The Sedra reports the debate that preceded the departure of Yisro from the camp of the Israelites In the desert. Moshe implores Yisro to stay arguing that his contribution to the Jewish people is essential and one which only he can perform , Chpt.10 Vs. 31, ” And he said don’t now leave us, for you know our camping in the desert and you will be to us as eyes .” Rashi explains this to mean that “Everything which is hidden from us will be apparent to you ”
There is a Talmudic rule, ” Klal gerim lo irkrei Klal ” converts are a distinct and separate group within the Jewish people. Every Jew is unique and has a unique contribution to make. A Jew’s uniqueness however, is created from his experience as a Jew. A convert, coming from a different experience has a separate facet to his perspective, he has seen the world differently.
The Gemora’s famous Rabbi, Raish Lokesh, was before embracing a religious life,the leader of a gang of bandits. The Talmud teaches that the place which a Baal Teshuva stands is greater than the position occupied by someone who never committed any crime. One of my teachers, Rabbi Alter Halpern Shlita, explained this as referring to the particular area which caused the Returnee to leave Judaism in the first place. Raish Lokesh’s Gezeiros ( Rabbinic Laws ) against theft would be stricter than anyone else. He knows that theft can be pleasurable and bring satisfaction, it used to do so for him. Another Rabbi will view the Yetzer Ha Ra ( attraction ) for theft in the abstract and rule accordingly.
When the Torah rules on matters of Idolatry and seems to be over strict, Yisro who had been the high priest to all of the Idolatrous religions of the time can explain… ” No, you don’t understand, what the Torah is telling you is this….”
Rabbeinu Bechaya explains Yisro’s functioning as eyes in a different and amazing way. ” Yisro could be their eyes and lead them on their journeys ! It is true that they had a miraculous cloud to direct and lead them. But not every one would be able or willing to follow a miracle.For some they needed a leader of flesh and blood. ”
In the Sedra of Nasau we read about the Nozir, someone who volunteers to take an extremely rigorous religious regime upon themselves. At the end of the period of being a Nozir ,even if he has successfully observed all the Nozir Laws he still as to bring a sin offering. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein says the reason was because the Nozir expressed and displayed such an intense religious level, he would by definition be unable to affect and influence others to embrace Torah.
I once taught in a Jewish school where most of the children came from not so religious homes. One of the oldest teachers approached me to ask if I could help him with his lessons. I once worked as an artist and I used art as part of my teaching. I play several musical instruments and incorporated them into the lessons. This had made my classes popular and this other teacher asked if I would teach him to play the guitar so that he too could use the same techniques. I readily agreed and one Sunday my friend appeared with a newly bought guitar. There are really only three chords to master to be able to sing almost any Jewish song so I assured him that his apprenticeship would not last long. As this fellow was over fifty, his fingers weren’t as willing to bend to the appropriate positions as mine had been when I started playing as a thirteen year old. He tried his best but it truly was hard going. After half an hour of trying his best and struggling with frustration I decided to try a bit of encouragemen t. It was meant well but I made a terrible educational blunder. I said ” Don’t get discouraged…soon you’ll be doing this ” and then launched into a bit of guitar virtuosity with fingers flying to and fro with confidence and certainty. My friend looked at me and his face fell. He never came back. Had I strummed ” Ba ba black sheep ” he would have returned for a second lesson. Yisro offered hope to those who felt they could never reach the highest levels. Anyone looking at Yisro would say….” No matter how little I think I know or how lowly I feel my spiritual level to be….he started lower! If he could do it, so can I .” If he would lead them after the miraculous cloud then they could follow. He could be their eyes.
Moshe’s message to Yisro is that Jews need stages to pass through and that change must be a gradual process. Every Jew needs someone on a higher sprirtual level to act as a role model. The role model must be one which offers encouragement and hope.
Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein has thrilled audiences from Jerusalem to Manchester and Johannesburg to Los Angeles. There are two reasons for his success. One is a mastery of sources in Jewish philosophy and his understanding of contemporary events. The other is his unique delivery…If you have the opportunity to benefit from his wisdom…do not miss it!Rabbi Professor Dovid Gottlieb