20 Shevat

Recorded message: https://youtu.be/9rj3BFVwgtA

“He called a child and put him in the midst of them. So, he said: “I assure you that unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, the one who humbles himself like this child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Mattityahu 18:2-4.

We read in our portion the following: “And Yitro, (cohen) priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, and how the Eternal had brought Israel out of Egypt” Vayishma Yitro cohen Midyan Choten Moshe et kol-asher asah Elohim le-Moshe ule-Yisra’el amo: ki-hotsi Adonai et-Yisra’el mi mitzrayim . וַ וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרוֹ כֹהֵן מִדְיָן, חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אֱלֹהִים לְמֹשֶׁה, וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עַמּוֹ:  כִּי-הוֹצִיא יְהוָה אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִמִּצְרָיִם (Shemot 18:1).

Let’s take a pause here: previously in Shemot 4:18, Yitro is introduced by the name of Yeter: it says: “And Moshe went and returned to Yeter (Yitro), his father-in-law,”  יֵּלֶךְ מֹשֶׁה וַיָּשָׁב אֶל-יֶתֶר חֹתְנוֹ “ Vayelech Moshe vayashav el-Yeter chotno”. Was his name Yeter? Is there now an error in the Torah where he is called Yitro instead of Yeter? Well, the secret according to many Torah scholars is that it changed with the use of an active verb: “Vayishma”, (actively listening to obey). Changing his name from Yeter (“increase, augment”) יֶתֶר to Yitro יִתְרוֹ (“overflow or excellence”) caused a renewal within his internal being, The difference between the two names in Hebrew is that the letter “Vav” was added taken from Divine Name Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey יהוה and according to Rashi from this moment on, he was also known as Chovav, because he loved the Torah. At the end we see how a man who believed in superior forces was transformed upon hearing the stories of how God had manifested himself to Moshe, Israel and the entire world, and thus he decided to start believing that there is only one force, one God, a single power: the Bore Olam.

I loved how Rabbi Adi Cangado depicted the change that Yeter underwent to become Yitro – the difference is the letter Vav, a Yud that goes down to earth, implying a “subtle” conversion because what is a vav, added to his name Yitro? Says the Rabbi, “The vav is a Yud referring to the intellectual, the abstract; how it goes down to earth symbolizes the arrival of human thought to real, practical conclusions that serve to improve their behavior and sanctify life. This down-to-earth transformation is a daily attitude.” This attitude of listening – opening the senses, in this case, the ear – implies humility, and in this portion at least, what I have continually seen is that much humility is required; that is how gratitude can be manifested, even for whatever good things happen to those around us; unity and emunah (faith) are also manifested.

Yitro’s merit is that many heard what God had done for Israel upon their departure from Egypt, but only he listened, only he reacted and abandoned his beliefs as a pagan priest to join Israel on the border of Sinai.

Today’s call continues; God speaks to us in many ways, but unfortunately as Job 33:14 says, “God speaks to us over and over again, although we do not perceive it.” But why are we unable to perceive it? There seems to be a connection to our Haftarah in Isaiah when he says: “And He said: ‘Go, and tell this people: you do indeed hear, but you do not understand, and you do indeed see, but you do not perceive. Make the heart of this people insensitive; dull their ears and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed.”

Elie Wiesel once said “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it is indifference. In turn, the opposite of faith is not heresy, it is indifference”. Exactly, to be indifferent to the voice of God is to hear but pretend not to understand. Whoever is indifferent cannot perceive his world, cannot be grateful, cannot realize that God exists. Today the indifference in this material world is incredible, for example, I remember when I was little and we went for a walk, one of the things I enjoyed the most was seeing the landscape, houses, people, animals, etc. on the road. It was an experience. Today, young people going for a walk with their eyes glued to their phones, and when you ask: did you see that animal or did you see the scenery, nobody noticed because they were engrossed in their “apps” or  their “streaming”. The same with God; He continually calls us. Are we like Yitro? Do we perceive His voice?

