OK, so last week we discussed the theme of taking oneself outside the natural environment. This week’s sedra ironically, conveniently, & hashgachically brings up the inversely complementary theme of someone coming from the outside into our Jewish People environment. Let’s try and understand parts…
Right, Yisro had 7 names, 2 of which (Yeser and Yisro) are re addition [see Rashi on 1st pasuk]. By nature, addition is when you combine 1 substance with another substance which is outside of itself. So too, Yisro is probably the most famous ‘outsider’ that came into the Jewish people; he changed the judicial system, was Moshe’s father-in-law, and Moshe and his family came out to greet him upon his arrival [18;7& Rashi] (and probably started off the’Jewish lawyer’ stereotype!). It seems that he is also the first person to use the phrase Baruch HaShem [18;10]. And all from an oustider?!?! What’s going on?
Often it specifically takes an ‘outsider’ to objectively assess a situation which the people involved in might not be able to realise. We say in tehillim and in hallel ‘all the nations will praise HaShem for the kindness He has done to us (the Jews)’ [tehillim 117]. Asks the Brisker Rav; why are the non-jews praising for kindness done to US and not either kindness done to them, or us praising HaShem for the kindness He does for us? He answers that often the non-Jews plotted against the Jews all kinds of terrible ideas, and HaShem prevented these plans from coming to fruition. These non-Jews could realise HaShem’s kindness to us, but we – who didn’t even know there was a plot, let alone that it was foiled – don’t realise what was done to be able to thank HaShem for it. This can be the power of an outsider; to instil a greater appreciation of what we already have but didn’t fully realise. [This is also one facet of the concept of a King in Judaism, being above the law as opposed to part of law; to create an objective viewpoint].
The gemarra (I think in Sanhedrin) says “who are the Kings? the rabbis” [‘man malkei rabonnon’]. This an be explained via something Rav Dessler says: If one was asked ‘can one play chess on shabbes,’ a normal person’s answer would probably be affected by how much they liked chess; someone who likes chess is more likely to lean to allow playing it on shabbes, and one who hates chess is more likely to say it’s forbidden or say ‘better not, just in case.’ Obviously, this cannot be the way to do things. So how do we overcome this subjectivity? By delving into Torah and listening to what HaShem says, thus gaining the necessary objectivity. And just like a King is above the law (he doesn’t give witness, etc) so too are the people who tend to have most objectivity the Rabbis. ‘Man malkei, rabbonon’ [This point does not in any means negate the importance of our personal involvement in doing mitzvos and personal great potential] [One last point is that though ‘outsiders’ can create that objective viewpoint necessary to re-asses and re-appreciate our situation, if they are not genuine then they can cause problems for us; other nations that came out of Egypt with us complained re; meat in desert [bamidbar 11;4], for example, and were at the forefront of the sin of the golden calf.]