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PARASHAS YISRO: Sensitivity to Others’ Feelings



Parashas YISRO YEAR 1 ISSUE 23
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In this week's parashah, Yisro comes to Klal Yisrael in the Midbar, and Moshe Rabbeinu tells him about all the Nissim that happened to them. The pasuk says: ויחד יתרו – Yisro was happy.

Rashi says that Yisro was happy about all the wonderful things he was hearing. However, the Medrash Agada says yisro wasn't truly happy; he felt terrible about the destruction of Mitzrayim, and this is the source for the teachings "you can’t embarrass a goy in front of a ger because it will hurt him."


The Gemara in Sanhedrin brings this as a machlokes of Rav and Shmuel. Rav explains the word ויחד by stating שהעביר חרב חדה על בשרו that it’s a sharp knife – i.e. that Yisro performed a bris milah and became a yid. Shmuel says שנעשה חדודים חדודים, which is what Rashi brings from the Medrash Agada. However, Rashi continuesהיינו דאמרי אינשי which appears to explain Shmuel, who said it was hurting him because a ger has pain over a goy for ten generations. Yet, here the Gemara brought it as Rav, when Shmuel says that the ger feels the pain, and Rav says it means he had a bris milah. So it appears that Rav is prooving Shmuel and not himself.

How do you learn the Gemara, and how does Rashi seem to prove Shmuel from that the ger doesn’t feel pain for ten generations?

How can we understand that Yisro, who’s about to become a ger, who knows Hashem, and yet, feels terrible about the destruction of Mitzrayim? one should be happy when evil is removed from the earth know from Chazal that Yisro felt awful about the Yidden's suffering; when Bilam advised Pharaoh to torture the yidden, Iyov kept quiet, and Yisro ran away. So he knew about the terrible things Mitzrayim did, and he knew you're supposed to be happy when resha'im get annihilated, and yet he still felt terrible for mitzrayim?


I like to give a Mashal about someone who comes to Beis Din and wants to become a ger. After some time, the rabbanim see that he has all the hashkafa requirements of a ger, but at the last moment, he tells the court that he feels terrible that nazis were wiped out. No Beis Din would accept him as a ger! Moreover, the pasuk says ויחד יתרו על כל הטובה – why is the word כל needed, why the emphasis? The Brisker Rav says that in Shulchan Aruch (סימן ר י"ט סעיף ד) that one can make a birchas hagomel for another. The Rema says the reason is that since it’s a praise, you can praise Hashem because you’re happy that the other person was saved. The Mishna Berura (סעיף קטן י"ח) brings from the Taz that it's only if he feels complete happiness, and if his heart is filled with simcha – for example, if he's a relative. So the Brisker Rav says, where do we learn this from? The Gemara in Brachos (דף נ"ד עמוד א), says that it was Yisro who was the founder of Birchas Hagomel. In pasuk yud, Yisro says ברוך יהוה אשר הציל אתכם.

But should Yisro only have made this bracha if he's feeling completely happy, if his heart is filled with simcha? One would think that the reason why he's feeling happy is because it was his son-in-law who was saved and saw all these miracles. But the Brisker Rav says that's precisely why the pasuk has to emphasize על כל הטובה, it says כל to show that the entire story brought him complete happiness, and therefore he was able to bentch hagomel. So this strengthens the kasha: was he happy, since he made birchas hagomel which can only be made for someone else when one is completely happy? Or was he not happy, as Shmuel says חדודים חדודים?


The sefer Divrei Sho'el explains, the pasuk says that Yisro was completely happy, like it says ויחד יתרו על כל הטובה, so he can’t be feeling pain. So how can Shmuel then come and say that he wasn’t completely happy?

The answer is it was only Yisro who could have been happy, he was unique. He was very special because he was completely happy despite hearing about the destruction of Mitzrayim, a situation where a normal goy wouldn't have been able to respond like that. Rav says it can't mean חדודים חדודים, it has to mean that he did bris mila – and even though Shmuel saysחדודים חדודים it’s only the other gerim that applies to. But Rashi doesn't learn it that way. So how can Yisro be happy and in pain at the same time? Although a person can try to tell himself to be happy, he can't force his feelings to be something they're not. So even though Yisro was thrilled about all the good, feelings can't be explained. Chazal is telling us that gerim have pain. חדודים חדודים is not a contradiction to ויחד יתרו. Even if a ger makes a joke about goy, it's a defense mechanism to try and fit in, but deep down, they have a sensitivity to it. Similarly, in a group where everyone is making a joke about one person, he'll probably laugh along but deep down he feels pain.


