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PARASHAT YITRO

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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“When the intellect shines in its full splendor, there is no need for any special guidance of laws and judgments. Absolute goodness follows the light of the intellect, and all the obstacles of life are straightened out by themselves.”

Rabbi Dov BegonRosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “I Shall Restore Your Judges as at First, and Your Counselors as at the Beginning”


Yitro, Moses’s father-in-law, advised Moses on who should be the leaders and judges of Israel, telling him to appoint “capable, G-d-fearing men, men of truth, who hate injustice” (Exodus 18:21). Who are these “men of truth”? Rashi comments, “These are the men who are trustworthy and reliable. Their being so makes people listen to them. If someone does not keep his word, the people will not heed him.” Isaiah, as well, seeing the moral decline and the corruption in his generation, attributed the problem to the leaders and judges, saying, “Your princes are rebellious, the companions of thieves. Every one of them loves bribes and seeks rewards” (Isaiah 1:23).

Yet at the same time, he consoles the nation, telling them that this leadership will pass on out of the world and in its place will come a leadership of capable, G-d-fearing men, men of truth, who hate injustice: “I shall restore Your judges as at first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return of her with righteousness” (Isaiah 1:26-27).

Today, we bear witness to the moral decline and corruption being uncovered among some of our government leaders, as well as in the governmental infrastructure and the courts. To borrow a phrase from Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the government has turned into “one big insurance company… devoid of giant men of spirit. Instead, it is full of cowardly, do-nothing politicos, wallowing in the morass of small ideas in both the spiritual and material plane.” (Orot 114). “The material tranquility that will come to part of the nation who will think that they have already arrived at their full destination will diminish their spirituality… the longing for lofty, holy ideals will cease, leading to a waning of the spirit.”

Yet let us not despair. This will be a descent for the sake of an ascent, as Rav Kook writes further down: “Ultimately a storm will result, and there will be a revolution. It will then be clearly seen that Israel’s strength lies in the eternally holy, in the light of G-d and His Torah, in the longing for the spiritual light, which is the absolute valor that directs all worlds and all their forces.” (Orot 84) Through us will be fulfilled the words: “You show faithfulness to Jacob, mercy to Abraham, as You swore to our fathers from the days of old” (Micha 7:20) Looking forward to complete salvation,

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Shlomo AvinerChief Rabbi of Beit El
“Don’t fill the land with murderers”


Should we free terrorists “without blood on their hands” in exchange for our beloved P.O.W.’s? Our sages said, “We don’t redeem captives for more than they are worth, to prevent mishaps” (Gittin 45a).

What mishaps could there be? The Talmud provides two explanations. 1) To save the public from having too great a financial burden; and, 2) So that the kidnappers do not kidnap more people.

Seemingly, these two explanations both require a clarification. 1. Because of the public’s money, we shouldn’t save someone who is suffering so much?! 2. Out of fear of a future, hypothetical danger, we should ignore a real, present danger?

Yet the same answer applies to both questions: According to the Torah, we do indeed redeem those presently captive for all the money in the world, and right now we do not worry about the future. Yet the Rabbis created an enactment to prevent mishaps.

Our sages take into account both the other serious needs of the public, as well as the future. They have a broad perspective in time and space. It is not always possible to solve all the problems together, and sometimes one must decide between them, as the “law of limited resources” teaches. Therefore, our sages decided in our case, not in favor of the individual but in favor of “the general welfare”.

Obviously, in our case the issue is not money but the danger of terrorists murdering once more. After all, the difference between “a terrorist with blood on his hands” and “a terrorist without blood on his hands” is arbitrary. That terrorist has no blood on his hands not because he is a gentle soul or because he has repented, but because our security forces, the Army, Police and GSS stopped him. Thank G-d they’ve succeeded in preventing most of the terror attacks, but unfortunately not all of them. Therefore, here as well there is a “burden on the public” in that the land is filling up with murderers. Likewise, there is a danger that they will kidnap more Jews in order to be able to free all of their terrorists.

Will the Halachah change since our P.O.W.s are in danger of their lives? When they are in mortal danger, do we redeem them for more than they are worth? The halachic authorities debated this point and they linked it to both reasons. If the reason is “the burden on the public”, then there is room for saying that danger to life overrides the public burden. Yet if the reason is that they might kidnap more and more, then quite the contrary, we mustn’t surrender and endanger many people’s lives to save the life of one individual (see Pit’chei Teshuva, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 292, and Maharam Lublin).

Yet in our case the two reasons lead to the same result. After all, if we surrender to their demands, they will go on kidnapping others and endangering them in order to receive what they want, and there will be even more of an immediate burden on the public because the Land will be filled with murderers.

And don’t say: We rely on the army, police and GSS to thwart every attempted terror attack by terrorists “without blood on their hands” who crave to have blood on their hands. It is true that the security forces risk their lives and work with great efficiency, yet besides the fact that they, too, sometimes are killed for this, they do not always succeed in preventing every attack.

Experience has shown that most of the freed terrorists return to the cycle of terror. Here is a short list from recent years of terror attacks committed by terrorists “without blood on their hands” who once freed quickly made sure to acquire some blood on their hands, in chronological order:

The shooting attack involving a terrorist penetrating the “Africa” Army Outpost. 4 soldiers killed.
The Sea-Food-Market Attack. 3 killed.
The shooting attack at the Atzmona Pre-military yeshiva. 7 boys killed.
The Netanya “Park” Hotel. 29 killed, 155 wounded.
The bus that blew up at Megido Junction. 17 killed, 42 wounded.
The suicide attack at Um al-Faham Junction, one policeman killed.
The jeep that blew up by a bus at Karkur Junction. 14 killed, 42 wounded.
The shooting attack at Kiryat Arba in which two were killed.
The suicide attack at Tzerifin. 8 soldiers killed.
The suicide attack by the Hillel Cafe in Jerusalem. 7 killed and many wounded.
The shooting attack at Negohot in the Southern Hebron Hills. 2 killed.
The suicide attack at the Kapit Cafe in Jerusalem. 11 killed, 30 wounded.

