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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Yitro

Parshat Yitro

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Yitro
20th of Shevat, 5780 | February 15, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Benzion Klatzko
Remembering You Are Relevant

Years ago, a certain Rabbi Green was teaching a class to his students in Israel about having an ayin tovah, a good eye, and looking at others favorably. He went on to highlight the impact and importance of seeing the good in other people, despite the first or further impressions they may give off. But then he took the students through an interesting exercise.

“Everyone please take out a piece of paper and write down the name of every boy in this class.” After this had been completed by all the students, Rabbi Green continued. “Now write down something nice about each boy next to their name.” And so they did. He has a nice smile; he is a baal chessed (kind); he davens so well. So the boys wrote on and on.

At the conclusion of the class, Rabbi Green gathered together all the pieces of paper from each of the boys and put them in his briefcase. Later that day, he headed home and wrote nicely on a new piece of paper everything each boy had written about all the other boys. Reuven thus had fifteen nice statements about himself from all fifteen other boys in the class; Shimon also had fifteen statements about himself, and so on. Rabbi Green then took the nicely collated papers and laminated them.

The following day in school, each boy was handed a new paper with all the kind and uplifting words and statements their fellow students had written about them. It was a beautiful project.

Many years later, one of the students named Ovadiah had joined the Israeli army. As a young boy in school, he stood out as sweet, charming and dignified. A real mentch, people would say.
But then, one day, Rabbi Green received a phone call. Sadly, he was informed that his previous student, Ovadiah, had been killed in combat. Heartbroken, he headed to the shiva home to lend care and comfort to Ovadiah’s parents and siblings.

The parents readily noticed Rabbi Green from years before. He had been a special and remembered teacher by Ovadiah. But Ovadiah’s parents had more to tell Rabbi Green than merely thank him for stopping by. “Come with us,” they pleaded.

The parents led Rabbi Green to Ovadiah’s room, where his uniform stood, nicely cleaned and pressed. “Look what we found in his army uniform,” they said, reaching into Ovadiah’s shirt pocket. “It’s the list that was written about him by your students years ago,” his mother said with tears in her eyes. “He took it with him into battle. Wherever he went, he was comforted by the fact that he was loved and supported by his old schoolmates. Whenever he felt low and lost and irrelevant, it was his reminder that he mattered and was relevant. Just imagine. He would look at this and think to himself, ‘Wow! Yehuda thinks I’m a true friend… Yaakov thinks I have an infectious smile… Moshe thinks I sing beautifully…’”

But that was not all.

Over the next few days, some of Ovadiah’s old classmates in fact came to pay a shiva call. And guess what? Many of them also still had, folded and stored away in their wallets, that piece of paper they were given in school years ago. It was their reminder that they were beloved and relevant. You can imagine that it brought tears to their eyes as they looked at it. It was a memento that brought close to their hearts and minds the sentiment that they meant something to their family, friends and the world. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein
Clean Your Windows and Look Inside

Mark was without question a great guy. Very affable, respectable and caring. Unfortunately, though, he struggled with a drinking problem which took its toll on him and his wife, Melissa. It was all too familiar a scene for Mark to return home late at night inebriated and topsy-turvy. Understandably so, Melissa confronted him and demanded that he seek the proper treatment and avoid any further drinking sprees. Mark nodded his head in acknowledgement and agreement.

But it didn’t last long. Mark returned home, time and again, intoxicated. Melissa now approached Mark one last time, but now she had a different message. “Mark, if this happens once more, I am going to have no other choice than forcibly take you to treatment and have you stay there. I love you dearly, but this can happen no more.” Her words resonated with Mark. He absorbed her heartfelt words, and felt different. He was inspired and motivated to, once and for all, put an end to his problem. And with that, both Mark and Melissa went to sleep.

No less than two hours later, Mark awoke, his palms sweaty and heart racing. And all so soon, disregarding his word to Melissa, he snuck out of the house to find a couple of drinks.

A few hours later, he returned home and turned his head from side to side in disbelief. “I can’t believe it! Look what I did!” Needing to now hide any evidence of his escapade, Mark figured he would grab a drink of soda, wash his face and freshen himself up. “This will never happen again!” he promised himself. And so, off went Mark to the refrigerator, grabbing himself a bottle of Coca-Cola and heading upstairs.

