1.

The introductory pasuk to Parshat Yitro states “Vayishma Yitro Kohein Midyan et kol asher Elokim asah l’Moshe u’leYisrael amo ki hotzi Hashem et Yisrael miMitzraim” — “Yitro, the minister of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe heard all that Hashem did to Moshe and Israel His people — that Hashem took Israel out of Egypt.”

Since the words “that Hashem took Israel out of Egypt” receives separate mention at the end of the pasuk, obviously, the statement “Yitro heard all that Hashem did to Moshe and to Israel” must refer to something else, Thus, Rashi asks “Mah shemu’ah shama uba?” — “What report did he hear” (besides the exodus) [that had such a great effect on him and motivated him] to come?” Rashi answers, “He heard about Kriat Yam Suf— the dividing of the Sea of Reeds — and the war with Amalek.”

The splitting of the sea was an indescribable miracle which defied all the laws of nature. It was witnessed by the entire world. The amazing strength of Hashem caused the nations of the world to tremble and be confounded (Ibid. 15:14-16).

Amalek was the most powerful nation of his time. Everyone would have expected that they could devour the Jewish nation with ease. Nevertheless, he was handily defeated by of the Jewish warriors.

Each of these events is unusually impressive. The world gasped in fear and all recognized Hashem’s supernatural power. Yitro went a step further: he abandoned his pagan deities and he decided to embrace Judaism.

Now, these two occurrences were each of great magnitude in its own right. However, a difficulty that begs clarification is that it seems that Yitro was moved only because of the two events that took place. Why wouldn’t one occurrence alone be a sufficient reason for him to come?

My dear Bar Mitzvah, I would like to share with you a chassidic vort — thought — I once heard in explanation of this Rashi, which will also explain why Rashi mentions these two particular episodes.

Yitro described his motivation to convert to Judaism as follows: “Now I know that Hashem is the greatest of all gods, for in the very matter in which [the Egyptians] had conspired against them” (18:11). Yitro exclaimed that the proof of Hashem’s omnipotence was not only that he punished the Egyptians, but that He had done to them what they had conspired to do to the Jews. Pharoah ordered the drowning of all male babies and Egypt’s final downfall had been through drowning in the sea — measure for measure.

Rashi’s question “Ma shemu’ah shama” — “What news did Yitro hear?” is not merely mah shemu’ah — what did he hear? but rather more profound. Rashi’s question is “what did he hear uba — “that convinced him to come?” Why did he need to inconvenience himself? Could he not have embraced Judaism while remaining home and celebrating the Jewish people’s emancipation from Egyptian bondage in the confines of his luxurious mansion in Midyan?

To this question Rashi answers that two episodes he witnessed convinced him that uba — he had to come — personally to Moshe and not just be a Yid at home. Had it not been for these two occurrences, he would have embraced Judaism and remained in his home, but these incidents compelled him otherwise — to come to Moshe.

At the sea the Jews witnessed one of the greatest revelations of G‑dliness. So clear was the manifestation that every Jew, even the youngest, could literally point with his finger and say “this is my G‑d.”

Soon after experiencing this exalted overwhelming revelation, the Jews arrived at Rephidim and were attacked by Amalek. According to the Midrash, the word Rephidim alludes that “Rafu yedeihem min haTorah” — “They loosened their grip on the Torah.” As long as they were diligent in their Torah study, Amalek had no dominion over them, but as soon as their attachment to Torah became weakened, they were in danger of Amalek. They stooped so low as to test and to contend with Hashem, saying “Hayesh Hashem b’kirbeinu” — “Is Hashem among us or not” (17:7).

Observing this dichotomy and fluctuation, how people who were earlier on such a high level could fall so low, Yitro concluded, “If I remain home and do all my Judaism on my own, I am exposing myself to a dangerous challenge. I must not only be a true Torah observant Jew but also have a Rebbe.” Hence, when he heard of the phenomena that took place and the dramatic extremes that can occur in the same person, he decided it is incumbent uba — he had to come — in order to be attached and acquire for himself the great Rebbe, Moshe Rabbeinu. With Moshe’s guidance and mentoring, Yitro’s Torah observance would always be proper.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, in the Rebbe’s letter to you he wishes you to be a Chassid, yirei Shamayim — G‑d fearing Jew — and a lamdan — Torah scholar. A Chassid is someone with a connection to a Rebbe. Throughout your life may you be mekushar — attached — to the Rebbe and follow his guidance and instructions. Thus, you will always be on the right path in your Torah observance and enjoy a blissful life not only beruchniyot — spiritually — but also begashmiyot — materially.


2.

