The Golden Voice, the Golden Ticket?
Parshat Yitro 5780
“Got some spare change?”
“Hey man, have a quarter to spare?”
“Some change to help me get a meal?”
You could hear those words a million times a day throughout the US, but only in one place would you hear this response:
“No problem, but can you say something for me?”
However at the corner of Interstate 71 and Hudson Blvd., in Columubus, OH, that was a normal response. And if you asked for it, you would get a big toothy smile from Ted Williams, and then with his sonorous deep voice he would throw one of his regular lines back at you.
“When you’re listening to nothing but the best of Oldies, you’re listening to Magic 98.9!”
“And we’ll be back with more right after these words…”
Homeless people panhandling on the streets have many crudely written cardboard signs, “will work for food! Will work for Bukser! Will work for an iPod!” But for the past decade, as Ted Williams panhandled, his sign said “I have a G-d given gift of voice! I’m an ex-radio announce who has fallen on hard times! Thank you and G-d bless you!”
This sign made him a fixture in the community, and people would regularly ask him to put that voice to practice, while they fished out some change. This might have gone on forever, if not for a felicitous afternoon late in November, when local newsman Doral Chenoweth III, happened to drive up to Ted’s intersection . On a whim, Doral pulled out his camera and videotaped Ted Williams doing his shtick. The video was buried for six weeks, but on six weeks later, Doral was having a slow day, so he fished out the goofy video, and put it on the Columbus Dispatch website.
Two days later Ted Williams was a household name in America. On Tuesday, tens of millions of people had watched the video after it went viral on You Tube. The hype began to grow uncontrollably. By Wednesday morning, Ted not only did the voice over for the Today show, the most highly watched morning show in America, but also did a full eleven minute interview as well. By Wednesday evening, not only did he get offers from dozens of radio stations including the announcer position for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he had already taped a commercial that will be aired for a hundred million people at the Superbowl, the largest TV event of the year.
In two days, Ted went from living in a freezing makeshift tent in a park to living in penthouse suites in five star hotels, from begging for quarters to signing deals for a quarter of a million dollars. His story has been celebrated by people around the world, and at a time when so many people have seen their fortunes reversed in the opposite direction, the friendly face of Ted Williams represents the hope, the dream, and the possibility of their own redemption.
But the story of Ted Williams is still not over. Redemption is a beautiful thing for a man who spent twenty years plagued by drugs and alcohol, petty thievery, and periodical extended stays in secluded locations sponsored by the correctional system, but the real test is what he will do with that redemption. Will he use it to turn his life around, to renew his relationships with his estranged family, and to put his life back on the track of productivity he once had? Or will he fall back to the “drugs alcohol, and other things” that brought him down the first time?
So far things are a bit troubling. A week after he was “discovered,” he was brought down to an LAPD station after a fistfight broke out in his hotel room. No arrests were made, but the bruises on his face tell us that it’s going to take a lot of work for Ted Williams to get to where he wants to be. Millions of Americans are hoping he can give this incredible story of redemption a fairy tale ending, “and Ted Williams lived happily ever after!” But only Ted Williams can make that happen, only Ted Williams can seize the moment and transform this wondrous moment into a wondrous life.
This week’s Parsha starts with the arrival of Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law. When Moshe came to liberate the Jews in Egypt, he sent his wife and children back to Midian so as not to bring more Jews into a land that oppressed Jews. Now, after the Jews were freed, Moshe’s father-in-law came to meet the Jews in the desert bringing with him Moshe’s wife and children. When he got there, he converted and joined the Jewish people.
The events leading up to Yisro’s arrival are described in the first verse of the parsha. “Now Moses’ father in law, Yisro, the chieftain of Midian, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel, His people that the Lord had taken Israel out of Egypt.” (Exodus 18:1) Rashi asks what exactly Yisro heard that prompted him to come to the desert and join the Jews, instead of just sending his daughter and grandchildren. Rashi answers that he heard about the splitting of the sea and the war that the Jews had fought with Amalek.
From the outside, one part of this answer seems to make perfect sense, while the other seems troubling. G-d splitting the sea and allowing the Jews to walk through on dry land is something spectacular, and a good reason for someone to come and join the nation. But the fact that they won a war with Amalek doesn’t seem to be such a great reason for a person to uproot themselves from a land where he is well respected and come out to the desert and join a new nation! If Rashi told us that Yisro heard about the splitting sea and the 10 plagues or the splitting sea and the exodus from Egypt, I would understand, but what is so significant about the war with Amalek that Rashi tells us that this caused Yisro to radically change his life?