But, alas, amid Mark’s drunken stupor, he lost his footing as he moved up the stairs and fell. Gaining composure, he shook himself off and stood up. But he was not left unscathed. The glass bottle had cracked, sending flying shards onto the carpeted floor all over and scratching his face. Mark shuddered to think what would happen now. But then the perfect idea popped into his head. He would tell his wife that he had gotten up in the middle of the night to get a bottle of soda because he was thirsty, and on his way up the stairs, he accidently tripped and the bottle broke, causing remnants to scatter everywhere and leave a few scratches on his face. He had the perfect alibi.
From the stairs, Mark headed to the restroom, where he found a couple of band-aids and washed himself up. And with that, he tiptoed back into bed and fell fast asleep.

6:50 a.m. “Mark! Mark!” Melissa exclaimed, as she abruptly moved him around. “What happened? I told you no more drinking!” Mark, sitting himself up in bed, rubbed his eyes and yawned. “What are you talking about? Last night I went downstairs…” But before Mark could get out another word, Melissa grabbed him by the hand and led him to the bathroom.
“Uh-oh,” he said, as his heart sank and stomach dropped. He had placed the band-aids not on his face, but on the mirror.

While the message of realizing that honesty and integrity is beyond paramount is evident in this anecdote, there is something more to be gleaned. When engaging in introspection and striving to make a change in our lives, it can be tempting to look outward at others and not inward at ourselves. We are inclined to make changes to our ourselves as we appear to others and not on the inside as we are deep-down. We make the same mistake of putting the band-aid on the mirror – on the image we project and portray.

True introspection and real-lasting change, however, removes the mirror and allows us to investigate our deepest selves. We place the focus on who we are truly, deep-down and not on how others relate to us, perceive us or compare to us. We ask ourselves, “What can I can do to upgrade my life? What areas of my life do I wish I was better in?” If we choose to put the band-aid on our own, real self by changing our self-conception and reclaiming our life, we will then see genuine transformation. We will understand ourselves and the world in new ways and find that we do not need to change, control or correct other people to attain success. It is all within us ourselves.

But there is another point to remember, which can be best understood by way of the following.

It was just a day after the young couple had gotten married that they sat down to breakfast together in their new apartment. Looking around at the beautiful interior of their new home, the wife’s gaze soon noticed something strangely bizarre. Turning to her husband, she asked rather startingly, “Why did our neighbors hang up dirty laundry outside? I don’t understand; why are they using detergent that is not cleaning the clothing well?” While the wife wondered why someone would choose to do so, she nonetheless carried on with the rest of her day as if nothing had happened.

Yet the next morning, again at the breakfast table, she looked out and saw once again, her neighbor’s dirty laundry hanging up. Still perturbed, she asked her husband for an explanation. But he had nothing to offer.

This scenario carried on for considerable time. Until one morning, as the wife sat down to the table, she gasped. “Oh wow! Look, look, the laundry is clean! Who showed the neighbor how to clean the clothing properly?” The husband glanced at his wife, a small smile forming at the corners of his mouth. “Would you like to know a little secret?” The wife’s eyebrows raised in curiosity. “This morning, I woke up and cleaned the windows.” The wife grew completely silent. “What do you mean?” “It was never the clothing that was dirty; it was our windows. Now that I’ve cleaned them, you can see our neighbor’s clothing as they really are – perfectly clean.”

To put it in once sentence, how we look at others is a direct reflection of ourselves. If our outlook is filled with dirt and negativity, it tells us something about our own seeing, thinking and feeling. In order to have an honest and clear look at anything, we must first and foremost clean our own lenses. If and when we do, we will oftentimes realize that the problem lies not with others, but with ourselves. In many instances, the “dirt” we see is not a reflection of their problems and failures, but of our own. Considering this, the solution is rather straightforward. If we clean our own windows, we will see the world with greater clarity and honesty.

As with Mark and the newlywed wife, the key is to self-reflect and introspect. Above all, look how you can fix yourself on the inside. Look inward for resolving the problem, and not outward where your attention is focused on other people’s perceptions and perspectives. And secondly, whenever you endeavor on this mission, remember to clean and cleanse your heart and mind beforehand. Otherwise, everything you look at, including yourself, will look like dirty laundry.

This two-fold process for growth and self-improvement is both simple and profound. Clean your windows and look inside. They are simple key ingredients which can be sure to bear phenomenal results and leave us profoundly changed as deeper and more developed individuals.

