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January 17, 2014  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Leave comfort zone and become ‘Jew by Choice’

By Rabbi Shalom Adler Young Israel/Chabad of Pinellas County, Palm Harbor

On the Jan. 18 Shabbat, we read the Torah Portion of Yitro. There are two major narratives in the Parsha: that of Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro, leaving the comforts of his home in Midian to join the Jewish people in the wilderness and convert to Judaism, and then the story of the Revelation at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments.

There is much debate among the commentaries about the chronological order of these events. When exactly did Yitro join the Jewish people? The consensus is that although the Torah mentions his story first, he actually did not arrive at Sinai until after the Revelation.

The Torah, which is not a history book, does not necessarily record events in the order they transpired. The word “Torah” means “teaching’ or “direction,” therefore the Torah will describe events in a manner and order that transmits a certain lessons and morals, not just their historical and chronological facts. As the Talmud states: “There is no ‘previous’ or ‘following’ (order) in the Torah.”

The question we must ask ourselves is, why does the Torah choose to place these two episodes next to one another? If they are truly not connected chronologically, what lesson is to be gleaned from their juxtaposition?

Our Rabbis explain that just as Yitro sacrificed his own comforts in order to join the Jewish people, we too need to be willing to go out of our comfort zone before we receive our own personal “revelation.” Just as Yitro was a “Jew by Choice,” so was every Jew who stood at the foot of Mount Sinai (and that includes us.)

In the present generation, we live in times of great comfort and affluence, thank G-d. Our great-grandparents, whether they were from Eastern Europe, North Africa or even the New World, never experienced the freedoms and comforts that we do. In their wildest dreams they could not even have imagined such a life.

In today’s day and age, none of us are forced to abandon Judaism, thank G-d, but conversely, we are also not coerced to remain within the fold. In this sense, we, who choose to be Jewishly involved, are all “Jews by Choice”.

In the wilderness of today’s materialistic and secular society, we all need to be Yitros. In some way we all must choose to identify and involve ourselves with the fate of our people. Whether it’s through affiliation with a shul, federation, Jewish centers and Jewish schools, we all need to take the plunge. Like Yitro of old, we need to abandon our comfort zone. We must do what it takes to ensure a strong community, a strong Israel and a strong future.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned, on a rotating basis by the board.

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