When the Torah used the phase Vayedabeir…leimor — “And He spoke… to say,” the usual intention is that the person being addressed should repeat what he is being told to a third party. For example, when G‑d instructs Moshe regarding a particular mitzvah, the Torah states that “G‑d spoke to Moshe, to say,” meaning that Moshe should relay the command to Bnei Yisrael.

In light of that, the verse “And G‑d spoke all these words, to say,” that preceded the Aseret Hadibrot — the Ten Commandments — demands explanation. Was not the entire nation of B’nei Yisrael present when G‑d spoke the Aseret Hadibrot? In fact, the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 28:6) teaches that even the souls of all Jewish people who would live in future generations were present at Sinai. If everyone to whom the Ten Commandments were directed was present at the time that G‑d stated them, then to whom must the Ten Commandments be repeated?

The Maggid of Mezeritch (Rabbi Dov Ber ?-1772 — successor to the Baal Shem Tov) offers a homiletic answer to this question. He explains that the word “leimor” — “to say” — used here alludes to the Asarah Ma’amarot, the ten “statements,” with which G‑d created the world, (e.g., “And G‑d said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” [Bereishit 1:3], “And G‑d said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation” (ibid. 1:11 etc.’ see Avot 5:1). Accordingly, the pasukVayedabeir…leimor” that precedes the Aseret Hadibrot is to be understood as an instruction, that we must draw “vayedaber” — the Torah contained in the Aseret Hadibrot — into “leimor,” the Asarah Maamarot — the world that G‑d created with ten statements.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, in Likkutei Sichot (vol. 1, pp. 148-149), the Rebbe writes that practically speaking, this explanation from the Maggid teaches us that we must not compartmentalize our lives, separating the Torah aspects of our lives from the mundane aspects of our lives. Our interactions with the “Asarah Maamarot,” our dealings with the material world, whether business or pleasure, must be permeated with a Torah attitude and framed by a Torah lifestyle. Our mundane activities must be guided not by the outlook and attitude of the secular world, but by an outlook that reflects our attachment to the Aseret Hadibrot, the eternal Torah.

Hopefully, this is the way you will conduct yourself throughout your lifetime and, thus, be a source of nachas to your family and Klal Yisrael.


3.

The third of the Ten Commandments is the prohibition of vain oaths. In simple terms, the pasuk implies that it is forbidden to cite Hashem’s name when making a vain or false oath.

However, the Gemara (Shavu’ot 39a) says the entire world trembled when Hashem said, “You shall not take the Name of G‑d, your G‑d, in vain.” What message was the Torah conveying that caused the entire world to tremble?

Going through the writings of my father Harav Hagaon Shmuel Pesach z”l Bogomilsky, I found a beautiful explanation that I would like to share with you, my dear Bar Mitzvah, and all the assembled here.

A story is told of a group of brothers who came to America and went into business together. A few years after arriving, they arranged for their parents to emigrate. The father was a pious, G‑d fearing Jew, with a beard, peiyot, and Chassidic garb. After a short time, the father shaved off his beard and peiyot, and traded his Chassidic garb for modern attire. Puzzled by their father’s behavior, they consulted his Rabbi.

When the Rabbi asked the father why he changed so drastically, he told him the following, “My sons have a large meat market. They had me sit at a table in the market and when people saw me, it encouraged them to make their purchases confident that everything is kosher. However, I soon realized that the meat they were selling was not kosher and they were using me to deceive the public. I therefore decided to shave off my beard and peiyot, so that my beard and peiyot, which represent my Yiddishkeit, should not help them sell non-kosher meat.”

Unfortunately, throughout history, the nations of the world have persecuted and tortured Jews under the guise of doing it for the “sake of Heaven (G‑d).” They claimed that the Jews are to be blamed for society’s problems and deserve to be oppressed. Also, among Jews, sometimes a person hurts another while claiming that it is a “mitzvah” to do so, and it is being done “lesheim Shamayim” — “for the sake of Heaven.”

Hashem’s command “Do not mention My Name in vain” may be interpreted as “Do not exploit My ‘Name’ — Torah and religion — as a means of justifying your iniquities. Do not attempt to cover them up with a veil of righteousness and virtue.” This poignant Divine message put a shiver through everyone, and the entire world trembled in fear.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, we are living in a time when the religious Jew is scrutinized by all other Jews (and non-Jews), and when a flaw appears in his conduct, people make ridiculing remarks against Judaism and Torah. On the other hand, when the religious Jew’s conduct is commendable, other Jews are impressed with Torah’s good influence upon the individual and often it encourages them to direct their lives according to the Torah.

The added insight in this commandment implies something very relevant and timely. We should never be dishonest while using Hashem’s name as a cover. This is using Hashem’s Name in vain! Our goal should always be to conduct ourselves in all our dealings and relationships in a way that will sanctify his Name. This behavior will merit your finding favor b’einei Elokim v’adam — in the eyes of Hashem and your fellow man.


