Thursday, January 28, 2016

part of one's identity

Everyone is concerned these days about identity theft.  This week I want to talk about the topic of acquiring a new identity, or actually identities.  Rashi writes that Yisro had seven names: Re’uel, Yeser, Yisro, Chovev, Chever, Keini, Putiel. The name Yeser was given to him because he caused the parsha of “v’atah techezah,” of appointing judges, to be added to Torah (Why does Rashi cite the words “v’atah tzechezeh” and not the opening of the parsha, “lo tov hadavar asher atah oseh?” R’ Menachem Zemba answers that “lo tov” is a criticism of what was going on.  It's easy to criticize -- that's not a parsha.  Offering a solution -- that's a parsha in Torah.)    He got the name Yisro = Yeser with an additional letter vav, because when he con and began to observe mitzvos, he merited another letter being added to his name.

A regular person has one name – that’s who he/she is, that's his/her identity. Not so Yisro, who had seven names, seven different identities.  Yisro was originally an oveid avodah zarah. When he underwent giyur he became a different person; therefore, he got an added name to reflect the new identity he took on.  Rambam in Hil Teshuvah writes similarly that changing one’s name is part of the teshuvah process, as a ba’al teshuvah becomes a different person than who he was before.

It’s not just giyur, though, that causes an identity transformation. We see yet an even bigger chiddush from this Rashi: being mechadesh in Torah causes the same type of reaction. Yeser/Yisro was given yet another name, another identity, because he caused a parsha of Torah to be added.  Learning, and particularly being mechadesh, is a transformative experience (from the sefer Yismach Yehudah.)  A person who comes up with a new insight in a sugya, in a Tosfos, is a different person than he was before coming up with that chiddush.

Why was it davka the letter “vav” that was added to Yeser/Yisro’s name? The sefer Sheiris Menachem explains that the “vav” turns a word into a possessive, e.g. "bayis"= house, "beiso" = his house. Before he was megayeir, the extra parsha was like some piece of theoretical knowledge. Daughter #1 always asks about algebra, “What does this have to do with me?” There is no connection between her needs and who she is and the knowledge she gets from knowing how to do a quadratic equation. That's what Yeser/Yisro was like before the giyur. After the giyur, it was his parsha, it was his Torah – he understood how it was part of his identity. “B’torasa ye’hege yomama v’layla” – a person can make the Torah into his Torah, not just information that happens to reside in his brain.

Yeser = without that knowledge being internalized is a different person than Yisro = with the knowledge internalized. These are two completely different identities (see Mizrachi, Taz in Divrei David on counting these as two names).

We see this same idea of Torah and midos becoming part of a person's identity a little further on in the parsha.  Rashi comments on “Vayishtachu ish l’rey’eyhu” that it is not clear who bowed to whom – did Moshe bow to Yisro, or Yisro to Moshe? Rashi answers that we can figure it out from that fact that Moshe elsewhere is called “ish,” as it says, “v’ha’ish Moshe anav me'od.” It was Moshe, the ish, who bowed respectfully to Yisro.

The Da’as Zekeinim as well as many of the meforshi Rashi (e.g. Sifsei Chachamim, Taz) are bothered by this proof, as we find that Yisro is also called “ish” in parshas Shmos: “Vayo’el Moshe lasheves es ha’ish.” Why is the proof from “V’ha’ish Moshe anav” better than proof from “…Lasheves es ha’ish?”

I saw quoted b'shem R’ Shmuel Berenbaum (and I found that it in Chasam Sofer as well) that both Yisro and Moshe were exempt from any chiyuv of kavod to the other. Yisro was Moshe’s father-in-law and Moshe was the rebbe of Klal Yisrael. So how do we know who went beyond what he was obligated to do and bowed? The answer is that when Yisro is called “ish” in the pasuk, it doesn’t tell us anything about his personality – it’s just a pronoun, a title. When Moshe is called “ish,” it’s in the context of defining his personality as an anav. Modesty was part of Moshe’s identity, part of who he was as an “ish.”  Behaving modestly wasn’t just a chiyuv for him – it was part of his being. You can skip doing something you are patur from, but if, like in Moshe’s case, it's part of your identity, then you do it no matter what.  Yisro was patur from giving kavod and therefore did not bow; Moshe was also patur, but showing deference, giving kavod instead of receiving it, was part of who he was, and so he did it anyway.  (It’s a little hard to read this into the Rashi, as the key words, “anav me’od” are missing – all Rashi refers to is the fact that the pasuk says “ish.”) 

Ultimately that's the goal -- Torah and midos tovos should be part of who we are, not just things we study and do.

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