Behalotchah - Focused on Where we Are

Once there was a tsedakah crisis. The Chasidim went to the rebbe.
"Rebbe, we need money for tzedakah, it's urgent," the Chasidim said.
The Rebbe thought for a moment, and then gave the Chassidim a fine bolt of cloth. "Here sell this in the market and you will have the money you need."
They took the cloth and thanked the Rebbe.
Then the Rebbe took the cloth back.
"Wait! There is a better way. Take this cloth and make it into a beautiful wedding dress, then you can sell it for even more money. "
They took the cloth back and thanked the rebbe, praising his wisdom and insight.
Then the Rebbe took the cloth back.
"No! Don't make the dress, take the cloth and sell it in the market and get your money now."
The Chassidim took the cloth but looked at the Rebbe confused. "Yes Rebbe, but we don't understand. Your idea to make the dress sounded so good, and a much better way to make more money. Why just sell the cloth?"
The rebbe closed his eyes and thought. Then he looked at the Chasidim and explained.
"When I gave you the cloth at first, that was my idea, to quickly help you. Then the Yetzer Horah appeared and whispered to me, saying 'make the wedding dress,' and I listened to the Yetzer Horah. Then I realized, the Yetzer Haroh was telling me to do something that we would probably would not get around to finishing. So I pushed off the Yetzer Haroh and took back the cloth. Better to make a little less money, but get it done, then get caught up in a bigger project that we would probably never finish."
Writing can be hard and the Yetzer Haroh makes it even harder, especially writing a dvar Torah. You have the Yetzer Haroh whispering in your ear:
"You're not really gonna say that?"
"That doesn't sound so profound. Do better."
"Do you really understand that well enough, maybe you need another commentary."
And so on and so on, filling the process with doubt and pushing further away from completion.
So here it goes. I'm gonna forget about making the dress here, and just go ahead and sell this bolt of fine cloth I have here.

Was it something I said?
The Discussion Between Moshe and His Father-in-law

There is a fascinating discussion between Moshe and his father-in-law in the parshah, full of suggestion and innuendo.
Then Moshe said to Hovav the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moshe's father-in-law, We are traveling to the place about which the Hashem said, I will give it to you. Come with us and we will be good to you, for the Hashem has spoken of good fortune for Israel.
 וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה לְחֹבָב בֶּן רְעוּאֵל הַמִּדְיָנִי חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה נֹסְעִים אֲנַחְנוּ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַר ה אֹתוֹ אֶתֵּן לָכֶם לְכָה אִתָּנוּ וְהֵטַבְנוּ לָךְ כִּי ה` דִּבֶּר טוֹב עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל
He said to him, I won't go, for I will go to my land and my birthplace.
 וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו לֹא אֵלֵךְ כִּי אִם אֶל אַרְצִי וְאֶל מוֹלַדְתִּי אֵלֵךְ
He [Moshe] said, please don't leave us, for you are familiar with our encampments in the desert and you will be our guide
 וַיֹּאמֶר אַל נָא תַּעֲזֹב אֹתָנוּ כִּי עַל כֵּן יָדַעְתָּ חֲנֹתֵנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר וְהָיִיתָ לָּנוּ לְעֵינָיִם
 And if you go with us, then we will give you the good which G-d grants us.
וְהָיָה כִּי תֵלֵךְ עִמָּנוּ וְהָיָה הַטּוֹב הַהוּא אֲשֶׁר יֵיטִיב ה עִמָּנוּ וְהֵטַבְנוּ לָךְ
Bamidbar 10:29-32

What's going on here? Moshe turns to his father-in-law and personally invites him to travel with the Jewish People. This is Moshe, one of the greatest leaders, who communicates directly with Hashem! Moshe tells him how they are going to the very place that Hashem Himself promised them. Moshe further sweetens the offer saying that it will be good for you, and explains this Israel will also see good fortune.

This sounds great! A personal invitation by the leader of Israel, to join Israel on a divinely guided journey, with a promise of living well.
Yet how does Moshe's father-in-law respond?
He refuses! Not only does he refuse, he says that he is going back to Midian, his homeland.
What? Was it something he said?

