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Adding On
by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg

This week’s parshah is named for Yisro (Jethro), the Midianite father-in-law of Moses, who joined the Jewish people in the desert and ended up converting to Judaism.

 Now, according to our Sages, Yisro actually had seven names. One of his names was Yeser, which means increase. Another name was Yisro, which also means increase.

Rashi informs us that when he who-was-not-yet-Yisro offered his idea to Moses on how to establish a more efficient judicial system, his name was Yeser, in recognition that he would be blessed to add to the Torah. G-d approved of his judicial proposal and an entire section within this week’s parsha was added to the Torah, for which he is given full credit. It was only when he embraced the commandments and became a Jew that he was given the name Yisro. Yisro is actually spelled the same as Yeser with an added letter Vav at the end.

When Yisro or Yeser made a suggestion to Moses that was accepted by G-d and was incorporated into Torah, for which he was given the name Yeser, he did so as an outsider contributing to those who were inside, i.e., those who were already Jewish. This can be compared to the non-Jewish elements who helped facilitate the construction of the Holy Temple. Another example of an outside influence that contributed to Jewish knowledge is the indexing system, which was not common in Jewish texts; today it is a useful tool and makes learning that much easier.

However, even as much as these inventions have added to the Torah, the index, printing press and computer have not become an integral part of Torah; they remain outside factors that contribute to Torah.

Prior to his personal acceptance of the Torah, Yisro was able to contribute to it while remaining outside of the Torah. He was merely an accessory. He was a Yeser-outsider; not yet a full-fledged Yisro-insider.

When Yisro embraced the Mitzvos, the letter Vav was added to his name. That letter is a straight vertical line and thus suggestive of a process that sends something from above downward. In contemporary jargon we would use the term “download.” Yisro was no longer just an accessory to the Torah. He was now able to download all of that which is contained in Torah—its Divine character as well as its knowledge—and integrate it within himself. Yisro no longer just contributed; he was the contribution.

If we apply this mode of thought to Galus and Geulah, we may suggest that here, too, there are two ways of conceptualizing the way we “add” to our progress in the direction of Geula.

On one level, which we can call the “Yeser” macro-model, we are each encouraged to perform one more Mitzvah because it could be the final one that gets us over the top. We must reach a critical mass of Mitzvos to bring the Redemption; therefore one additional Mitzvah—any Mitzvah, big or small—has the potential to do just that and be the proverbial feather that breaks the back of Galus.

However, in this “Yeser” macro-model the focus is on how that additional Mitzvah—which is no different from the Mitzvos we have performed for the last 2,000 years—is added to the pile of accumulated Mitzvos. There is nothing fundamentally new about the additional Mitzvah nor does it result in our internalizing the Geulah even as we become catalysts to bring it on.

The second approach—the Yisro model—takes us into uncharted territory. We not only add to our Mitzvah observance; we instill that same Mitzvah with a “futuristic” Geula character. We look for the deeper meaning in that Mitzvah and consider how it relates to Geula. By doing that Mitzvah, even as we are still in Galus, we become insiders to Geula. The Mitzvah is an act of the future and we are now inside the dynamic of Geula, not just outsiders contributing to it.



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