With another seeming contradiction to the pasuk, the Chidah says וישמע יתרו, and he was screaming because it was hurting him so much. The point is that there will always be discrepancies when it comes to feelings. Someone says one thing, but in his heart, he feels differently.


Chazal tell us that a ger feels pain for ten generations. Why ten? Many mefarshim learn that it means at least ten doros. The Arizal brings down (שער הגלגולים הקדמה ל"ו) that a ger feels pain for three, not ten, generations. Chasidim uses this to show that yichus can be traced back three generations. The Bal Shem Tov said he would come to his grandchildren's chasunas for ten generations, and his descendants always put a chair out for him.

Rashi in Divrei Hayamim quotes from Chazal, אל תאמן בגר עד ט"ו דורות – fifteen generations. The Yerushalmi in Hori'os says it's actually sixteen generations. The Yalkut Shimoni Rus (תר"א) says אל תאמין בגר עד כ"ד דורות, which Divrei Hayamim also quotes – twenty-four generations. So different numbers are being thrown around as to how far down the ger still feels pain. The Baalei Tosafos in the parasha say it's fourteen generations. Rashi in Sanhedrin deals with this ten doros, saying that since היינו דאמרי אינשי is about Yisro, but since Yisro was the first generation, not ten, how is that proving it?


So obviously Rav is not talking about Yisro with חדודים חדודים because he wasn't ten doros. Then who is he talking about? Rashi says it's just a mashal for people in general, but Rabeinu Bechayai says Yisro was ten doros from Cham, so according to this, Rav proved his theory.


Many learn that the ten doros is learned from the mamzer, who remains a mamzer for ten generations. Nefesh Hachaya brings from the Gaon (סימן נ"ג סעיף ו) the reason it’s ten doros.

Let’s say there’s a couple where one of them is a ger or a mamzer, their child has fifty percent of the father. The grandchild has a quarter of the father. The third generation has an eighth, the fourth a sixteenth, the fifth 1/32. Sixth has 1/64, seventh 1/128, eighth 1/256, ninth 1/512. And the tenth generation has 1/1024. A beri’a is never batul even when it’s only a thousandth, but 1/1024 is batul. Therefore the beri’a – which is the person – is batul in the tenth generation.


Chazal are telling us you shouldn’t hurt the ger for ten doros. Even someone who has been a yid for ten generations has a tiny part of him – a 1024th that still gets hurts. This is a tremendous lesson in ono’as devarim, that even when a person may be laughing, there might be one cell in him, hidden and tiny, that gets hurt.


The Bal Haturim says a chiddush, that עד עשרה דורי doesn't mean generations, it means strands of white hair. The Sefer Hazichron says that if the ger became a ger as an older person, you have to be careful, but if he was a child, he really has no feelings. B(ut punkt fakert – when he’s young that when he’ll feel the pain. You’re not allowed to hurt the ger until he becomes much older, until he’s been a yid for a long time and feels comfortable. You could ask what the kid knows since he converted so young, and the answer is that you never know. Feelings are feelings, and he’s too young to deal with it when he gets hurt.


People often think that ono'as devarim doesn't apply to children when it applies to children more than adults. Adults react to sharp words much more than children, so it appears that you have to be more careful, but often children can't deal with it; they're not emotionally mature enough in the way that adults are.


Moshe Rabbeinu is telling over all the nissim to bring Yisro close to Torah. The Brisker Rav learned that it was to fulfill the mitzva of relating the nissim of Hashem, since everyone else had seen them themselves and therefore there was no one else to tell. Was Moshe hurting Yisro – חדודים חדודים? Did he have the right to do it? We can’t say Moshe didn’t know he was hurting Yisro because, first of all, it’s hard for us to say he made a mistake, and even if he had made a mistake Chazal would have mentioned it. Apart from that, if it was common knowledge that you can’t hurt a ger Moshe would have known it. So what gave Moshe the heter to cause pain to Yisro? The sefer Divrei Yehuda by a rav in Iceland gives pshat, addressing the original question of Rav bringing a rei’a to Shmuel with היינו דאמרי אינשי: Since everyone knows you aren’t allowed to hurt a ger, of course Moshe couldn’t have done it.


Rav says he became a ger and did bris mila. Shmuel comes and says he had חדודים חדודים – Rav says Shmuel can’t be right because everyone knows you can’t hurt a ger. Rashi in the Chumash seems to learn that היינו דאמרי אינשי is a proof for Shmuel. Except that the Gemara says that it’s Rav saying it so it should be proving his point, not Shmuel’s – which it is! We learn from here that it’s asur instead of being just a good thing to do, which proves that Moshe couldn’t have done it so obviously ויחד has to mean that Yisro was happy.


There may be another pshat here too. Yisro felt חדודים חדודים for the Mitzriyim, and he himself was bothered by it. Because a little part of him inside still felt sympathy for the goyim, he realized that he must become a ger to cleanse himself of that part.


A rav says there are different leshonos for happiness – the reason the pasuk uses the lashon of חדוה here is to do with the remez of sharp, that Yisro became a yid. We find the lashon חדוה in Nechemia when Klal Yisrael came back after the first galus and was broken because the second Beis Hamikdash wasn't as beautiful as the first one. Nechemia says to them (נחמיה ח:י), אל תעצבו כי חדות ד היא מעזכם – don’t feel bad, because חדות ד is your strength. What is חדות ד? The happiness one feels from inside pain when one feels pain and expresses itself in happiness – when there's rachamim in the din. היא מעזכם means that it’s your strength. Nechemia was telling them this on Rosh Hashana.


Yisro had ויחד, the hurt that was really happy. The Or Hachaim says חידודים של שמחה. So is it happy or unhappy? Sometimes the fact that we’re unhappy should make us happy – when we care and it bothers us that is a maileh not a chisaron. Whoever mourns the Beis Hamikdash will be zoche to see the consolation – the Chasam Sofer explains that the fact that we mourn is the nechama. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.

Yisro was very happy with Klal Yisrael, but he had חדודים חדודים – although most people learn that it shows the part of him that is still a goy, it’s actually the opposite. Only a yid could feel that pain over the destruction of Mitzrayim.


We only say half Hallel on Shvi’i shel Pesach because we can't rejoice when Hashem's creations were destroyed. The yidden didn't fight back by Kri'as Yam Suf because, mentally, the mitzri'im we here masters, and because of their lack of strength after being suppressed. But the real reason is לא תתעב מצרי כי גר היית בארצו, and only a yid could have that mentality. And that's why we say a ger feels until ten generations because he's a yid. If he's a goy, he has no feelings.


Chazal tells us that Yisro came because he heard about Kri'as Yam Suf and Milchemes Amalek – why these two? One of the answers is because Kri'as Yam Suf brought out the best in the yid, and Amalek brought out the worst in the goy. When he saw the comparison, he had to become a yid.


When someone's limb is paralyzed, they don't feel anything, and it's not a good sign. When the doctor pricks with a needle, and you feel the pain, that's a good thing – it means it's not paralyzed. Where there’s pain, there’s life.


The limud of Mussar is that we need to be so careful with ono'as devarim because we never know what causes another person to have חידודם חידודם. The maila of Klal Yisrael is that we care about it, that we’re sensitive to it.


There’s a pasuk in Zecharya talking about how it will be לעתיד לבוא - על אבן אחת שבעה עינים, on one stone seven wells, or alternately seven eyes. The Shailos Uteshuvos Marit brings a story (תשובות חלק ב יורה דעה סימן ט"ז) of a rebbe who was blind in one eye and would walk with three of his talmidim, which made seven eyes. The Rebbe sat down on a stone, and someone, passing by, commented שבעה עיניים על אבן אחת and the rebbe put him in cherem for his chutzpa. But the Bes Din said he was patur because he’s an onus, he had a sharp line and couldn’t hold himself back.


Rav Pam used to say that people speak about how it’s terrible to speak lashon hora but they give less attention to ono’as devarim. אנשים חושבים שהאיסור שבדבור רק לשון הרע. אבל באותו חומר ואותו מזיק is to say sharp things to people. Someone who's driving wildly without looking where he's going is inevitably going to run over someone – also someone who speaks without thinking is going to hurt people. Rav Pam used to call this a "motor-mouth."


Reb Elchonon spoke very little and was careful with his words. They asked him why, since his own rebbe, the Chafetz Chaim spoke a lot. He answered that the Chafetz Chaim was so knowledgeable in the halachos of lashon hora that he could say what he wanted without being afraid of saying something wrong, but he spoke as little as possible to minimize the risk.


Lashon hora has guidelines, so we know what not to do. But with ono'as devarim, we don't always know if the other person gets hurt, so we have to be extremely careful. We can daven in the morning מעזי פנים ומעזות פנים for siyata dishmaya in speaking gently.


On the outside, a person can be ecstatic, but somewhere inside, there can be a little part that is hurt, and according to Rashi, Moshe Rabbeinu had to be careful of that, to the point that Rav had to say it was definite that Moshe didn't cause Yisro חדודים חדודים.


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