The Nature of Language
There is a subtle difference in the words Moshe uses when inviting his father-in-law to join Israel. He describes the journey of Israel as travelling (נֹסְעִים), but when he turns to invite his father-in law, Moshe says 'Come with us (לְכָה אִתָּנוּ)' – why the subtle change in language, what is the difference, and what difference does this make?

The Kli Yakar addresses this in a fascinating explanation.

I like the commentary of the Kli Yakar. He presents things clearly, pointing out discrepancies or repetition, or the choice of words, and explains the significance in a meaningful way. The Kli Yakar was a talmid of the Maharal of Prague. From an early age he was recognized as a star orator and was renowned for his fiery drashas. In 1601, at the age of 51, he became deathly ill. During his illness he added on the name Shlomo and thereafter signed his name Shlomo Ephraim. He vowed that if he survived his illness he would compose a commentary to the Chumash. He survived, and the very next year wrote and published this commentary, and that is how we have the Kli Yakar.

Says the Kli Yakar, the language of הליכה (walking)   refers to the movement of just the feet, physically relocating a person from one place to another place (location to location).  So someone could go to a new place, and still his thoughts, and his head, are back where he came from.

While the language of  נסיעה  (travelling) this includes transporting both the physical person and his thoughts to a new place.

We saw how this different language was used earlier in Parshat Lech Lecha, when Hashem approached Avraham. Hashem said to Avraham   לך לך מארצך "Go forth from your land". What does this come to describe?

The Kli Yakar asserts that most certainly at this point, Avraham's soul is still connected to his homeland, and his father's house, even though physically he was making his way to Eretz Yisrael. In contrast, however, upon reaching Eretz Yisrael the Torah describes Avraham's travels as   הולך ונסוע הנגבה "goes and travels to the south…". Explains the Kli Yakar, in the beginning he would walk (הולך), while at the end he would travel (נוסע), this shows how, upon fully relocating to Eretz Yisrael,  Hashem had become the focus of Avraham's thoughts, replacing the nostalgia for his homeland.

It's am amazing thought, when we consider the significance of the difference between these two words. We can go places and be there in 'body' only, but our 'heads' and thoughts are so far away. This is one of the challenges of tefillah and learning, to keep our head and thoughts focused on where we actually are, not on work or family issues.

Who is  Hovav?
Moshe initially approaches his father in law in a new way, saying "Then Moshe said to Hovav".
Who is Hovav? He is referred to as Moshe's father in law. But we all know that Moshe's father in law is Yitro. So why call him Hovav?

Explains the Kli Yakar, the name, Yitro, had been hidden from the parshah. Why should the Torah hide the name of Yitro?

Says the gemarah in Yevamot (47B) in explaining how to respond to someone interested in converting to Judaism, we should challenge him, and question him. Why? 'R. Helbo said: Converts are as hard for Israel [to endure] as a sore [sfichas]…for it is written 'and the converts shall accompany them and join the House of Jacob.' (ונלווה הגר עליהם ונספחו על בית יעקב). The word "ונספחו " is interpreted according to another meaning, sfichas, which is a type of sore.

The gemarah declares here, and in several other places, that converts are a burden for Israel. Tosafot explains this passage saying that since there is a principle that all Jews are bound to one another, and that converts are not particular in Mitzvot, so we can learn from them and be influenced, and our fate as a nation will be tied to their actions. Rashi clarifies this piece, explaining that the principle of 'all of Israel is bound to one another' only refers to Jews from birth, taking the burden off of the converts.

I heard another brilliant insight to this gemarah. Why does the gemarah call the converts difficult for Israel? Rather since the converts are so enthusiastic and zealous about Mitzvot, they appear so much better then the Jews born into this, and thus 'make us look bad'.

However for this explanation, it is important to see that this gemarah is coming to explain why the name Yitro would be deliberately left out of the parshah.

It says that Yitro had 7 names. First he was Yeter, then when he converted he received a 'Vuv' becoming Yitro. Yitro comes to represent this transformation, a convert, with a name still hinting at his past. So the Torah wanted avoid any of the associations related to the issue of converts, and not connect or hint about the idea of the convert here.

That explains why not to mention Yitro, but why give a new name, why use the name Chovav?

Moshe changes the way he refers to his father-in-law, calling him Chovav.
What is Chovav? It is like the word chaviv, someone dear, to hint at what it says about Gerim - converts.

וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Here the pasuk uses Gerim in reference to strangers, but it works back for our context, meaning that converts (גרים) should really be dear to us. That is why Moshe personally extends a direct invitation to his father in law to accompany them, to make sure he feels accepted, welcome and a full part of the Jewish People, and he emphasizes that love and compassion by addressing him as Chovav.

Understanding the Conversation
So going back and looking at the conversation between Moshe and his father-in-law we can fill in the blanks and understand the interaction that goes on much better.

Moshe says:
נֹסְעִים אֲנַחְנוּ
We are traveling

Moshe and Am Yisrael 'travel' (נסיעה) where they are going away from place they left, Egypt. It is a place that they don't have any connection to, no property or family. So they aren't nostalgic. Sure they complain, and talk about be better off having died in Egypt, but that is hardly the 'longing for the old country' we are talking about.

Rather, in talking to his father in law, Moshe says 'Halicha'  since his father in law is walking from his land, his birthplace, somewhere that he really has strong ties to. And Moshe adds his enticement 'Come with us and we will be good to you, for the Hashem has spoken of good fortune for Israel.'  (לְכָה אִתָּנוּ וְהֵטַבְנוּ לָךְ כִּי ה` דִּבֶּר טוֹב עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל). This shows Moshe's sensitivity and how he understands that it is not so easy to leave your homeland, especially from a place where you are set financially and socially.

Moreover, Hashem commanded us to be good to those that connected with us, that joined the fate of the Jewish People. And we go back to the verse the verse we mentioned earlier from Yevamot "and the strangers shall accompany them and join the House of Jacob" (Yeshayahu 14:1) ונלווה הגר עליהם ונספחו על בית יעקב.

But now we interpret the word 'ונספחו' in the literal sense - to join on to - emphasizing absorption, and going out of one's way to make sure to include the Gerim (converts) with the people of Israel.

But he responds to Moshe saying:
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו לֹא אֵלֵך
He said to him, I won't go

Why did he refuse Moshe's direct invitation?

Yitro was angry that Moshe referred to him with the language of 'הליכה', which seemed to suggest suspicion that Yitro's thoughts were still firmly based in his homeland, despite being physically with the Jewish People. This suggestion was especially difficult, and came across as insensitive.  For the Torah was so dear to Yitro, that he removed anything else from his thoughts, even his homeland, desiring for an all out connection with the 'shechinah' the presence of Hashem.

He continues his response to Moshe,  saying:
כִּי אִם אֶל אַרְצִי וְאֶל מוֹלַדְתִּי אֵלֵךְ
 for I will go to my land and my birthplace.

This is not a criticism back to Moshe, rather Yitro says 'הליכה' to say: I will walk to my birthplace and convert my family, otherwise my thoughts will always be clouded by them, in this holy place that my soul connects to. Yitro is not nostalgic or longs for the old country, rather he feels for his family and wants them to join the amazing experience he has been granted.

Moshe replies back, seemingly concerned, saying:
וַיֹּאמֶר אַל נָא תַּעֲזֹב אֹתָנוּ
He said, Please don't leave us,

Now Moshe understands Yitro, and how he may have insulted Yitro. Moshe says apologetically, I never had any doubts that you would go back to your home, and abandon this high level of holiness you have reached. Rather I was concerned that you would see this people (Israel), and see that they are a difficult people, how they show resentment, argue, and complain. Maybe out of this you would not want to stick with us.

And Moshe adds, showing more concern of the impression he makes on Yitro:
תֵלֵךְ עִמָּנוּ
if you go with us

And not with these complainers, and resenters. Thus I request, don't abandon us, because from you the entire population gains merit, and all eyes in Israel will look to you to learn from you, since you abandoned your homeland and came to bond with the shechinah, so all the more so Israel should follow.
Yitro serves as a tremendous inspiration for the Jewish People, and that is why Moshe says to him:

וְהָיִיתָ לָּנוּ לְעֵינָיִם
and you will be our guide

In Conclusion
We are all going many places in life. Travelling, walking (Nisiah and Halichah)
Bezrat hashem we should find ourselves going by  Nisiah, with our body and thoughts in focus, and not in Halicha.

1 comment:

  1. very well written a very good insight - you touched on a famous saying from Rav Rainess (one of the heads of the Mizrachi Movements) back 100 years ago who claimed it is easy to take the jew out of the galut but very hard to take the galut out of the jew!