Yitro

“Parsha and Purpose” – Yitro 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Tom Brady, Yitro and the Decision to Make a Difference”

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“Tom Brady, Yitro and the Decision to Make a Difference”

In the spirit of the Super Bowl, a football trivia question: what do quarterbacks Tom Brady and Kurt Warner have in common?

Most famously, they have both been Super Bowl winners – and maybe again – and recipients of the league’s MVP player award several times.

But what they also have in common is that  they were given very low chances of ever making it on to an NFL team roster, let alone becoming all-time league greats.

Brady was drafted by the Patriots as the 199th pick in the draft and only took over as starting quarterback after an injury to Drew Bledsoe. This year he switched coaches, cities and conferences and, at 43, is back in the Superbowl.

Warner was not selected at all!

He tried out for the Packers in 1994, and was released before the regular season. No team wanted to give him a chance.

He stocked shelves in a grocery store for $6.50 an hour and played in the Arena Football League.

He was supposed to try out with the Chicago Bears but was bitten by a spider during his honeymoon. Played in NFL Europe.

He signed with the St. Louis Rams in 1998 and after an injury to the starting quarterback, took over and in 1999, had one of the best seasons of any quarterback in NFL history.

Given what we now know about their careers, this is almost impossible to imagine.

They are actually part of a legendary group of quarterbacks who according to current NFL draft rules would never have been selected, either, including Hall of Famers Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr and Roger Staubach.

Each of these players are great examples of outsiders who made a game-changing impact.

But it could easily have gone differently.

Any of them could have allowed the lack of interest from teams or the public impact on their self-confidence and resolve to play the game.

In our parsha, we encounter Yitro, someone who could have looked at reality and turned the other way, but chose to make a difference, instead.

Yitro saw a group of nomads forming into a people of purpose and recognized a problem that if solved, could dramatically improve their lives. Exodus 18:14

But he knew that his advice might be ignored, not only because he was an outsider but because he was trying to give advice to his son-in-law…

Yitro had passion; he wanted to make a difference.

He saw the entirety of the field, the big picture, and the adjustments that would be necessary in order to make Moshe into the most effective quarterback for the Jewish People.

He saw that in order for that to happen, Moshe must learn to share the burden with a team.

Yitro overcame any self-doubt and societal opposition, and ended up radically reshaping the Jewish People’s judicial system, which freed up Moshe to focus on leading the people on the important issues facing them.

How many times in our lives do we have the opportunity to make a difference?

An opportunity to grow in ways that requires us to stretch ourselves to our limits.

It is almost always easier to simply ignore the opportunity.

We convince ourselves that “it’s too difficult” or “I might fail”.

Worse, others may think I am not capable.

But imagine pro football without Unitas, Starr, Staubach, Warner or Brady, any of whom could have easily chosen the simpler path of accepting the poor assessments of others about them.

Imagine the destiny of the Jewish People and societal jurisprudence without the brilliant guidance of Yitro.

We all have the opportunity to make difference:

Let us resolve to do something more to make our lives, the lives of our families, communities and society even just a little more meaningful.

Our position on life’s playing field is not decided by only a draft, or by coaches, or by popular opinion.

It is decided by our resolve to fully actualize our God-given potential.

Shabbat Shalom.

Parshat Yitro: How the Greatest Visionary Learned to Listen Rabbi Avi Bossewitch learned at Yeshivat Hamivtar from 1996-1998 and serves as the Dean of Education at the Hebrew Academy (RASG) in Miami Beach, FL The first phase of Moshe’s life is surrounded by sight and vision. This begins when we are first introduced to Moshe, …

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Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

This week’s column has been sponsored in honor of  Ellie Yona Charif’s first birthday on 23 Shevatby the Charif family in Sydney, Australia   Shabbat Shalom: Yitro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin            Efrat, Israel –– “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shall you …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Parshat Mishpatim 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Is a Fetus Considered a Full-Fledged Life? Differences in Approaches Between Judaism and Christianity”

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“Is a Fetus Considered a Full-Fledged Life? Differences in Approaches Between Judaism and Christianity”

This week’s Torah reading, Parshat Mishpatim, presents us the details of how we are meant to engage with others in the daily thoroughfare of life. After the “Ten statements” of Aseret HaDibrot, which speaks in broad categories, Mishpatim translates these statements unto the specifics of how we should interact with each other.

