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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Yitro


Rabbi Stewart WeissShvat 17 5778
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"10" is one of the most significant numbers in Jewish life: 10 generations from Adam to Noach, as well as from Noach to Avraham; 10 trials which Avraham underwent; 10 Plagues, & of course, 10 Commandments.

But I want to suggest there is yet an 11th Commandment, unwritten as it is. And that is the commandment To Love Israel. To support Israel, to cherish Israel &, in its fullest expression, to live in Israel.

In his epic work, Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, the Rambam does not count living in Israel as one of the 613 commandments. Many reasons have been offered as to why this Mitzva is conspicuously absent, but the most plausible opinion (given by Rav Kook, the Ohr HaChayim & others) is that living in Israel is so fundamental, so overarching in Jewish belief that listing it as "only" one of the 613 Mitzvot would actually diminish its stature & reduce its centrality.

Indeed, one can find references to Israel’s importance in virtually every single sedra in the Torah. And when Hashem first appears to "the Big Four" – Avraham, Yitzchak, Yakov & Moshe - He specifically relates to them the eternal connection between Am Yisrael & Eretz Yisrael.

Perhaps this is the clue to solving the oft-asked question: Who was the greatest of all converts: Yitro, or Rut? Both stand out in Jewish literature; Yitro with a parsha named for him (one of only 6 individuals so honored), and Rut with a whole Megila in her name that tells her compelling story.

But who is greater - the answer seems clear to me. While Yitro indeed receives a lot of kavod, he essentially disappears from our history. Rut, on the other hand, achieves eternity by being the ancestress of David HaMelech & Moshiach. Moreover, while Ruth is a popular, continuing name given to Jewish children (it was my mother’s middle name!), when is the last time you met a Jew named Jethro?!

I suggest that at least one main reason why this is so is that Yitro rebuffed Moshe’s many urgings to accompany him & the nation in their journey to Israel, while Rut enthusiastically joined Naomi in coming to the Holy Land. And this despite the hardship Rut & Naomi faced – being poverty-stricken & having to beg for sustenance in the fields. By tying themselves to the Land – which exists forever – their names also became immortal.

So as you stand in deference to the "Big 10," don’t ever forget about the Big – or perhaps the Biggest – 11th.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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