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Yitro 5767

Yitro (Exodus 18-20 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING! Did you ever have someone try to convince you to do something by telling you "It's a big mitzvah!"? Most people mean when they use the word "mitzvah" that it's a "good deed." Actually, the word "mitzvah" is Hebrew and means "a commandment."

Why is a "mitzvah" considered to be a good deed? Usually the "mitzvah" that someone wants you to do is an act of kindness and therefore it is easy to see an act of kindness as a good deed. There are actually 3 categories of commandments:

  1. Between a person and God.
  2. Between people.
  3. Between a person and himself.

In the Torah (the 5 Books of Moses) the Almighty has commanded the Jewish people to keep 613 categories of mitzvot/commandments - 248 positive commandments (obligations) and 365 negative commandments (prohibitions). While we always hear about the 10 Commandments, there are actually 613; the 10 Commandments were given out Mt. Sinai while the remaining commandments were given over the 40 years of traveling through the desert after leaving Egypt.

For example:

  1. Between a person and God - to believe in God, to trust in God.
  2. Between people - to deal honestly, to give charity, to do acts of kindness.
  3. Between a person and himself - to guard one's health.

Mitzvot (the plural of mitzvah) are the means for us to come closer to the Almighty, to grow spiritually, to perfect ourselves. They are also the means for obtaining our portion in the next world, the World to Come. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, a famed kabbalist, writes in the "Path of the Just":

"... People were created for the sole purpose of rejoicing in God and deriving pleasure from the splendor of His Presence; for this is true joy and the greatest pleasure that can be found. The place where this joy may truly be derived is the World to Come, which was expressly created to provide for it... The means which lead a person to this goal are the mitzvot. ... The place of the performance of the mitzvot is this world alone."

While we don't know the specific reward of any mitzva, it is incumbent upon us to do our best both in quantity and quality. In truth, it should be our pleasure to fulfill the will of our Creator. Many times people say, "I am not religious." Usually, what they mean is "I am not observant." If a person believes in God, that make him religious. No person observes all the mitzvot, we all do the best we can. Everyone is on the scale of mitzva observance somewhere between "few mitzvot" and "many mitzvot."

The more mitzvot we do, the better person we can be, the better Jew we can be. In Miami, The Shul in Bal Harbour, has started a Million Mitzvah Campaign. The idea is that each of us can choose one or more mitzvot to add to what we are already doing. One can join the campaign and look at the various mitzvot and choose. Amongst the mitzvot listed are: Prayer, Mezuzah, Charity, Acts of Kindness, Welcoming Guests, Visiting the Sick, Love Your Fellow Jew, Gossiping, Honor Your Father and Mother, Stand before the Elderly, Honoring Teachers, Return/Repentance, Modesty, Kosher Dietary Laws, Tefillin. Go to to learn more and to sign up. They are already up to 602,546 mitzvot!

If you would like to learn more about the mitzvot, I highly recommend "Maimonides The Commandments" translated by Charles B. Chavel as well as "The Mitzvot" by Rabbi Abraham Chill. There is also a cute book for children, I Love Mitzvas! about the joy of doing Mitzvot. These books and others on the mitzvot are available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.

And, of course, you can go to to learn more about the mitzvot, holidays and almost anything Jewish!

For more on "Mitzvos" 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 Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And when you make an altar of stone for Me, you shall not build it of hewn stone, for if you lift up your sword upon it, you will have desecrated it." (Exodus 20:22)

Why is hewing a stone with a sword a desecration of the stone? What lesson can we learn from this?

Stones used for the altar in the Bais HaMikdosh (the Holy Temple) were ruled unfit for use if they were touched by an iron implement (Rambam, Hilchos Bais HaMikdosh 1:15). Rashi cites the Mechilta (a midrash) which explains that because the altar established peace between Israel and their Father in heaven, it was forbidden to use an instrument of violence in its construction. The Mechilta proceeds with a kal vechomer (an inference from a minor point to a major point): "Stones do not see, hear or speak, but because they establish peace, the Torah said that you shall not lift up your sword upon it; therefore, someone who makes peace between a man and his wife, between one family and another family, or between a man and his fellow man, will surely merit that no harm shall befall him."

(or go to

Jerusalem 4:45
Guatemala 5:46 - Hong Kong 5:58 - Honolulu 6:08
J'Burg 6:37 - London 4:46 - Los Angeles 5:13
Melbourne 8:08 - Mexico City 6:15 - Miami 5:53

New York 5:05 - Singapore 7:03 - Toronto 5:21


If there is any kindness I can show,
or any good thing I can do to any fellow being,
let me do it now, and not deter or neglect it,
as I shall not pass this way again.
-- William Penn

In Loving Memory of
Stuart Reich

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