The parasha opens with “V’elah haMishpatim” – and these are the laws. Exodus 21:1 The vav adds to the previous statements and serves as juxtaposition to them. It connects the ethereal revelation on Mount Sinai to the quotidian reality of human relationships and accentuates the point that the holiness of Mount Sinai is found in the everyday ways in which we engage the other.

There is one interesting set of verses in Parshat Mishpatim that relates to a current debate in the United States Congress and in the courts. This conversation is part of a major theological discussion, deriving from different ways of understanding the Biblical text in our parasha.

The verse states:  ve’chi yinatzu anashim; if, when two people are fighting, ve’nagfu isha hara, and they hit, by accident, a pregnant woman, ve’yatzu yeladeha ve’lo y’hiye ason.  (Let us hold off interpreting the last part of the verse: ve’yatzu yeladeha ve’lo y’hiye ason.) The Torah goes on to say that if this incident occurs, compensation has to be paid.

Ve’im ason y’hiye, but if there is a tragedy, ve’natata nefesh tachat nefesh, then there is a capital punishment. Exodus 21: 22-23

The verse teaches us that if two people are fighting and they injure a pregnant woman ve’yatzu yeladeha ve’lo y’hiye ason – in this case, if there is no tragedy, then monetary compensation must be paid.

But if there is a tragedy, then the result is a life for a life.

What exactly does this mean? How do we understand the text?

This is why our oral rabbinic tradition is so crucial to understanding how this should be applied.

This is the current debate in Congress and the US courts.

According to Christian theologians, this is how the text should be read: If two people are fighting, and a woman is hurt, and she is pregnant, ve’yatzu yeladeha, and she has an early birth, ve’lo y’hiye ason, but the fetuses are fine, they are just born prematurely, then there has to be payment for this trauma.

Ve’im ason y’hiye, but if the fetuses are killed, if the fetuses are destroyed, then capital punishment is incurred. The fetuses are to be considered just like any other human life. If this is the case, then abortion, according to the interpretation of the Catholic Church is tantamount to murder, and using fetal cells for cloning, or stem-cell research would be strictly forbidden. This approach is based on their reading of our Torah portion.

But that is not the way that our rabbis read this verse.

 Ve’chi yinatzu anashim, if two men are fighting, ve’yatzu yeladeha, and she has a miscarriage, ve’lo y’hiye ason, but nothing happened to her, other than that trauma, and she is otherwise physically unharmed, then since she lost fetal matter, there needs to be compensation.  Ve’im ason y’hiye, but if she is damaged, if she is killed, then, it is a sin, or an act, that requires nefesh tachat nefesh, then this is a capital crime demanding punishment. Rashi on Exodus 21:23

How do we look at fetal matter? Do we regard it as a full human being, or can we use fetal matter for genetic research to save lives?

It all depends on how we read these verses. 

The argument going on in Congress and in the courts is predicated on how different traditions read Parshat Mishpatim. Let’s recognize the wisdom of Chazal, the sages of our oral tradition, when they teach that fetal matter is not yet life, and therefore it can be used in different ways to help safeguard life, to help scientific research, and to find opportunities for us to be God’s junior partners in Tikkun Olam.

Understanding our tradition sometimes makes all the difference. It’s not just the text, but the context that the Rabbis have given us. 

Shabbat Shalom.

