One Mitzvah: HaRav Nachman Kahana on Parashat Yitro 5775
Parashat Yitro 5775
Rabbi Nachman Kahana
I am often criticized, or by more genteel people “asked”, that since there are 613 mitzvot in the Torah with another 7 Rabbinic ones, each with its many details and related minhagim (customs), why are my writings centered on the single mitzva of living in Eretz Yisrael?
Indeed! I do center on a single mitzvah of the Torah, but not the one relating to living in Eretz Yisrael. The mitzva which I believe is the most important at this time appears in Vayikra 19,16:
ולא תעמוד על דם רעיך
You shall not stand-by passively when your fellow Jew‘s life is threatened.
All the more so when the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters are desperately close to the precipice of the deep, no-return chasm of anti-Semitic hatred.
There is no future for the Jews of Europe, nor for the Jews of Venezuela, Argentina and not far off where YOU are in the galut.
As stated in the Gemara, HaShem decreed that when one of his children is in mortal danger, the Torah mitzvot are deferred if it is necessary to save his life.
Who can forget the great Harav Avraham Kalmanowitz, the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, who in the time of the Second World War rode in any open vehicle on Shabbat to raise money for the immediate need of Vaad Hatzala, or Harav Herzog, the first Chief Rabbi of the Medina who signed a petition on Shabbat for clemency for an underground fighter who was to be hanged that day by the Brutish-British.
Today, there is no place in the galut where Jews can plan for the future with any degree of confidence. New communities with million dollar homes and beautiful synagogues, day schools, mikvaot etc., are feeble attempts to keep “yesterday” alive. To remain in the galut and hope that the gentile government will protect your “civil rights” is a folly of the worst sort.
On the 9th of Av in the years 70 C.E., the second Jewish Commonwealth ended after 420 years from the time of the rebuilding of the second Beit HaMikdash. Our nation was exiled to the four corners of the globe for the next 2000 years. On the 5th of Iyar 5708 (1948 C.E.) the decree descended from heaven that the exile had come to an end, and now the Jewish nation must return to continue our national-religious life, so brutally and abruptly severed by the Romans.
It matters not if the returnees are non-observant or super observant; we are all HaShem’s chosen people. Because the Torah was given to live Jews, not to Jews whose memories were, or might be inscribed in holocaust museums.
HaShem is applying increasing social and economic pressure on those individuals and communities that He wants to see in Eretz Yisrael. The coercion will succeed with many but unfortunately not all.
However, there are preferably positive reasons for coming home, rather than just to escape the gentiles in the galut. As follows:
Reason One: Uneven Distribution of Historic Responsibility
Our parasha records (Shemot 18,13-23):
יג) ויהי ממחרת וישב משה לשפט את העם ויעמד העם על משה מן הבקר עד הערב:
יד) וירא חתן משה את כל אשר הוא עשה לעם ויאמר מה הדבר הזה אשר אתה עשה לעם מדוע אתה יושב לבדך וכל העם נצב עליך מן בקר עד ערב:
טו) ויאמר משה לחתנו כי יבא אלי העם לדרש אלהים:
טז) כי יהיה להם דבר בא אלי ושפטתי בין איש ובין רעהו והודעתי את חקי האלהים ואת תורתיו:
יז) ויאמר חתן משה אליו לא טוב הדבר אשר אתה עשה:
יח) נבל תבל גם אתה גם העם הזה אשר עמך כי כבד ממך הדבר לא תוכל עשהו לבדך:
יט) עתה שמע בקלי איעצך ויהי אלהים עמך היה אתה לעם מול האלהים והבאת אתה את הדברים אל האלהים:
כ) והזהרתה אתהם את החקים ואת התורת והודעת להם את הדרך ילכו בה ואת המעשה אשר יעשון:
כא) ואתה תחזה מכל העם אנשי חיל יראי אלהים אנשי אמת שנאי בצע ושמת עלהם שרי אלפים שרי מאות שרי חמשים ושרי עשרת:
כב) ושפטו את העם בכל עת והיה כל הדבר הגדל יביאו אליך וכל הדבר הקטן ישפטו הם והקל מעליך ונשאו אתך:
כג) אם את הדבר הזה תעשה וצוך אלהים ויכלת עמד וגם כל העם הזה על מקמו יבא בשלום:
13 The following day Moshe sat to judge the people, and they stood before him from morning till evening.
14 When his father-in-law saw what Moshe was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand before you from morning till evening?”
15 And Moshe said, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will.
16 When they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”
17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good.
18 You and these people who come to you will wane. The labor is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.
19 Listen now to me and I will give you advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.
20 Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.
21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.
22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.
23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to withstand the burden, and the people will be satisfied.”
Yitro, who had previously served as one of Paro’s three most trusted advisors, was well versed in public administration. He knew that no man, even one as gifted as the great Moshe, could alone administer a nation of millions.
Moshe, too, was aware of this “irregular” situation, but was precluded from instituting any change for two reasons: 1. Moshe alone knew the most minute details of the Torah, 2. Moshe could not institute any changes unless they were sanctioned by HaShem.
Moshe brought Yitro’s suggestions before HaShem and the necessary changes were instituted.
