Far from Home, Close to Hashem

“What did Yisro hear that impelled him to come and visit Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar? He heard about Krias Yam Suf and the war with Amalek” (Rashi, beginning of Parashas Yisro).

Since the Torah explicitly states in the passuk what it was that Yisro heard — “all that Hashem did for His people when He took them out of Mitzrayim” — many meforshim wonder what Rashi means to teach us.

The answer is that the passuk informs us what Yisro heard; Rashi is teaching us why he came.

After Mattan Torah, Yisro could have remained at home and arranged for Moshe Rabbeinu to send a messenger to be megayer him and teach him Torah. But then he heard about Krias Yam Suf and the war with Amalek.

At Krias Yam Suf, Bnei Yisrael witnessed revelations that were greater than the prophetic visions of Yechezkel Hanavi.

What was Amalek’s motivation in attacking them? While there was of course a physical component to the war, the primary intention of Amalek was to “cool down” the flame of avodas Hashem burning in Bnei Yisrael. How did Amalek expect to succeed in doing so just after Bnei Yisrael had witnessed such a revelation and reached such lofty madreigos?

It was because, as the Torah states, “asher korcha baderech” — it happened on the way. Amalek reasoned that despite all the madreigos Bnei Yisrael had attained, when they were not yet “at home,” while they were away and traveling in a Midbar with all its difficulties, they were, chas v’shalom, vulnerable.

Yet that was not the case. They were as resolute as ever they would be, withstanding the nisyonos of the Midbar and becoming stronger for it.

Yisro saw this and realized that it would not suffice to stay in Midyan and be taught the Torah in the comfort of his own home. He had to go out to be taught the Torah in the Midbar, and then he would also be able to be a steadfast Yid at home.

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As we recite each day in Krias Shema, we are commanded to serve Hashem “with all your heart.” Chazal explain that “your heart should not be divided ‘al haMakom — about the Omnipresent’” — one should never question the ways of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, even when it seems that evildoers are being rewarded and the righteous punished.

But the Rebbe of Karlin, zy”a, in Beis Aharon homiletically explains “al hamakom” to mean “a place.” One should not claim that he can only serve Hashem in a certain place, and is unable to serve Hashem in a different place. We are obligated to serve Hashem everywhere, and under all circumstances.

If Bnei Yisrael would have received the Torah in Eretz Yisrael, they would have thought that only “at home,” in their regular place of residence, was it possible to observe all the mitzvos, but not in exile.

Therefore, Hashem gave them the Torah while they were traveling in the wilderness: so they should be aware that they can — and must — observe the Torah everywhere (Pieczesna Rebbe, Hy”d).

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It is interesting that in the beginning of this dvar Torah (which the Pieczesna Rebbe said on Shabbos Parashas Yisro 5700/1940 and subsequently wrote down) he added a notation: “This Shabbos I was in hiding.”

In some ways this dvar Torah symbolizes the life of the Pieczesna Rebbe himself, for the Rebbe served Hashem all through his life under the most difficult conditions.

In Tzav V’zareiz, he describes a tefillah he uttered when his only son was deathly ill.

Ribbono Shel Olam, Rachum v’Chanun. From my childhood until now I have been filled with suffering. I was a tender child when my enemies, worries and troubles already shattered my strength and my spirit. I was an infant when I was orphaned. My father, the tzaddik, I almost didn’t get to know. I did not merit that my father, an ish Elokim, should raise me.

“Ribbono Shel Olam, despite all this, I have no complaints or grievances against You, chas v’shalom. You are righteous in all Your deeds, and if not for Your kindness during all my distress, I would have perished in my afflictions.”

His son miraculously recovered — only to be killed at the beginning of the war. The Rebbe suffered tragedy after tragedy, loss after loss, but continued to say and write divrei Torah filled with emunah and chizuk. He personified the concept of serving Hashem far from “home,” in every circumstance, under every possible condition.

Like most of the six million kedoshim, the Pieczesna Rebbe — whose life was taken in a gas chamber in a Nazi death camp — has no kever, nor did any offspring survive him. But his spiritual legacy of emunah and mesirus nefesh will inspire Klal Yisrael until Moshiach comes, may it be soon and in our days.