno Magid, "We are in a similar situation. At the outset, God and a person's parents are partners in giving him life. However, from then on a person's life is dependent solely on God. Therfore, a person has no right to obey his parent's wishes that contradict God's will.

(or go to

Jerusalem  4:35
Guatemala 5:40  Hong Kong 5:51  Honolulu 6:00
J'Burg 6:43  London 4:24  Los Angeles 5:00
Melbourne 7:14  Mexico City 6:12  Miami 5:43

Moscow 4:39  New York 4:51  Singapore  7:02
Toronto 5:05


If your parents never had children,
chances are you won't, either.
--  Dick Cavett

With Special Thanks to
Joseph & Terri Novick

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