Yitro saw the abnormality and deviation of the situation of the “uneven distribution of historic responsibility,” where the few bear the responsibilities of the many, which leads to an eventual self-destruction.
The Israeli government is comprised of 25 ministries:
Agriculture and Rural Development
Construction and Housing
Culture and Sport
Energy and Water Resources
Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs
Social Affairs and Social Services
The published budget for 2014 was over 400 billion shekels (over 100 billion dollars. We cannot know the exact number because of the unpublished budget dealing with classified defense and scientific activities).
There are six and a half million Jews in the county who support and man these ministries and all other walks of life.
The City of New York has around 10 million people with many fewer departments. It would not be difficult to imagine the reaction of New Yorkers if they were informed that from now on they and their taxes would have to support the added responsibilities of national security and all the other items in the Israeli national agenda.
The Jewish State is suffering from an “uneven distribution of historic responsibility”. Why are the young Jews of the USA and Europe directing their efforts inward to prepare for their personal careers when Jewish history is calling?
All Jews, but especially young men and women should grasp this exceptional moment of our history and take part in the establishment of the third Jewish commonwealth in Eretz Yisrael.
Anti-Semitism should not be the reason for your being here. A Jew should come out of love, to help and support his holy brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael, not as result of the hatred of others.
Reason Two: Jewish Aristocracy
In our parsha, HaShem commands Moshe to inform the people that they are to become ממלכת כהנים a “Kingdom of Priests”. Indeed? A kingdom of Kohanim when kohanim comprise only five percent of the Jewish nation!
Kohanim, as a unique group within Am Yisrael are limited in the seven basic activities of life: diet, clothing, speech, dwelling, marriage, ritual purity and social status.
Diet: A kohen may eat truma and other sanctified foods; but if he does so while tamay, he is liable for the death penalty from the heavenly court. In addition, the very act of eating the sacrificial meat is part of the atonement process for the person bringing the sacrifice.
Clothing: If a kohen performs the temple duty while not donning the kohanic garments, he is liable for punishment from the heavenly court, both the common kohen with regards to his four garments and the Kohen Gadol with regards to his eight garments. There is no law which is so punishable regarding clothing with one who is not a kohen.
Speech: A kohen must be very fastidious in his speech, for as the prophet Malachi says, “The lips of the kohen shall define the law and seek Torah from Him.” HaShem graced the kohanim with the power to bless. It was for this reason that the Torah states that when Aharon heard of the death of his two sons, he did not utter a sound; because he was aware of the ramifications of a kohanic utterance at that sad time. And even though all Jews are prohibited from speaking lashon hara and other forbidden expressions of speech, the violation by a kohen is more severe.
Dwelling: Kohanim are limited to kohanic towns such as Nov and Anatot for reasons of purity, whereas a Jew may live anywhere in Eretz Yisrael from the Euphrates to the Nile.
Marriage: Kohanim are far more limited than non-kohanim with whom they may marry.
Ritual purity: The laws of tuma and tahara follow a kohen his whole life; non-kohanim are less affected.
Social status: The kohen must be respected and receive priority in many aspects of life.
Thus, we find that kohanim are unique within Am Yisrael in seven ways. And interestingly, these very same seven differences exist between Jews and gentiles:
Diet: A Jew is limited by the laws of kashrut, whereas a non-Jew may eat whatever he wishes.
Clothing: A Jew may not wear shatnez and must put tzitzit on a four-cornered garment. Non-Jews have no laws regarding wearing apparel.
Speech: A Jew must be careful not to utter prohibited statements, whereas a non-Jew has no such limitations.
Dwelling: A Jew is required to live in Eretz Yisrael. A non-Jew may live anywhere on the globe.
Marriage: A Jew is limited to whom he may marry, whereas Non-Jews are much less restricted.
Ritual purity: Jews have laws governing ritual purity. Non-Jews have no tumah during their lifetime from the Torah law.
Social status: We have a unique status in the world as God’s chosen people and God shines his countenance upon us, whereas he does not do so for non-Jews.
From here, the seven areas which set kohanim apart from other Jews are the same seven areas where Jews are set apart from the nations of the world.
This is the meaning of a “Kingdom of Priests” – the Jewish nation is to the nations of the world, as kohanim are to the Jewish nation.
The knowledge that we are unique in HaShem’s world is indeed the most comforting feeling one can experience. When in the course of one’s life, situations may take a depressing turn, one need only remember that he was born a Jew, a chosen one of HaShem.
I once heard a story about a woman in a German death camp who would murmur through her lips all day without uttering a sound. When asked by the other victims what she was repeating all the time, she replied, “I say
Blessed are You, King of the Universe, for not having me born a non-Jew.
The Jewish nation as the aristocracy of HaShem should instinctively desire to abide in the palace of the King.
The fusion of the two elements of “equal distribution of historic responsibility” and our appointment by HaShem as His “Kingdom of Kohanim” should arouse every Jew in the world to leave the punishment of exile and return to the land that HaShem has set aside for His people.
The pendulum of Jewish history has begun moving from exile to redemption. It is the free choice of every Jew to decide where he will be when HaShem will again make His presence felt in the world.