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Yitro 5773

Yitro (Exodus 18-20 )

by Kalman Packouz

Judging other people favorably.

GOOD MORNING! Did you ever get angry about what someone did and say, "I would have never done that if I were him!"? Probably most of us have said that one time or another.

I've got news for you! You would have done EXACTLY what he did if you were him. If you had his genes, his upbringing, his education and philosophy on life along with his desires and attitudes ... you would have done precisely what he did. The proof is ... that's what HE did! The difference is that you are not him and you think that with all that you are, that you would have acted differently. Hopefully, if you were in his situation, you would not do what he did.

What we have here is a failure to judge our fellow human being favorably. For ourselves, we have 5 good reasons or excuses why we did what we did; for others, we are often just incensed!

There is a saying in Pirke Avos 2:5 ("Ethics of the Fathers" -- a compilation of wisdom of the Sages which is found in the back of most Siddurim, Prayer Books; I highly recommend the Artscroll Pirkei Avos Ethics of the Fathers Treasury available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242), "Hillel says, 'Don't judge your fellow human being until you have been in his place." It is upon us to try to put ourselves in someone else's situation before passing judgment.

(I have heard that there is an old Indian adage, "Do not judge someone until you have walked a mile in his moccasins." As one wit commented, "Because then you are a mile away ... and you have his moccasins!")

Also in Pirke Avos 4:3, Ben Azai says, "Do not scorn any person, nor be disdainful of any thing for there is no person who does not have his hour and no thing which does not have its place."

The Torah source for this mitzvah, commandment, is "You shall judge your fellow human being with righteousness" (Leviticus 19:15). This verse obligates us to give someone the benefit of the doubt when we see him performing an action that could be interpreted in his favor.

People are so unaware of the imperative of judging favorably that this transgression makes the Rambam's (Moshe Maimonides) list of the 5 transgressions for which people violate and usually do not do teshuva (correcting their misdeed, setting a plan to avoid transgressing in the future and asking the Almighty for forgiveness). One will usually justify his suspicion by saying, "I haven't transgressed. What did I do to harm that person?" He doesn't realize that he commits a transgression by considering an innocent person a transgressor. (Hilchos Teshuva 3:4)

This does not mean that you are so trusting that you let others take advantage of you. The Torah tells us in Deuteronomy 18:13, "You shall trust wholeheartedly in the Lord, your God." The Chofetz Chaim, a major proponent of loving others, used to say, "The Torah obliges us to trust wholeheartedly in God, but not in man. A person must always be on the alert not to be cheated!" The Talmud puts it succinctly: Honor him ... and suspect him.

The Torah also teaches us, "Love your fellow human being as yourself ..." (Leviticus 19:18). The Baal Shem Tov used to say, "Love others as yourself. You know that you have many faults, nevertheless, you still love yourself. That is how you should feel toward your friend. Despite his faults, love him" (Likutai Abraham, p. 221).

Take these situations: The plumber was a thief, the teacher was incompetent, the babysitter irresponsible. We are making judgments all day long! And we are sure that we are right.

Would you like check out how good your judgment is? Rebbetzin Yehudis Samet has collected over 180 stories seemingly slam-dunk wrongness -- that were misjudged. Pick up a copy of her book, The Other Side of the Story for an entertaining read -- and hopefully, a life-changing experience!

If we could all judge others even just a little bit better, the world would be a far better place!


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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 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 Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"I, Your father-in-law, Yitro, am coming to you; and your wife and her two sons with her (are coming)" (Exodus 18:6).

Rashi, the great commentator, cites the Mechilta, a Midrash, which tells us that Yitro sent the following message to Moshe: "If you do not want to come to greet me, come for the sake of your wife; and if you do not want to come to greet your wife, come for the sake of her two sons." Why would Yitro send what seems to be a rather bizarre message?

Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv clarifies for us that Yitro was a great philosopher; a sincere and honest seeker of truth. He had experimented with every available form of idolatry, and attained the awareness that each was void and meaningless. Finally, he embraced Judaism. However, before he studied Torah, he did not know that it was possible to attain a high spiritual level and still be a part of this world involved with one's fellow human beings.

Therefore, Yitro's message to Moshe was a hint that even though "You might have reached the apex of spirituality, you must nevertheless fulfill your social obligations."

The Torah teaches that one cannot be spiritual if he does not fulfill his obligations to the Almighty, himself and his fellow man. Life is an integrated whole; one must strive to grow in all areas for true spirituality.


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How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young,
compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving,
and tolerant of the weak and strong.
Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.
--  George Washington Carver


In Loving Memory of

Hilda Clyman

May the Almighty
console her family


With Very Special Thanks to

Daniel & Lillian

for their heartfelt support
and kindness


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