Even Shlomo - Parshat Yitro
The Secret of Life
Everybody has something wrong with them. The secret of life is to know what is wrong with me and not to cover up. One thing must be clear - if nothing is wrong with me I wouldn’t be born. I’m here to fix something . Until I am completely aware of what’s wrong with me, I’m wasting my time. It is possible to know what’s wrong with me and still not do it, but this is already okay. At least then - I’m already on the way.
So the thing is like this. A person who believes everything is so desperate to find out what’s wrong with him. He thinks maybe this person can fix me, maybe this person can fix me. Eventually he will be okay, because he will find a way of fixing himself. At the end, he will know there is one G-d. But what will happens to the person who thinks that everything is a joke when you will show him what’s wrong with him? He will laugh in your face. The more you show him, the more he will laugh. When do people really laugh? When you really touch them. If it doesn’t touch them - they will laugh a little bit, but they have to laugh it off because G-d forbid it will enter their heart. They are so afraid, so they have to put up the biggest wall in the world.
The saddest thing in the world is that we all have a little bit of this. We all have a bit of this non-believing, this making a joke of it. Sometimes someone comes up to us and tells us really true words, but it is too awesome to be true, so we have to laugh. This is the most evil thing in the world. The evil is not that dark place inside me which I have to fix, it’s the non-believing when someone talks to me and tells me ‘listen brother, this is wrong with you’.
We all know, deep deep down in the depth of our neshamas that there is something wrong with me and I’m afraid to tell anybody. We are always living in a certain fear. What are we afraid of? We are afraid that maybe someone will really discover what is wrong with us. I can’t tell my best friend because to have a good friend to be on that level that I should tell them what’s wrong with me and not be afraid that this person will stop being my friend is maybe like the friendship between David and Jonathan which was the highest in the world.
Reb Elimelech says a friend is somebody who you can tell what is really wrong with you and they still love you the most, and even more so. What could be is that we are even afraid to find out if we have such a friend, so we hide.
You see what it is, Yisro can be fixed because he always searching. He might be serving idols, but he is not laughing life off. He wants to fix his own soul.
Those That Change, Those That Don’t
He heard of the splitting of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek (Rashi on Sh'mos 18:1)
There are people in the world who never change. You can show them they are wrong but they just don’t care. There are those who can see the greatest tragedy in the world and not become one ounce deeper. G-d can also show them the greatest joy in the world, and nothing about their essence is touched or changed. Then there are people, whatever happens to them touches them so deep, they become different people. I don’t mean that you can’t recognize them, but something happened to them on the inside.
Rashi says that after Yisro heard of the crossing of the Red Sea and about the war with Amalek, he decided he has to come and be with his son-in-law Moshe. What was it that touched him so deep?
Yisro heard that there are two kinds of people in the world. Do you know why the waters of the Red Sea changed for us Jewish people? When the water saw that a whole nation is changing their heart and their souls before G-d every second, the water said, "I am changing with you – what do you need me to be right now?"
Then Yisro heard about Amalek. Amalek always hated us Jewish people. Amalek was the one who gave Pharaoh the idea to make slaves out of the Jews. After all the miracles are happening to the Jews, and you see there is one G-d, Amalek doesn’t change one bit.
So therefore, Yisro realized, “I got to get close to the people who always change, to the people who are actually touched by what G-d is doing in the world.”
There are those who didn’t change one bit after the horrors of six million, there are those who see that G-d gave us back the Holy Land and still haven’t changed one bit. Then there are people that whatever happens from G-d mamesh reaches them. They change, they wake up and become deeper. Our young people today are ready to change before G-d every second. As soon as they see a little sign from above, they are willing to do anything for G-d.
Now let’s go one step deeper. Everyone is asking, why does the parashah of the Ten Commandments begin with the story of Yisro? Open your hearts wide. When we go back to the first family in the Torah, we saw the only two brothers who existed in the world, and they could not get it together. In a certain deep way, G-d, so to speak, could not come down to Mount Sinai before they made peace with each other. So this parashah begins saying that Cain and Abel made peace.
According to our kabbalists, Yisro was a reincarnation of the soul of Cain and Moshe was the soul of Abel (Sha’ar Hagilgulim, Hakdama 36). Now can you imagine what it took out of Yisro to leave behind all that he left and join Am Yisrael? He was extremely established, he was the priest of the pagan world! He was like the Pope, and he is leaving everything behind him and coming to Moshe!
Now how did Moshe reach beyond himself? Yisro is a Jew for one day, and here he comes and is giving Moshe advice how to run the show? It’s the biggest chutzpah in the world! Moshe could have said to him, “Let’s face it, you are a pagan. Do you know who I am? I'm talking to G-d all the time. You're a Jew for just one day! Who are you to tell me anything?” Can you imagine how much Moshe reached beyond himself? Takes a lot of ‘beyond yourself" to take advice from somebody else, all the more so to take advice from someone who has just stopped being an idol worshipper.