One answer given for this question is that it was not the fact that the Jews defeated the Amaleky attack that inspired Yisro, but the fact that there was such an attack in the first place. Yisro wondered how it was possible that after the splitting of the sea, a miracle of such gargantuan proportions that it rocked the entire world, someone would still dare to come attack the Jews? Egypt, the superpower of the world, was brought to its knees by ten terrible plagues, and still didn’t stop pestering the Jews. Then they followed them into the miraculously split sea, and were thoroughly vanquished by the raging waters that tumbled back upon them. Wouldn’t that be enough to keep everyone away from the Jews?
But somehow, shortly after the splitting of the sea, Amalek came with an army to attack the Jews. Yisro realized that when someone sees a huge miracle, it doesn’t necessarily change them; it just provides an impetus for change. And if one doesn’t seize the moment, it gets lost and loses all its power. This is how the nation of Amalek was able to attack. They let the miracles they saw slide right off their backs, and blithely continued with their nefarious plans. Yisro realized that he didn’t want this to happen to him, so he immediately seized the moment and came to the desert to join the Jews.
Ted Williams recently experienced wonders in his life, but will he use the impetus to change he has been given or will he squander it? We are given packets of inspiration all the time, from a good speech to a powerful event in our lives, but do we use the impetus to change or do we squander it? Do we use the Amalek tactic of allowing all inspiration to roll off our backs or the Yisro method of immediately converting it into positive action?
Viva La Yisro!
Parsha Dvar Torah
The question we will ask in the Dvar Torah is already addressed above, but here, the answer will be different. This demonstrates the multi-faceted Torah. The same philosophical question can have many different answers, all of them can be valid, and all of them can teach us a different important lesson.
This week’s Parsha starts with the arrival of Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law to the Jew’s encampment in the desert. When Moshe came to Egypt he sent back his wife and children to Midian so as not to bring more people into a land committing atrocities against the Jews. Now, after the Jews were freed, Moshe’s father-in-law came to joint them, bringing with him Moshe’s wife and children. When he got there, he converted, and joined the Jewish people.
The events leading up to Yisro’s arrival are described in the first verse of the parsha. “Now Moses’ father in law, Yisro, the chieftain of Midian, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel, His people that the Lord had taken Israel out of Egypt.” (Exodus 18:1) Rashi asks what exactly it was that Yisro heard which prompted him to come to the desert and join the Jews, instead of just sending his daughter and grandchildren. He answers that he heard about the splitting of the sea and the war that the Jews had fought with Amalek.
One part of this answer seems to makes perfect sense, while the other seems troubling. G-d splitting a sea and allowing the Jews to walk through on dry land is something spectacular, and a good reason for someone to come and join the nation. But the fact that they had fought a war with Amalek and won doesn’t seem to be such a compelling reason for a person to uproot himself from a land where he is well respected and come out to the desert and join a new nation! If Rashi had told us that Yisro heard about the splitting sea and the 10 plagues, or the splitting sea and the exodus from Egypt, I would understand, but what is so significant about the war with Amalek that Rashi tells us that this caused Yisro to radically change his life?
An answer offered is that Yisro realized that if a nation is so desperate to go after Israel as to attack them in a Kamikaze fashion so soon after they got out of Egypt, that nation must have something of value, and he wanted to have it too. A simple analogy would be watching how much protection an item of value needs and to what great lengths thieves will go to try to circumvent the security procure the item. Thieves don’t round up sophisticated gangs to rob the local fruit store, but they will devote an enormous amount of resources, and even risk their lives, in order to get at a vault containing numerous precious gems and diamonds.
Yisro noted that Amalek came to attack the Jews right after they were saved from Egypt, and he realized that the Jews must have something special. In truth, this is the biggest lesson in Jewish history. Why is it that the Jews have always been persecuted, attacked, and threatened? Is it just because this nation of extraordinary people has really bad luck again, and again, and again, and again, and again? No, it is not our bad luck that brings all this down upon us, rather it is the incredible gift that we have, the Torah, and our unique relationship with G-d that causes the hatred of the other nations. Subconsciously, other nations know that we have the gold, that we have the sparkling diamonds of the world, and persecute us in a hope that they can snuff it out so that no one will have it.