Total: 122 killed and hundreds wounded due to the freeing of terrorists. We can therefore understand why the Terror Victims organizations oppose the freeing of captives. They have experienced it themselves. Yet the truth must be told, that the entire law of redeeming captives was stated under conditions of exile. If, however, we have an army, the law would be different. When Lot was captured, Abraham did not enter negotiations. Rather, he went forth into battle against the four kings and he freed Lot (Genesis 14).

When the King of Arad, who dwelled in the Negev, took prisoners from the Israelites, namely a single female slave (Rashi), Moses went forth against him in battle in order to free that woman slave (Numbers 21:1-3). When Amalek took women prisoner at Tziklag, King David waged war against Amalek to free them (I Samuel 36).

Such are the rules of war: One for all and all for one. True, that is not a Talmudic expression, but it is so. Without this there is no war, no army and no country. Therefore, let us not give in to pressure. Let us adopt strength and valor, and by such means we will defend the lives of our people as well.


Rabbi Yaakov FilberGuest Lecturer at Machon Meir
“Jethro vs. Avraham”


Abraham, and Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, had similar life patterns. Both were born in pagan environments and both ultimately recognized the Creator of the Universe. Even so, there was a difference between the conclusions reached by each. As soon as Abraham recognized his Creator, he could not remain apathetic regarding the pagan world. Instead, he smashed the idols and called upon all of mankind to believe in the G-d of the Universe.

With Jethro, by contrast, even after he recognized G-d’s existence, he did not entirely deny idolatry. As the Midrash teaches (Shemot Rabbah 1:32): “Jethro was a priest of idolatry. He saw that there was no substance to it and he had penitent thoughts. He summoned the townspeople and said to them, ‘Until now I have served you. Now I am old. Pick another priest for yourselves.’ He then proceeded to remove all of his idolatry and gave them everything.”

From Jethro’s utterance, “Now I know that the L-rd is the greatest of all deities” (Exodus 18:11), the Rabbis concluded in the Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 2:19), “Jethro believed that other deities existed.” Jethro only said that G-d was the greatest of them. Therefore, in the Mechilta, Jethro was viewed as a lesser figure than others: “Na’aman’s message was more forceful than Jethro’s, as it says (II Kings 5:15), ‘Now I know that there is no deity in the whole world except in Israel.” Moreover, Rahab the harlot said (Joshua 2:11), ‘The L-rd your G-d is G-d in heaven above and on the earth below.’”

When Jethro heard “all that G-d had done to Pharaoh and Egypt for Israel’s sake” (Exodus 18:8), his joy was not complete. The next verse states, “Jethro rejoiced [vayichad] for all the goodness that the L-rd had done to Israel, rescuing them from Egypt’s power,” yet Rashi comments, “‘Vayichad’: ‘His flesh became full of prickles [chidudin; i.e., his flesh crept with horror].’” Why was Jethro’s faith less complete than Abraham’s?

The difference between the two is that Abraham’s acknowledging his Creator came via positive channels, whereas Jethro’s came via negative channels. Abraham began searching for G-d already from the age of three, and he reached complete faith at age forty. According to the Zohar (Part I, page 86), Abraham found G-d by pondering nature: “When he saw the sun rise in the morning from the east, he thought it was G-d. He said, ‘Here is the King who created me,’ and he prayed to him that whole day. In the evening, when he saw the sun set and the moon shine, he said, ‘This moon surely is the Ruler’… In the morning he saw that the darkness had lifted and the eastern sky was lit up. He said, ‘Surely, all of these have a king over them, a ruler who directs them.’ When G-d saw how Abraham yearned for Him, He revealed Himself to him and spoke to him.”

According to Rambam (Hilchot Avodah Zarah 1:3), Abraham arrived at his faith through philosophical analysis. Rambam writes: “As soon as he was weaned, he began his philosophical meanderings, even as a young boy. Day and night he pondered. He wondered how it was possible for the universe to function constantly without someone directing and orchestrating it. Surely it could not direct itself… His mind entertained different possibilities until he arrived at the truth. He understood correctly what the whole world misunderstood… And when he was forty, he recognized his Creator.” Abraham arrived at his faith through a positive process of reflection and analysis: “Abraham’s father did not teach him, neither did he have a rabbinic master. From where did he learn the Torah? G-d prepared his two kidneys and they would teach him Torah and wisdom all night long. Rabbi Levi said, ‘He learned Torah from himself.’” (Bereshit Rabbah, Ibid.).

Jethro, by contrast, came to prefer G-d through personal experimentation, after being disappointed by all forms of paganism, as it says, “Now I know that the L-rd is the greatest of all deities” (Exodus 18:11). Rashi comments: “This teaches that Jethro was familiar with every form of idolatry on earth. There wasn’t one idolatry that he hadn’t worshipped.” Disappointment does not produce certainty. Therefore, Jethro did not entirely reject the other gods. He only saw the G-d of Israel as the best of them all. Perhaps it was due to this indecision that he chose not to remain in the Israelite camp, but to return home. He had not entirely internalized the worthlessness of the nations’ gods. Nor had he recognized the absolute Oneness of the Creator of the Universe. By contrast, Abraham’s devotion to G-d was unconditional.

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