4.

Yitro is a small parshah consisting of some seventy-plus pesukim. It begins with the story of Yitro meeting Moshe and the advice Yitro offered. The remainder of the parshah records Hashem’s instructions as to the preparation of Klal Yisrael at the area around Mount Sinai for the receiving of the Torah and, the actual Decalogue, the Aseret Hadibrot — The Ten Commandments. The final three pesukim are instructions relating to the building of the Mizbei’ach — Altar.

In the MishkanTabernacle — the walls of the Mizbei’ach were made of copper-plated wood and their hollow interior was filled with earth every time the Mishkan was set up. When the Beit Hamikdash would be build in Jerusalem, a permanent Mizbei’ach of stone would be erected to replace the earth-filled copper and wooden one. The Torah declares, “And when you make for Me an Altar of stones, do not build them hewn, for you will have raised your sword [cut them with iron tools] over it and desecrated it” (20:22).

What message is being conveyed by juxtaposing the laws of the making of the Mizbei’ach with the main theme of the parshah — the giving of the Torah?

On the day Hashem gave the Torah there was thunder and lightening and a heavy cloud on the mountain. The entire people trembled. The mountain was smoking in its entirety because Hashem had descended upon it in fire (19:16-17).

Why did Hashem create such unpleasant conditions for the day of the giving of the Torah and not a pleasant and serene day?

When Hashem offered the Torah to the Jewish people, they accepted it without hesitation. Some Jews may have responded eagerly, thinking that Torah would make life pleasant and effortless.

To dispel this theory, Hashem brought thunder and lightning, hinting that in the years to come, there would be difficult periods. Jews would suffer and be tortured for their adherence to Torah. He cautioned them, however, not to think that they could exist without Torah, and that forsaking it, G‑d forbid, would make life easier for them. On the contrary, only absolute adherence to Torah would help the Jewish people endure the most difficult times and ensure their perpetual existence.

The Aseret Hadibrot — Ten Commandments — were not just a collection of ten laws; rather, they included all the 613 Biblical commandments. In fact, Rabbeinu Saadia Gaon (882-942), head of the famous Yeshiva of Pumbedita, noted writer and author of the philosophical work “Emunot V’dei’ot, specified how each of the 613 commandments is connected to one of the Ten Commandments (see Rashi to Shemot 24:12).

The Mizbei’ach was built for offering sacrifices. In the Torah portion that contains the Aseret Hadibrot, immediately after the last of these commandments, the Torah enunciates the laws of a Mizbei’ach, indicating that in order to properly dedicate ourselves to the observance of Torah we must be ever ready for sacrifices.

Strangely enough, we are warned that if the Mizbei’ach is in any manner cut, chiseled or trimmed it becomes desecrated and unworthy of usage. This implies that our sacrifice for Torah observance must be wholehearted and without any compromise. Nowhere is there permission to actually cut, reduce and diminish the size of Torah or the number of its mitzvot to facilitate its observance.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, before I conclude, I would like to share with you a short story which conveys the message of the parshah.

An elderly woman — an expert embroiderer — once approached the Rabbi of her synagogue with a magnificent mantle — Torah cover — that she had produced for their synagogue’s new Torah Scroll. Enamored by the beauty of the rich velvet and colorful embroidery, the Rabbi immediately rushed to the Ark, removed the Torah, and placed the mantle over it.

As they shared a moment of delight admiring the lovely new cover, the Rabbi, to everyone’s disappointment, noticed that the new cover was several inches shorter than the scroll.

Thanking the woman for her sincere thoughtfulness and effort, the Rabbi gently explained that although it was a true masterpiece, it would not work, since it was too short.

“Rabbi,” exclaimed the woman, “I don’t understand considering the quality and workmanship of this piece of art, couldn’t we just trim off a few inches from the bottom of the Torah scroll to make it fit?”

“I’m sorry,” said the Rabbi, “In this shul we don’t tailor the Torah to fit the mantle!

The message to you, dear Bar Mitzvah, is clear. In life, one may encounter difficulties and tribulations to observe Torah and mitzvot. One may be going through “fire and water, thunder and lightning” which will jeopardize one’s Torah observance. Remember one thing: Being a good Jew may require physical and material sacrifices, but never is it permitted to compromise or adjust the Torah or mitzvot.

The bottom line is that Hashem made the Torah suitable for any and all times, and for every place and every individual. One must adjust himself to the Torah but may not adapt the Torah to fit his own preferences. Bearing this in mind will always keep you on the right path throughout your life and you will realize that even if things may be difficult, it is a pleasure and privilege to be a faithful Jew. Hatzlachah Rabbah.