“Parsha and Purpose” – Parshat Yitro 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“And all the people saw the sounds– Accepting the Torah and finding our spiritual space

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“And all the people saw the sounds– Accepting the Torah and finding our spiritual space

This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Yitro provides us with so much material for discussion. Central to the Torah reading is Aseret haDibrot, often erroneously translated as “the Ten Commandments. ”

“Aseret haDibrot” are neither the sum total of all the Torah’s commandments, nor are they “Ten Suggestions”. They are “Ten Statements”.

How many commandments are iterated in the “Aseret haDibrot”? Is the first statement “I am the Lord your God” a commandment, or is it an introductory statement, a preamble for the rest? Can all the commandments be subsumed under these ten statements? Exodus 20:2

These are important conversations that, please God, we will have together over the course of many years of discussion.

I’d like to focus today just on one sentence that appears after receiving the Aseret haDibrot, the Ten Statements, or Ten-plus Commandments, or so.

The Torah describes the experience that the Jewish people had at Mount Sinai: “ve’chol ha’am ro’im et ha’kolot ….” “And all of the people see the sounds.” Exodus 20:15

The commentaries point out that seeing sounds is a miracle. There were a lot of miracles that took place at Mount Sinai, in addition to the ability to see sounds. The Midrash tells us that that at Mount Sinai all those who had difficulty hearing, and others who had other handicaps were healed.  All these challenges were overcome on Mount Sinai; for that reason that hospitals throughout the world are called Mount Sinai, based upon these Midrashic statements. Mekhilta DeRabbi Shimon Bar Yochai 20:15

The ancient commentary known as Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, expresses another beautiful idea in its reflection on the words, “ve’chol ha’am ro’im et ha’kolot”.  Although this insight was written down in ancient times, it is so relevant to us in this day and age.

“Ve’chol ha’am ro’im et ha’kolot,” according to the Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, is that everyone found their own sound, saw their own path, and even though the Torah was given to all the Jewish people, “ke’ish echad, be’lev echad,” in one unified fashion, everyone found their own portal of entry. Targum Jonathan on Exodus 20:15

What an important message! The best way to treat our children “the same” is to realize that they are different. That they hear different sounds, that different components of the Jewish experience speak to them.

The way that we relate to other Jews with respect is to realize that each of us looks at Judaism and connects to different aspects of Judaism.

“Ve’chol ha’am ro’im et ha’kolot” – there is a symphony of voices that can complement each other to hear – if we listen. 

And that’s why it pains me when we hear leaders challenge the authenticity of other Jews. When leaders speak about Soviet Jews or Ethiopian Jews as not Jewish, they are missing an opportunity. Even if there are halachic challenges involved, “ro’im et ha’kolot,” these Jews are searching for their sounds, they are searching for their space – they seek their own way to relate to our Jewish heritage.

So many of us spent time protesting to let Soviet Jews leave the Soviet Union.  Now we have to “ro’im et ha’kolot.” We don’t have to “let our people go” – we have to “let our people know.” We have to find ways in which every Jew, and every human being, can “ro’im et ha’kolot,” can find their spiritual voice and space.

Please God, we will re-accept the luchot, the Aseret HaDibrot, this Shabbat. Each and every one of us will find our own space, will find our own music, and will allow others to find their own music, within the parameters of Jewish tradition, so that we can engage God in ways that allow us to create a symphony of conversations between us as a people and our beloved engagement with God.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Yitro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –   “And now, if you will surely hearken to my voice and observe My Covenant, then you shall be for Me a chosen treasure (segulah) from amongst all the nations, because all of the earth is Mine And you shall be …

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Rabbi Yitzchak Blau

Parashat Yitro: The Juxtaposition of Amalek and Yitro There are bad things in the world, but there also are things that are very good. Some Jews see the entire non-Jewish world as Amalek, or as something despicable, but those who don’t recognize the righteousness of certain gentiles and the benevolence of world culture are gravely mistaken. …

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Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And Jethro the Priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moses, heard all that God had done for Moses and his people; that He had taken Israel out of Egypt.” (Exodus 18:1) This Torah portion records how Jethro, Moses’ Midianite father-in-law, heard of …

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