Rabbi Label Lam
Dodging a Bullet

One of the very tempting yet elusive dreams many of us have is that of winning the lottery. “It would be so nice,” we think to ourselves, “if we could just win millions of dollars…” While of course we hear of the stories were such enormous wealth inundated its winner to the point of bankruptcy, we assure ourselves that we would not achieve the same fate.

Yet there is perhaps a more analytic and insightful reason that such wealth does not always lead to an easy future. The Orchos Tzaddikim writes that there are three reasons a person might be granted wealth from Hashem. Firstly, to punish him. Secondly, to reward him. And thirdly, to test him. The Orchos Tzaddikim continues to explain how an individual would know which category he or she falls into.

A person is being punished if the money is the cause of his undoing. In contrast, a person is being rewarded if the money is used to invest in the furtherance of Torah study, mitzvah performance and other meritorious acts. Lastly, a person is being tested if the money leaves him in an ambivalent and paralyzed state, by which he feels unable to bring himself to spend it on an indulgent lifestyle, yet simultaneously, cannot part with it to help others.

For this reason, explain the Baalei Mussar, wealth is an even greater challenge than poverty, for it presents one with testing opportunities and alluring frivolities on a constant basis. How and where the money ought to go is no simple question.
And so, although the enticement for wealth is great, we must realize that if Hashem did not grant it to us, it is because it is not in our best interest. While we may look at it as an enormous “prize,” just sometimes losing the lottery is as great as dodging a huge bullet.

Rabbi Reuven Epstein
The Price of Life

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (5:1) tells us:

With ten utterances the world was created. Could Hashem not have been created the world with one utterance? This was however done in order to exact punishment from the wicked who destroy the world created through ten utterances and to reward the righteous who uphold the world created through ten utterances.

A simple reading of this Mishna leads to an obvious difficulty. Why would the righteous and wicked be rewarded and punished for their actions based upon a world which was created through ten utterances when it really could have been created with one? It is akin to demanding that someone pay $100 for a chair because the owner bought it for $100, yet in truth it is only intrinsically worth $2.

Using an accounting concept called LCM as an analogy, the meaning of this Mishna becomes clear.

In 1998, Major League baseball players Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs were vying to break the home run record for most home runs hit in one season, previously set by Roger Maris at 61. Yet, aside from waiting for this record to be broken, fans were also waiting for something else: the opportunity to catch that home run ball and become a millionaire within minutes.

And then came September 8, 1998 and Mark McGwire and the St. Louis Cardinals faced none other than Sammy Sosa and the Chicago Cubs. Fans would not need to wait any longer, as McGwire connected with Chicago Cubs’ Steve Trachsel’s pitch, sending the ball 341 feet just over the left field wall. Out of all people to locate and pick up the ball, it was the groundskeeper, who later went on to give the ball, now worth millions, to Mark McGwire himself. (Following the home run, Sammy Sosa did no less than run in from right field and congratulate McGwire with a celebratory hug).

If you would have walked into a store the following day and purchased a baseball, how much would you have spent? A few dollars. Yet how much was that home run ball which would be inducted into the Hall of Fame worth? Millions. The former ball would be tossed around and thrown to your dog, but the latter million-dollar ball would never even be considered for such trivial play.

The accounting concept of LCM (lower of cost or market) dictates that a business records the cost of inventory at whichever cost is lower – the original cost or its current market value. The baseball may have been purchased for a few dollars, yet it now is worth millions.

The Mishna is conveying the same concept. The world we live in offers us the incredible potential to achieve the greatest of accomplishments. We can develop and build an invaluable relationship with Hashem filled with davening, teaching and learning; we can share and shower others with kindness and compassion; and we can marry and build beautiful families and communities. The world we live in can be valued as a world of “ten utterances” where we view every day as a breathtaking opportunity filled with unbelievable beauty and potential, or we can treat it as a world created with “one utterance” and devalue all the beauty which exists.

As underscored in this Mishna, Hashem whispers to us the answer. The greatest reward is to value a million-dollar ball as a million-dollar ball, and not foolishly toss it away as if it is only worth a handful of quarters. The biggest reward or punishment depends on our valuation of what we are holding in our hands. We would be wise to steer away from valuing life at the “lower cost,” and instead striving to actualize and harness the unlimited potential it offers by maximizing its full opportunity and value. And when that is done, nothing short of a beautiful life results.

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