Another merit of Yitro is that he rejoiced in the good that happened to others; Shemot 18:10 states: “And Yitro rejoiced for all the good that the Eternal had done to Israel, whom he delivered from the hands of the Egyptians.” This expression is connected with the words we hear later in a negative perspective (20:14): “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your neighbor.” If someone tells us a blessing, a joy, something good from the Eternal towards them, a miracle, etc. and we are incapable of rejoicing for them, we must examine ourselves. When we really rejoice in God’s goodness towards another – without questioning “how did he do it?”, “surely there is a catch here”, “I can’t believe it” “why can’t I then?” among many other expressions – we form guidelines on how to fulfill the commandment to not covet.

The next merit in Shemot 18:10 “And Yitro said: Blessed be the Eternal who has delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh, freeing the people from the oppression of the Egyptians!” Vayomer Yitro Baruch Adonai וַיֹּאמֶר, יִתְרוֹ, בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה. Yitro blessed the Name of the Eternal with an expression that is recorded as the first blessing in the Torah towards the Eternal. Perhaps there were other blessings before by the Divine manifestation toward one’s own cause, but perhaps the merit in this case comes because the Eternal is being blessed through the blessing of others.

Finally, Yitro’s merit was to give, to multiply, to share, to magnify the Divine Name, as it says in chapter 18:12 “And Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, took an offering (an Olah, ascension) and sacrifices for God; and Aaron and all the elders of Israel came to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God.” A person who has undergone change generates goodness, is a giving machine and he does not go unnoticed by the Eternal. Yitro also established the system of judges, later known as the Sanhedrin according to many commentators, and according to many, the Torah could not have been taught and spread to all the people without this system of communication and the conflict resolution advised by Yitro.

This story can also be compared to a very practical way to teach the 10 words, let’s see: “Anochi Adonai Elohecha, I am the Eternal, your God.” Upon hearing the stories of the Exodus, Yitro came to the conclusion that there is only one God. One wonders, how is it that this expression is a commandment? The commandment is to actively, consistently, and with your mind/soul believe that there is one God. If there is no God, the rest of the Torah would be invalid. In this sense, emunah is manifested in that there is only One who controls all that happens to us and who seeks our good; “You will have no other gods before my face.” Lo yihiyeh lecha Elohim acherim al-panai.” Yitro stopped believing in other spiritual sources; “You shall not pronounce the name of the Eternal, your God, in vain”, Lo tisa et-Shem-Adonai Elohecha lashav” – Yitro blessed the Divine Name.

Respecting the Shabbat, although there is no record, it is said in the Midrash that he lived for about a year with Israel, and it is recorded that he stayed to eat with Moshe and his princes, so it is very likely that he celebrated the Shabbat.

“Honour your father and your mother”, Kaved et-avicha ve’et-imecha ”We see Moshe honoring his father-in-law, as if he were his father, by listening to him, sharing with him all his blessings and sitting at the table with him; “You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. lo tirtsach. Lo tin’af. Lo tignov. Lo-ta’aneh vere’acha ed shaker” Somehow in this portion, we do not see any murder unless we’re referring to the death of the Egyptians, according to the testimony about the Exodus, which was not fake news, and “you shall not steal” is fulfilled by what was  offered to God; “You shall not covet – Lo tachmod”  was fulfilled with the joy of Yitro for the works of the Eternal.

What do we need to hear His voice? If we compare our Haftarah with the Parasha, both Yitro and Isaiah heard the voice of the Eternal, but to listen we need, as Rabbi Yeshua said, to have the attitude of a child, why? First, children are like sponges, flexible to receive new knowledge; they do not have a structured paradigm of what reality is or preconceived ideas; second, a child has the humility to recognize that he is learning and that he is not a “know it all”; third, a child has quite an innocent emunah and believes what he is told, even a 9–10-year-old child who is told that there are pink elephants would surely believe it if his dad told him. On the other hand, if we do not have this ability to learn like a child, we will only have arrogance and we will sink like the Egyptians in their pride.

Do we want to be transformed? If so, let us have the emunah of a child, let us listen to the voice of the Eternal, let us awaken our senses to the spiritual world unacknowledged by many, let us rejoice in the blessings of others, let us bless the Eternal for everything and be grateful people demonstrated by our acts of charity and kindness towards others.

Shabbat Shalom

Mauricio Quintero

Discussion following the message: https://youtu.be/RbkdnaAo9i4