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During the Second Temple, the Greek empire reigned (over Israel),1 and they (the Greeks) passed decrees against the Jews and (tried) to erase their religion, and did not allow them to carry out Torah (study) or the commandments. They put their hands on their property and their daughters. They entered the Temple, destroyed and made the pure unclean. The Jews were in great distress because of them and were much oppressed, until the G-d of their fathers had mercy on them, delivering them from their hands and saving them. Then overcame, the sons of the Hasmonean High Priest, (the Greeks) and killed them and saved the Jews from their hands. They appointed a king from the Priests, and the kingdom of Israel was restored for more than 200 years until the destruction of (the) second (Temple). When the Jews overcame their enemies and destroyed them, it was the 25th of Kislev2 when they entered the Sanctuary (inner room) and did not find pure (olive) oil in the Temple, except one jar sealed with seal of the High Priest, and it did not contain enough to light except for one day only. But they lit from it the lamps of the Menorah3 for eight days, until they could crush olives and produce a (new quantity) of pure oil. For these reasons, decreed the Sages of that generation that these eight days that begin on the 25th Kislev, will be days of joy and praise. One lights on them lamps at evening at the entrance to the houses, every evening of the eight nights to show off and demonstrate the miracle. These days are called ''Hanukah'' that is to say ''they rested'' (chanu) on the ''25'' ('th of the month) because on the 25th they rested from their enemies. and also because of those days they (re)-dedicated the house (Temple) which their foes had defiled. Also some say that it is a commandment to increase slightly the festive meals on Hanukah. Another reason is because the work of (building) the Sanctuary (in the desert) was completed in these days. One should tell one's children the story of the miracles that were done for our fore-fathers in those days, (see Josephus) However, these meals are not considered as part of the commandment unless one says at the meal songs of praise. One should increase charity in these Hanukah days, for this can help mend any defects in our souls. This charity, should be given particularly to poor Torah scholars. (KSA 139:1)
1) 352 BCE until 70 CE
2) 139 BCE
3) The Menorah was made of gold and had seven branches.
Chazal tell us that the naming of Parshas Yisro, the Sedra which contains the Aseres Hadibros, is a great honor. The Torah goes out of its way to tell us how Yisro was greeted by Moshe Rabeinu, Ahron and other leaders (Yisro, 18:7) and was also accompanied when he left B’nei Yisroel. (18:27) Additionally, Moshe adopted Yisro’s suggestions in how to better judge the issues presented by Bnei Yisroel, with chiefs and judges serving underneath Moshe Rabeinu. (18:24) Yisro was accorded great respect at the time and holds his place of distinction to the present day by being linked with the Aseres Hadibros. This presents a profound question. What was so great about Yisro that he was deserving of such special respect by our Torah?
The Parsha begins by telling us that Yisro “heard” all that Hashem did for Moshe and B’Nei Yisroel in taking them out of Mitzrayim. Rashi tells us that what Yisro “heard” and what persuaded him to come, was specifically Kriyas Yom Suf and the victory over Amalek. (Rashi, 18:1) This hardly seems like a great credit to Yisro. After hearing about Hashem’s great miracles on behalf of Bnei Yisroel, Yisro decides to join? Contrast this with Avraham Aveinu, who came to recognize Hashem on his own, and was later called to task for asking Hashem for a “sign” of his bris. Yisro asked for no sign. He waited for irrefutable proof of Hashem’s power and special relationship with B’nei Yisroel before coming to their camp. Where is the greatness in recognizing Hashem, after these world-transforming events?
In order to fully appreciate the greatness of Yisro, it is first necessary to understand who he had been. We are told that Yisro was “Kohen Midyan”, a priest of the people. Yisro, as a man of great intellect and perception, had always been in positions of authority and power. The Medrash Rabba tells us that he was one of Pharoh’s three chief advisors when Moshe was being raised in the palace. (the others being Bilham and Iyov) Yisro, despite his relative comfort, wealth and position always pursued the truth. Indeed, this pursuit led him to sample every type of idol worship known to man, (Rashi 18:11). With Yitzias Mitzrayim, this quest ended. Yisro had found the truth.
This is the greatness of Yisro. He had tried every Avoda Zora and sought satisfaction and fulfillment in participating at the highest levels of government. Yet, at the same time that Amalek was attacking the Jewish people for their apparent special relationship with Hashem, Yisro did the opposite. Yisro saw that everything he had done until now was folly and he was great enough to admit it. Vayishma Yisro. Yisro was willing to listen and admit that he had been wrong. That was his greatness.
At all stages of life no matter who or where we are, none of us can be above this lesson. Our commitment to improvement must be a lifelong endeavor. As we listen to the Aseres Hadibros this week, the blueprint for this goal will once again be declared publicly. The only question remaining is are they just being “declared” or perhaps we can learn from Yisro what it really means to “hear” them.