Sunday, February 1, 2015

Parshat Yitro: The Origin of Yitro's Soul

Chassidut by Rabbi Herschel Reichman

Our Sages say that Yitro had seven names . The Shem MiShmuel takes an in-depth look at the names, Yeter and Yitro. Yeter was Yitro's gentile name, before he converted, and Yitro is the name he chose upon converting. Rashi explains that the name Yeter connotes that he increased the Torah with one parsha, when he advised Moshe to set up a judicial system. The Shem MiShmuel asks two questions. How does Yitro's non-Jewish name Yeter indicate that he added a parsha, when he only advised Moshe after he converted. Additionally, why did Yitro keep his original gentile name Yeter, adding just the letter vav, instead of taking a completely new Jewish name?

The midrash contrasts Esav and Yitro, who were polar opposites, in five ways. The five qualities correspond to the five senses.

1]  Esav's descendants, the Romans, committed adultery [related to the sense of touch], when they conquered Jerusalem, while Yitro gave his daughter to Moshe in marriage.

2]  Esav devoured Israel like bread, representing taste, while Yitro shared a meal of bread with Moshe.

3]   Esav did not fear Hashem. This is related to vision, because when one sees Hashem, one fears Him. Yitro recognized Hashem.

4] Esav gave up the bechora and the privilege of bringing korbanot. This corresponds to smell, as korbanot are referred to as "rei'ach necho'ach" a good fragrance. Yitro brought sacrifices to Hashem.

5] When Amalek, Esav's descendants, heard about the exodus of Egypt, they declared war against the Jews. Yitro, however, came to join them. The midrash actually contrasts them in a sixth way as well. This sixth trait utilizes the collective of all senses together. Esav represented sinat [hatred of] Yisrael while Yitro signified ahavat [ love of] Yisrael.

The gemara says that Esav was wicked from the beginning until the end of his life. We know that Hashem gave man the gift of bechira, free will. Didn't Esav have free choice? Bechira begins with man's unsullied innate personality which can be used for good or evil. Once choices are made, certain characteristics form. These characteristics then become habitual and harder to change.

Kayin was the first murderer mentioned in the Torah. He was given gevura, strength, which he could have used for the good. Instead, he perverted his personality, chose wickedness by violating the three cardinal sins, and is considered the progenitor of all evil.

Although Hashem gives us free choice, he is saddened when we sin. In spite of this, Hashem doesn't abandon man's original potential for good and wants to redeem it. This happens through reincarnation. Kayin died an evil man. One of Yitro's seven names was Keni, the identical letters that spell Kayin. Kayin's soul was reincarnated in Yitro, who inherited his good traits.

Yitro had enormous inner strength. He discovered monotheism, stood up as one man alone against an entire nation, and was shunned and blacklisted by his people. Esav received Kayin's evil middot [character traits]. He too, transgressed the three cardinal sins, was an egoist, and was jealous of his brother Yaakov. Esav was given amazing powers to rectify the evil of Kayin. But he chose not to do so and died an evil man.

Hevel embodied the trait of humbleness to an extreme. He too needed to be reincarnated because he did not live up to his potential. His humility was smothered by the evil of Kayin. Hevel was reincarnated in Moshe who was the humblest of all men. Moshe's anava [humility] did not prevent him from action. It brought him closer to Hashem.

Yitro and Moshe were none other than Kayin and Hevel reincarnated. Yeter means something more. It is the power of extraordinary courage, which brought Yitro to go against the world and join the Jews in the desert. Moshe told Yitro to keep the name Yeter, signifying admirable strength. However, he advised him to add the letter vav, which refers to Hashem, to make it Jewish.

Every one of us has a Kayin and Hevel within us. We struggle with self centeredness and weakness. Our true personality is enslaved to bad passions and habits. However, we can redeem ourselves by tapping in to the powers of Yitro and Moshe. By summoning the courage to do what's right and taking strength from Hashem, we can defeat the evil side within us.

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