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Recognizing our blessings

By: Rabbi Yaakov Berkowitz

by Rabbi Yaakov Berkowitz, '99-'00, Director of NCSY sports kollel & Associate Director of special projects of TA Baltimore



We find an interesting dialogue between Moshe Rabbeinu and his father-in-law, Yisro, referred to as Chovev, in this week’s Parsha. As the Jewish nation is about to begin their journey from Har Sinai through the desert on their way to Eretz Yisrael, Moshe pleads with Yisro to stay with Bnei Yisrael, as the pasuk says: “v’hayisa lanu l’einayim” loosely translated as “you will be our eyes” (Bamidbar 10:31). The Ramban explains (ibid 10:29) that Moshe was asking Yisro, who was extremely familiar with the terrain, to accompany Bnei Yisroel through the desert to serve as a guide and to help them navigate through the dangers that were ahead.
However, we find that throughout Bnei Yisrael’s journey in the desert, Hashem provided them with the Ananei HaKavod (God’s clouds of glory) to guide them during the day and the pillar of fire to guide them at night. In addition, their needs were taken care of by the mann falling from the sky and the well of Miriam that traveled with them at all times. That being said, why was it necessary for Moshe to plead with Yisro to accompany them and to serve as their the well-traveled tour guide if they had the finest “chauffer” service of all time with the ultimate protection, and the supreme, first-class concierge service provided by none other than God, Himself? What could Yisro possibly have to offer beyond their already idyllic setting? Why would Yisro’s knowledge of the dangers on the road they were travelling have any significance if they were surrounded by the most impenetrable form of security?

I was told by my Rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Frand, that the knowledge that Yisro had of all of the dangerous elements of the desert served a profound purpose. Through Yisro informing the people about all of the dangers that lurk at each juncture along the way, Bnei Yisrael would have the ability to appreciate the wonderful protection provided for them by Hakadosh Baruch Hu. The poisonous snakes and scorpions and treacherous mountains and valleys and other dangers were present, but given their Divine mode of travel they would have been oblivious to it, if not for Yisro’s bringing it to their attention. In order for Bnei Yisroel to truly understand and appreciate what they were experiencing, they needed to be made aware of how difficult and dangerous their path would have been, were it not for their Divine protection.

This perhaps explains why the name Chovev, among Yisro’s many different names, was used in our Parsha. The Midrash in Parshas Yisro explains that the name Chovev was given to Yisro because he was loved by Hashem and he caused others to love Hashem. Yisro’s pointing out the potential calamities that they would have otherwise encountered underscored and highlighted the magnitude and the enormity of the miracles that they were now privy to, which certainly caused the Jewish nation to love Hashem all the more so.

Often times in our lives we take for granted the many blessings and opportunities that we have been given without stopping for a moment to appreciate how fortunate we are. Living in a world of “hester panim” (God's presence and constant involvement being hidden from human perception), we may sometimes forget that God runs the world and everything that He does is for the good (“Kol man de'avid Rachmana l'tav avid” [See Brochos 60b and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim (230:5)]).

For all of us, as alumni of Reishit, such a wonderful Yeshiva that has had such a positive impact on all of us, we should take this lesson to heart and recognize the Divine gift we were given. The guidance and direction that we received in our year(s) at Reishit provided us all with a safe haven that served to protect us from many of life’s challenges, then and even now, as we traverse our own personal journey on a sometimes dangerous terrain.

We should take this lesson that Yisro taught us by being “our eyes” and strive to recognize the Divine Providence that we experience in all areas of our lives and try to see everything with the proper perspective by having an Ayin Tova, a good eye. The Chiddushei HaRim says that having this perspective and living with a positive attitude, recognizing that everything Hashem does is for the best, will allow us to turn any seemingly bad “nega” into “oneg” by putting the Ayin (referring to both the letter and the perspective represented by the good eye) at the forefront. As the passuk in Koheles states: “hechochom einav b’rosho” – which can be understood as the wise one has his [good] eye as his guide.

May we all merit to recognize and appreciate the Yad Hashem and the Hashgacha Pratis in every facet of our lives.

Have a Great Shabbos!