Of course, our job is to make it shine so brightly that everyone either tries to join us (like Yisro did), or at least aids us in out mission of carrying it aloft. May G-d bless us with those days speedily in our time!
This week’s Parsha starts with the arrival of Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law. Yisro’s biggest contribution to the Jewish people was the judging system which he instituted. He noticed that Moshe would sit all day judging people, while the line of those waiting to see him grew and grew. Yisro told Moshe that this system would burn out both Moshe and the people. He suggested that Moshe create a hierarchy of judges, with the most minor judges only responsible for 10 people, the next over 50, 100, and finally 1,000 people. The big questions and cases that couldn’t be dealt with by those judges would come to Moshe.
Moshe asked G-d, and with G-d’s permission, he appointed judges who met the following criteria; G-d fearing, accomplished, despises money, and men of integrity. He appointed them according to the positions mentioned above, and the new judicial system ran as smoothly as butter on a hot skillet!
The next part of the Parsha deals with the Jews’ arrival at Mount Sinai, and the revelation they experiences there. I will break the events down by days.
Day 1: The Jews arrive at Mount Sinai with a unity that is unmatched in their entire 40 years in the desert.
Day 2: Moshe goes up the mountain to talk to G-d. G-d tells him to tell the Jews that they have seen G-d’s miracles and His affection for them, and now He is making them an offer. If they want, they can accept the Torah and become a “Treasured Nation,” but they have to remember that it comes with a lot of responsibilities. Moshe comes down and tell the people who respond with a unanimous, “Whatever G-d says we will do!”
Day 3: Moshe goes back up, and delivers the Jews’ answer (G-d already knew it, but this teaches us that when one is sent to deliver a message they should always bring back the reply). G-d tells Moshe that He will speak from within a dark cloud to Moshe, but all the people would hear Him talking, and this would be a way for the people to know that Moshe was a true prophet. Moshe goes down and tells the people.
Day 4: Moshe ascends the mountain again and tells G-d that the people want to hear G-d talking directly to them. They said that hearing from an emissary doesn’t compare to hearing from a king! G-d tells Moshe to go back and tell the people to prepare for two days (by purifying themselves), for on the third G-d would talk to them. He also warns them not to touch the mountain or try to climb it, as it has a special holiness. Moshe gives the message, but, according to one view in the Talmud, he adds a third day of purification (this is the topic of some very deep insights, but it’s not within the scope of our Parsha Summary).
Day 5: Moshe builds an altar at the bottom of the mountain, as well as twelve pillar as monuments. He brings sacrifices on the altar and eats with the people.
Day 6: On this day, according to some, the revelation took place. According to others this was the extra day of preparation that Moshe added.
Day 7: G-d reveals himself in all His glory to the people. They hear Him talking directly to them and speaking out the first two of the Ten Commandments (which would be more appropriately translated as the Ten Statements). The event is too powerful for the mortal humans to handle, and the people ask that Moshe tell them the last 8 instead of having G-d directly speaking to them. This is the only time in all of recorded history where G-d spoke to a mass assembly. Never, ever, has any other religion even claimed this. (This is one of the proofs of Judaism’s validity over all other faiths in which only individuals such as J.C., Mohammed, the Buddha, or Joseph Smith claim to have had personal revelations.)
Right now, before continuing, name all ten of the Ten Commandments! Yes that’s an order!
Not sure? OK I will help you out.
1. I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of Egypt (belief in one G-d).
2. You may not serve any other gods.
3. You may not take the name of G-d in vain.
4. Keep Shabbos.
5. Honor your mother and father.
6. Don’t kill.
7. Don’t commit adultery.
8. Don’t steal.
9. Don’t testify falsely.
10. Don’t covet that which belongs to others.
After this momentous event, G-d commanded Moshe to tell the people that they had seen and heard G-d speak to them (one of the miracles of the revelation was that people saw sounds), and they had better not make or worship any other deities. He also commanded them to make an alter, but not to use stones hewn with iron. Iron is the material used to fashion weapons, and an altar needs to be a paradigm of peace.
That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: Action speaks not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility. ~ Dietrich Bonhoffer
Random Fact of the Week: Pound for pound, a hummingbird consumes the caloric equivalent of 228 milkshakes per day!
Funny Line of the Week: A bicycle can’t stand alone; it is two tired.
Have a Snazzy Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham