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Yitro 5779

Yitro (Exodus 18-20 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!  We intuitively believe in free will. That is why we hold others responsible for their actions -- and ourselves responsible for our own actions. Desires and rationalizations challenge our use of free will. Even a serial killer who claims voices tell him to kill has free will. An FBI agent once wrote, "I never saw a serial killer who was so compelled to kill someone that he killed while a policeman was standing next to him."

The Almighty commands us to use our free will: "See, I have put before you, life and good, death and evil ... choose life so that you may live..." (Deuteronomy 30:19). Why choose life so that you may live rather than choose good? To choose life is to choose to live in reality and to accept the pain of living in reality rather than seeking comfort, indulgence, escape. Free will is about moral choices of right and wrong -- not about which flavor of ice cream you wish to eat.

5 Point Mini-Course to Strengthen
Your Free Will

1) Be aware. We are making decisions all of the time. Once you become sensitive to that fact, then you can monitor your choices. Don't let your decisions just happen. Take control. Ask yourself: Is this the decision that I want to be making? If it isn't, then change it. At this point, you'll be using your free will actively and not passively.

2) Be your own person. Don't accept society's assumptions as your own unless you've thought them through and agree with them. Take responsibility for your decisions. It's amazing that during the Civil War in the United States virtually everyone north of the Mason-Dixon line was against slavery and virtually everyone south of the Line was pro-slavery. What happened? Did all of the pro-slavery people gravitate to the South like to a magnet (or like snowbirds to Florida ...)? We are all products of our society.

Likewise, don't be a slave to a past decision; just because you once thought that you couldn't do something, doesn't mean that the decision still applies. Start each day anew. Constantly reevaluate where you are in life in order to be sure that what you chose then is what you would still choose now. Make sure it's you who is guiding your decisions, not your decisions that are guiding you.

3) Understand that the battle is between the desires of the body and the aspirations of the soul. There are times when you know objectively that something is good for you, but your physical desires get in the way and distort your outlook. The ultimate desire of the body is to take it easy -- to escape and exist in perpetual comfort rather than make the effort to confront life head-on. The ultimate desire of the soul is to live fully, vibrantly with every fiber of your being to do what's meaningful, what's right, what's productive.

4) Identify with your soul. Your soul is the real you! Therefore, if you can identify with the desires of the soul, it will satisfy the needs of the real you. Your task is to train the body and coax it to reflect the reality of the soul. Use the same strategy that the body uses on you! The body says "Just one bite of cake." You respond, "Sure! In just 10 minutes" and then you push it off another 10 minutes. Don't say, "I am hungry" say "My body is hungry." Identify with your soul and make your body a reflection of your soul. If you do that, you'll have real inner peace.

5) Ask: "What does God want?" You are using your power of choice to merge with the most meaningful and powerful Force in the universe: the transcendental!

The ultimate form of living is eternity, that is, life without any semblance of death. Therefore, attaching yourself to God is attaching to the highest and purest form of life itself: eternity. That is the ultimate use of our free will. That's what God means when He says in our Torah, "Choose life." Make your will His will. If you do, you'll be a little less than God Himself. Partners in perfecting the world!

Rabbi Noah Weinberg, founder of Aish HaTorah, wrote, "Greatness lies in how we resolve conflicts in using our free will -- to grow, not to quit; to face reality, not to escape. To live and not to die. When we escape problems, we escape the chance of becoming great. It's a constant battle every moment of our lives." (If you truly wish to maximize your free will and your life, I highly recommend What the Angel Taught You -- Seven Keys to Life Fulfillment by Rabbi Noah Weinberg and Yaakov Solomon.)

Torah Portion of the week

Yisro/Yitro, Exodus 18:1 -20:23

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:

"And Yisro, the priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that the Almighty did for Moshe and to Israel His people" (Exodus 18:1).

Rashi cites the Talmud (Zevachim 116a): "What did Yisro hear to make him come to join the Jewish people? He heard about the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek." What was so unique about what Yisro heard? Didn't all the other surrounding nations hear about this also?

"The answer is," said Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chasman, "that they heard and remained the same. Yisro, however, didn't merely hear, he took action. Others were moved and inspired for a few moments, but stayed where they were. Yisro picked himself up and changed his life."

Everyone has moments of inspiration. The difference between a great person and an ordinary person is that the great person acts upon his inspirations. When you obtain an important awareness, let it move you to actual changes in your life.

Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian asked a question on this Rashi: We can understand how the miracles at the Red Sea/Sea of Reeds influenced Yisro. However, what was so moving about the war with Amalek? He replied, "At times the best way to appreciate Torah values for living is to observe the behavior of those who lack those values. Amalek also heard about the crossing of the Red Sea. They themselves were in no danger from the Israelites, nevertheless they cruelly tried to wipe them out. Hearing and observing this, Yisro was moved. He concluded differently and realized how much one needs the Almighty in his life for basic values.


You might enjoy this article from my hometown paper -- the Oregon Jewish News -- click here


Candle Lighting Times

January 25
(or go to

Jerusalem 4:31
Guatemala 5:40 - Hong Kong 5:49 - Honolulu 5:59
J'Burg 6:45 - London 4:19 - Los Angeles 4:59
Melbourne 8:21 - Mexico City 6:07 - Miami 5:41
New York 4:47 - Singapore 7:01 - Toronto 5:01

Quote of the Week

I have noticed that even people who
claim that everything is predetermined
and that we can do nothing to change it,
look before they cross the road.
--  Stephen Hawking



With Deep Appreciation to

Dr. & Mrs. Lawrence J.

In Loving Memory of

Leah Stein


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