Parshat Yisro-Dania Halperin

Posted on February 3, 2015

download (1)This week’s Parsha begins with the famous encounter between Moshe and his father-in-law Yisro. When Yisro arrives at the camp, Moshe greets him with a low bow and kisses, both signs of great respect. After observing stressful and selfless way Moshe advises the people, Yisro decides to help out by suggesting a system of judges, to lighten Moshe’s heavy burden. The new system is successful and gives Moshe the ability to focus on his own spiritual growth once again.
Soon after this encounter, the Parsha takes a different turn and begins talking about Bnei Israel entering the desert and the wilderness. In that wilderness, they prepare themselves for Matan Torah. Right before Hashem begins to State the 10 commandments, He says:
“If you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you will be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
The earth and all its inhabitants are God’s, but Torah says that we are extra special to Hashem. If we live in covenant with God, then we are God’s precious possession or treasure. We are, in the words of the pasuk, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
How does this relate to the story of Yisro and Moshe with which the Parsha began?
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, interprets this to mean that our nation has two main missions.
1. The phrase nation of priests refers to our goal to strengthen the entire world. As a nation and Hashem’s chosen people, it’s our job to act in a way which will help everyone to fulfill their purpose and live up to their full potential. It’s our job to teach the world God’s ways.
2. The Torah also tells us that we are also a holy nation. Rav Kook views this as the flipside of a coin: on the one hand we are meant to teach the whole world how to be righteous, and on the other hand we are meant to focus inwardly, to live out holiness in our own lives. As a holy nation, we are not just responsible for the growth of everyone else but we are also equally responsible for our own spiritual growth.
It’s made clear that the earth is God’s and that our people have a special role to play in God’s world. Rav Kook explains that our nation’s task is both outward-facing and inward-facing. As a “nation of priests,” we’re obligated to tend to the entire world. As a “holy nation,” we’re obligated to tend to our own selves.
These two seemingly contradicting tasks need to be kept at an ideal equilibrium in order to bring harmony to God’s world. If we only tend to our own selves, we’re falling down on the job of caring for all creation; but if we don’t tend to our own selves, we can’t heal the world.
This point is what Yisro taught Moshe when he told him to find righteous men who could serve as judges. Moshe was a selfless person. But when he tried to deal with every single issue himself he was unable to focus on his own spiritual growth. Once he appointed judges, he was able to tend to his own spiritual needs, which in turn allowed him to continue tending to the nation.
Yisro was outsider, who was not part of our covenant with God, yet he was able to provide his own form of spiritual wisdom which Moshe really needed. Yisro taught Moshe that it’s ok to need help and that everyone needs support to help others. Moshe felt like he had to carry the burden of every Jew, so much so that he wasn’t able to focus on himself as much as he needed to. Yisro was able to restore the equilibrium that was missing between Moshe and his relationship with Bnei Israel. It was only when that balance was restored that Matan Torah could take place because everyone finally understood that tending the needs of the world and tending to the needs of oneself, are equally important. Our task as a nation is to keep that balance and have that drive to improve ourselves spiritually just as much as we want to improve the world spiritually. Only then will we truly be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.