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ב"ה

ARE YOU GREEDY FOR MORE?

Friday, 25 January, 2019 - 9:02 am

Physics Teacher: You students need to look in your books. You need to be attentive so you can really learn and achieve. Isaac Newton was sitting under a tree when an apple fell on his head and he discovered gravity. Because he was attentive. Not like your kids!”

Student: “Yes sir, if he had been sitting in class looking at books like us, he wouldn’t have discovered anything.”

There is a Midrash on this weeks Torah portion Yitro, that tells us about Moses’ children.

When Moses asked Yitro for the hand of his daughter Zipporah, Yitro said: “Commit to one thing that I ask of you, and then you can have her as a wife.” Moshe asked, “What is it?”

Yitro replied, “The son born first shall be designated for idolatry; after him, your children can be dedicated to serving G-d.”

Moshe consented.

Yitro said: “Swear to me,” and Moshe swore, as the Torah states “Vayoel Moshe,”  “Moshe consented to dwell with Yitro,” and the word “Vayoel” implies consent by oath.

This is mind-staggering. Moses, the man who would lead the Jewish people to freedom, mold them into G-d’s people, and give them the Torah, agreed to the stipulation of his future father in law to dedicate his first child to idolatry?!

To be sure, this occurred before the Torah was given, yet idolatry was still forbidden, as it is one of the Seven Noahide laws, already given to Adam and Noah. How can Moses violate this most fundamental principle of all of Judaism, yet he is the one chosen to bequeath Monotheism and faith to the world?

Even the fact that Yitro made this stipulation seems absurd. Yitro’s daughters were harassed at the well of Midian, prompting Moses to protect them and thus being invited to the home, because their father has forsaken idolatry and was being persecuted. Later on, Yitro would tell Moses: “Now I know that G-d is greater than all gods.” Why then would he want his first grandson to embrace what he rejected?

The Chidushei HaRim offers a brilliant answer to this enigmatic teaching of the sages.

The Mechilta reads:

Translated: The son you will have first should be dedicated to idolatry. Afterward, the other children will be dedicated to G-d.

But it can be read with the comma in a different spot:

The son you will have should first be dedicated to idolatry. And then afterward he will be dedicated to G-d.

Jethro wanted that Moses’ child should first be exposed to the various forms of Paganism so that he can make an informed decision when he chooses Judaism. Yitro did not want his first grandson to be an idolater. He was the one who rejected all of Paganism for the truth of Monotheism. What he did want was that his grandson should appreciate Torah like he did—by knowing the other side and then choosing the Torah on his own. Yitro was a person who came to the Truth through searching and experimentation. He did not receive Torah on a silver platter; he was a searcher and a seeker. He tried out all other alternatives first, as he told Moses “Now I know that G-d is greater than all gods,” from which the sages deduce that Yitro experimented with all the religions in the world and concluded that they were all fraudulent and only G-d was the true G-d.

Yitro wanted his grandchildren to share that epiphany! He wanted them to really appreciate Judaism, and never take it for granted.

Yitro felt that it is best for his children to be exposed to idolatry, let them make their own mistakes, and then discover the truth on their own. Only then, will they own their Yiddishkeit; it will really belong to them. You can never know anything for real if you did not taste the opposite.

Moses disagreed. He felt it was only necessary to discover truth through searching and experimenting when one is still uncertain what the truth is. However, if one already knows the truth for certain, there is no point in experimenting any further. It is a waste of time and energy and can be hazardous too.

Moses knew that the truth was that "Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad," our G-d is the One and only G-d. All the Jews would soon stand by Mt. Sinai and experience firsthand the truth of G-d and the truth of Torah. Every Jewish soul is a part of G-d and thus experiences the truth of G-d in his or her core self. Why subject your child to noxious fumes? Why throw your child into a jungle, and have them have to find their way back to the paved path? And what if he never makes out of the jungle? The wilderness is a challenging place, and you can get stuck there, particularly if you are a weak person, and which person is not weak and vulnerable?

One of the followers of Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov possessed a unique skill that was eagerly sought after by lumber merchants. He was able to assess the worth of forest trees after a cursory examination. His talent was valued highly since a lumber merchant often had to decide very quickly whether or not to purchase a forest.

This chassid was doing well, he could support his family nicely, and he had time to dedicate to prayer, Torah study, and acts of charity.

Once, a wealthy lumber merchant attempted to hire this chasid, offering him an even more handsome salary. "Where is your business located?" asked the broker.

"In a town near the forest-filled districts of Siberia."

"That town is far-removed from the Jewish community. How will I educate my children?"

"That is no problem. You may hire a teacher for them at my expense."

"As you know, I am a chasid and require a mikva to immerse in every morning."

"I will build a mikva on the premises."

"What about a minyan?"

"I have eight Jewish men working for me there. You and your children's teacher will make ten."

“But I need a Jewish environment?”

“Why? You will have your people, and you will make so much more money.”

"I would like to consult my Rebbe before making any kind of commitment. I will give you an answer in a few days."

The chasid arrived in Berdichev and requested an audience with the Rebbe. The attendant told him that the Rebbe was in the middle of judging a halachic question concerning a chicken. A woman came to Reb Levi Yitzchak with a chicken she wanted to prepare. But she found a needle inside the chicken. Now the question was if it was still kosher. According to Jewish law, if a chicken was punctured in a way that it would not survive for the year, it is deemed unkosher even if slaughtered beforehand in a kosher way. The question she had was if this chicken was kosher. The attendant said that when the Rebbe finished guiding this woman, the audience could be arranged.

The chasid waited outside. Soon, he overheard the Rebbe speaking, "What a shame, little chicken. You had it so good in your owner's coop. You were fed hearty food, tasty millet seeds, and crumbs. This lady took such good care of you. You had not a worry in the world! However, you were greedy for more, so you wandered outside in search of stray food, nibbling on anything you found. What came of your efforts? You swallowed this needle and it pierced your stomach. Now I am obligated to declare you treif - unfit to be eaten."

Listening to the Rebbe, the chasid realized that his words contained a lesson for himself as well. I no longer need to talk to the Rebbe, he told the attendant. "I already have my answer."

This was Moses’ position. Judaism was never afraid of questions and honest thinking. When you have the answers, you are not afraid of questions. Truth is never afraid of investigation and scrutiny. That is why throughout all the ages, our rabbis have addressed every conceivable question on our faith. When you are confident in your position, you can tackle every question.

But Moses’ point was, why should I send my children to pasture in strange fields, filled with needles and hazards, when I can give them the absolute truth of life? A Jewish soul is a “fragment” of G-d; it “sees” G-d, and experiences G-d intimately. 

The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad, wanted to hire a teacher to educate his son, Dovber, the future Chabad Rebbe, known as the Miteler Rebbe. He called one of his disciples into his study to discuss the matter. The Rebbe said, “You have a mitzvah and I have a mitzvah. Your mitzvah is to support your own family. My mitzvah is to teach my son. Let’s trade mitzvot. You will teach my son, and I will pay you so that you can support your family.”

The man, who was clever, responded. “Your part of the deal is clear. To support my family. But my part of the deal is far from simple. You want me to educate your child. How do I do that?”

So the Alter Rebbe said. “You begin educating a child with the letter alef, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. What is alef?” The Alter Rebbe continued melodically: the alef is a dot above, a dot below, and a diagonal line suspended in between.”

Above is a Yud—representing G-d; below is a Yud—representing a Jew. In between there is a line of awe of G-d, that connected the two.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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