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Audio: Parshat Yitro - Don't Judge Them, But Learn From Them

Parshat Yitro - Don't Judge Them, But Learn From Them.
1/17/2014, 12:18 PM

A7 Radio's "Torah Tidbits Audio" with Phil Chernofsky
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Don't Judge them, but Learn from them.

It is hard for us not to be critical of the generation that came out of Egypt. From our perspective, we see them as having witnessed fantastic miracles - the Ten Plagues, the Exodus, the Crossing of the Sea, the drowning of the Egyptians, the Manna, the battle against Amalek, the Sinai Experience (Matan Torah or Kabbalat HaTorah) AND as having complained repeatedly in very bitter and hurtful terms so soon after witnessing those great miracles. How could they say what they said a mere three days after the Splitting of the Sea? How could they disobey G-d by leaving over Manna for the next day or for going out on Shabbat to collect Manna? How could they sin with the Golden Calf only 40 days after what they had seen and heard at Har Sinai? It's frustrating, to say the list. Hard - no, impossible to really understand. Commentaries try to explain things. Some blame the Egyptian tag-alongs for some of the troubles. But that doesn't really do the job of answering the nagging questions. The best idea is to say - and mean - that we cannot possibly put ourselves into their shoes (okay, sandals). If we, today, cannot even relate to what happened to our fellow Jews 70-75 years ago in the Holocaust (except, of course, the Survivors among us), then how can we understand the behavior and experiences of the generation of the Exodus, over 3300 years ago? So let's not. Let's decide NOT to judge that generation. Whatever the Torah tells us about them is not intended - let's assume - for us to judge them... Instead, LET'S LEARN FROM THEM. Take each and every time the People complained. Or sinned. Or spoke harshly about G-d. Or disobeyed. Remember, don't judge them. Not for us to do. G-d's job. And He did judge them. It's not going to be easy. Let's take as an example, the repeated complaints for water. When you are thirsty, you are thirsty. Same for very thirsty. More so for situations of repeated frustration and disappointment. In last week's sedra, they went three days without water and then finally found water... which was undrinkable. We have to be able to learn from them how not to behave in any situation that remotely reminds us of their situation. It won't be the same. But we can learn by analogy. Something happens to us. Different details, but some things are the same. Maybe the situation calls for prayer. And trust and faith in G-d. When Moshe told the people then about trusting in G-d, they (or some of them) didn't listen. But we have an advantage. We are also told by Moshe Rabeinu to have trust and faith - AND we have the precedents of previous generations who did not stand up to their challenges. That combination might make the difference in how we behave. And it isn't all negative. Not by a long shot. They said - and meant - NAASEH (V'NISHMA). That was great. That is an inspiration to us. What happened 40+ days later - they (some of them) messed up. Our opportunity to take the positive and turn the negative into more positive still. Simply put - although apparently not as simple to do - we have to learn every good thing from our predecessors and every time we lean towards doing the wrong thing, we should remember, that's what was done in the past - and with disastrous results. Conclusion - let's not repeat the mistakes of history - ours and anyone else's. See? It's easy to say, hard to do - but we know the right direction to take and we have to make the right decisions.

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Phil Chernofsky is the educational director of the Orthodox Union's OU Israel Center in Jerusalem and editor of the Torah Tidbits parsha pamphlet. Since 1998, he has hosted Torah Tidbits Audio, a shiur on the weekly parsha with witty insights. It airs every Thursday from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Israel time and is downloadable as a podcast on Israel National Radio. Phil made Aliyah to Israel over 30 years ago. He is the author of the newly released book And Every Single One Was Someone, a tribute to victims of the Holocaust.
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