So the beginning of the parashah is that both Yisro and Moshe are reaching beyond themselves.
Now what was the duel between Cain and Abel really all about? Abel was bringing sacrifices that G-d accepted, which means that Abel really knew how to serve G-d. So, Cain was really angry – he was asking his brother Abel, “You saw that I also wanted to do something for G-d, but I didn’t know how to do it. How do you walk away without teaching me?” Now what was wrong with Cain? He should have said, “Master of the World, I really don’t know how to do it, but I’m so glad I have a brother who knows how to.” If Cain really wants to serve G-d, he should have said, “G-d, I’m so glad I have a brother who really knows how to do it.” And there is something wrong with Abel. It was Cain’s idea to bring a sacrifice, not Abel’s. So why didn’t you thank Cain for the idea? Why didn’t you acknowledge that Cain knows something that you didn’t know?
Now listen to this unbelievable fixing. The fixing is that Yisro, who is the gilgul of Cain, comes to Moshe, who is the gilgul of Abel, and is begging him to teach him. The next day, Yisro comes to Moshe and says, "You are doing the whole judging thing wrong. I’ll teach you how to do it right."
So you see what it is, these two souls, these two brothers, finally reached beyond themselves, and when this happens only then do we taste what living with G-d’s word is all about, what living with the Torah is all about.
Every slave wants to be free, every poor man wants to be rich. But the question is, how much does it mean to you? We were slaves and we became free, but that is not when we changed. Do you know when we changed? When we stood by the Red Sea.
Do you know what it means that man is created in G-d’s image? Whatever we are doing, nature is doing. Why do you think the water suddenly changed to dry land? Because we changed. When we came out of Egypt, we thought it was beautiful to be free. We stood by the Red Sea. There was no way of getting away from the Egyptians. We said, "Ribbono shel Olam, we would do anything for this, anything in the world."
I want you to know, sweetest friends, do you think the water suddenly became dry land? The water stayed water, but do you know what the water said? Ribbono shel Olam, in order to save people, I’m ready to become dry land. For somebody else… to do somebody a favor, I would do anything in the world. But again, you don’t have to change, on the contrary. You can do it the way you are, the question is how much are you ready?
Listen to this. Yisro was told that we crossed the Red Sea and Amalek attacked us. Do you know what he heard? Can you imagine how much he has to change, from the top pagan man to suddenly become a Jew? Can you imagine how much he was ready to change? I’m sure he was so afraid, nobody wants to suddenly be somebody else. But he heard of the crossing of the Red Sea. He heard that when you really change, you are still the same. The great miracle is, whenever it means so much to you, that you want to change, in the last second G-d says, “You don’t need to change, do it the way you are,” because obviously G-d created you into something, you're not somebody else. So Yisro heard that in order to be a servant of G-d you have to be ready to change, but when you are really a servant of G-d it’s the same.
Then Yisro heard of Amalek. Amalek comes to you and says to you, “You will never change, I know you too well. You mean to tell me that yesterday you didn’t keep Shabbos, today you will keep Shabbos? You do something you didn’t all your life? Amalek comes and cools you off. "Don’t kid yourself, you will never be able to do it." Amalek says, "Yes, one time in history there was crossing of the Red Sea. One time in your life you had a little Jewish attack and you changed, but face it. Do you think you will do it all the time? You are crazy. What is the greatest evil in the world? The greatest evil is when someone comes and tells you, "You won't make it anyway, forget it. Even if you do it once, it doesn’t mean you will do it twice." Evil comes to you and says to do something wrong, that’s not too terrible yet. Okay, I’m a human being, I do something wrong; tomorrow I will do something good. Reb Nachman says to take away someone’s self-confidence is murder, mamesh murder.
I was once invited to somebody’s house, there was a girl of twelve who came home with a report card. She was so happy, it was all A’s. Leave it up to her yenta mother to mamesh damage her. Her mother says to her, “Don’t let it go to your head. You think because you have all A’s this one time, you will have it again?” She can have a sheitel from here to heaven, but she has not one ounce of Yiddishkeit.
The Ishbitzer says something awesome.
How much did it take out of Yisro to stop being the greatest personality in the field of idol worship and suddenly become a “pashut Yeed,” a simple Jew? He had to turn himself over from one corner in his heart to the other.
It is heartbreakingly sad when some of us Yiddelach think that since we were born Jewish, therefore we are Jewish. You might be a Jew, but to hear G-d’s voice is something else. To be on Mount Sinai you have to turn yourself over from one corner of the world to the other.