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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Yisro 5773 "With Open Arms"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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The inspirational video “Inspired Too” produced by Aish Hatorah, documents the experiences of secular Jews who were guided to a life of Torah observance. One of the interviewees, Stephen Coleman, then a law student in Florida, recounted his first Shabbos experience. He had been invited to a family for a Shabbos meal and came to shul for davening. He didn’t know what to do or expect, so he took a siddur and inconspicuously sat in the last row in the back of the shul and imitated whatever he saw everyone else doing. Then suddenly (at the end of lecha dodi) the entire shul stood up and turned around to face him. Stephen froze and thought to himself “Oh my gosh, they’ve found me out!”

“He said to Moshe, ‘I, your father-in-law Yisro, have come to you, with your wife and her two sons with her’.[1]

Rashi explains Yisro’s statement: “If you do not come forth (in greeting) on my account, come forth on account of your wife. And if you do not come forth on account of your wife, come forth on account of her two sons.”

What was Yisro’s intent by uttering this statement? Was he so insecure about his standing in the eyes of Moshe that he needed to remind him that his wife and sons were coming too?

Rabbi Bentzion Kokis[2] offered the following explanation: When Yisro heard about the great miracles that G-d had performed for Klal Yisroel he had a sincere desire to join the nation. But Yisro was unsure if he would be accepted. His last encounter with his son-in-law was when he was still a humble refugee, who lived in fear of Pharaoh’s revenge. But now Moshe had risen to become the great prophet and leader, revered by the entire world. Yisro, on the other hand, had an ignominious past as a former priest of idolatry. Perhaps Moshe’s current stature would no longer allow him to speak and relate to Yisro.

Therefore, Yisro proclaimed that if Moshe could not greet him, Moshe should at least greet his wife. Still, Yisro was unsure about the relationship between Moshe and his wife. Perhaps Moshe’s newfound greatness precluded him from speaking or interacting with his wife. So Yisro concluded that at the very least Moshe should greet his sons, to whom he had an obligation to educate and teach.

Yisro’s apprehension represents a common feeling among outsiders of the Torah community who are peering in. They wonder uneasily how things are different, about the radical changes they will need to make, and about expectations and standards. How accepted will they be and are they destined to remain social outcasts?

The Torah continues “Moshe went out to greet his father-in-law.[3]” Moshe unhesitatingly demonstrated tremendous respect for Yisro. “He bowed and he kissed him, and they inquired, one man to the other, about the other’s well-being.” At that moment when Moshe accorded his father-in-law the greatest respect and honor Yisro felt accepted.

A person who has not been raised in our community and decides to accept upon himself/herself the incredible commitment of becoming Torah observant fears not only the changes themselves but what their social standing will be. Moshe’s respectful and loving conduct towards Yisro is an integral lesson about drawing others closer to a life of Torah and mitzvos.

We must demonstrate to others that a life of Torah draws a person closer to his inner self, and doesn’t alienate him from his past. There are unquestionably significant changes in one’s conduct and lifestyle, but one’s sense of identity and connection to their inner self, including their talents and strengths, need not be inhibited or discarded. Au contraire, they should be channeled and utilized for a higher purpose, to bring happiness and joy to others. That is the greatest development of one’s self.

When Moshe went out to greet Yisro he validated Yisro’s search for meaning. Similarly, that sense of validation is integral to any outsider who seeks entry into a new lifestyle.

At the conclusion of the aforementioned video, Inspired Too, Rav Noach Weinberg zt’l, the legendary founder of Aish HaTorah, discusses the vital importance of outreach to our uneducated brethren. He says, “We cannot fail; the Almighty is with us! We have a Torah that is beautiful beyond compare. We just have to present it the right way. We have a people who are thirsty for meaning, for truth, idealists in every way… they want truth and meaning. We have to do our job. We cannot fail if we do our efforts.”

When the interviewer then asked Rav Noach what he prays for, he replied emotionally with moist eyes, “I say ‘Almighty G-d, I know you care about this much more than me and I know You want me to succeed. I know that if You help me we can change the whole world! I know You want to help me. I know I just have to want it enough! Please help me… to want it – to feel this pain (of the lost souls of our brothers and sisters) the way you feel it. Please help me to want to feel this pain, so that you can help me accomplish’.”

In one of his impassioned speeches about the vital importance of kiruv, Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l[4] lamented the fact that most Jewish children today, in Eretz Yisroel and in America, are in Public Schools. G-d is saying to us, “You cry out to me, calling me ‘Father! Father!’ Bring home My children and then you’ll see what kind of a father I can be!”

There is no greater joy and gratitude that a father can have than when a lost child is led home. It is incumbent upon us to open our hearts to pave that road and to welcome those souls home[5].

“I, your father-in-law Yisro, have come to you”

“He bowed and he kissed him”

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[1] Shemos 18:6

[2] Va’ad To Avreichei HaKollel of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, Parshas Yisro 5765

[3] Shemos 18:7

[4] Moreh Derech, P. 54

[5] That welcome entails that we discard the silly labels which classify us into different groups, including BT, FFB, etc.

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