For an explanation of the methodology of this series, see the introduction.
"But you shall choose out of the entire nation men [who are] of substance, God fearers, men of truth, who hate monetary gain, and you shall appoint over them [Israel] leaders over thousands, leaders over hundreds, leaders over fifties, and leaders over tens" (Ex. 18:21)
Peshat (basic meaning):
Rashi:"But you shall choose"
with the Divine Spirit that is upon you
"men of substance"
These are people who keep their promises...
wealthy men, who do not have to flatter or show favoritism.
"men of truth"
These are people who keep their promises, upon whose words one may rely, and thereby, their commands will be obeyed.
"who hate monetary gain"
Who hate [to have] their own property in litigation, like [the Talmudic adage] that we say: Any judge from whom money is exacted through litigation is not [fit to be] a judge.
"leaders over thousands"
They were six hundred officers for six hundred thousand [men].
"leaders over hundreds"
They were six thousand.
"leaders over fifties"
"leaders over tens"
Sixty thousand. [Rashi lists the number of each category of judges, which appears to be superfluous, because the Torah should start with the lowest denomination and ascend to the highest instead of starting with the highest and descending to the lowest. Rashi answers that it starts with the highest officers because they are the lowest number.]
Remez (hinted meaning):
There is no Baal HaTurim on this verse.
Derash (interpretive meaning):
When you are with the people who seek instruction from before the Lord, you
should take their affair before G‑d, and give them counsel about the statutes
and laws, make them understand the prayer they are to offer in the house of
congregation, the manner of visiting the sick, of burying the dead, of being
fruitful In doing good, and in the work and process of justice, and how to
conduct themselves among the wicked. But you should elect from all the
people men of ability who fear G‑d, upright men who hate to receive the
money of dishonesty, and appoint them to be heads of thousands, of hundreds, of
fifties, and of tens.
Ohr HaChayim: "Men of substance"
men who are capable of
leading a great multitude of people. Every assembly and gathering is called "chayil"
substance, and it does not apply only to soldiers going forth to war. "Hating
unjust gain" means men who disdain their own money in a law suit." That is
what Rashi said, but Ramban believes it means those who love the truth and hate
oppression. When they see oppression and violence, they cannot tolerate them,
their whole desire being only to "deliver the spoiled out of the land of the
oppressor." (Jeremiah 21:12)
Ohr HaChayim: Moses should look for suitable candidates, and that as
Moses would do the appointing, he could view himself as the judge seeing his
appointees were his delegates.
"From amongst the people"
Moses might find candidates acceptable to him he should not appoint them
until they also proved acceptable to all the people and the people asked for
these men to be appointed as judges.
Yitro merited that the portion bear his name. While it is true that Yitro
paid honor to Moses the servant of G‑d, G‑d repaid him by honoring him, but G‑d
could have found other means to compensate Yitro for good deeds. Why did the
Torah have to create an impression that if it had not been for Yitro a priest
from Midian, Moses together with G‑d's chosen people would not have known how to
administer Israel's affairs?
...there are great and intelligent men
among the nations of the world.
G‑d wanted to show the Jewish people already at that
time and for all future generations that there are great and intelligent men
among the nations of the world. Yitro was an enlightened Gentile who
demonstrated this point beyond question. It is to teach us that if G‑d chose the
Jewish people to be His people, it is not because of the have superior
intellectual capabilities. Rather it was a reward for the loyalty the Patriarchs
had shown Him as an act of love towards this people. So even according to the
opinion (Rashi, among others) that Yitro arrived in the desert after the Torah
was given, the reason that the Torah reports his arrival before it reports the
revelation shows that the Torah wishes us to learn the lesson that although
there are more wise men among the Gentiles, that G‑d decided to focus his energy
on us, thus giving us an additional duty as Jews, to praise G‑d for having
chosen the Jews as an act of love.
Sod (esoteric, mystical meaning):
Zohar Yitro 78:
He opened with the quote, "Moreover you shall provide out of all the people
able men, such as fear G‑d, men of truth, hating unjust gain". But it is
written: "you shall behold" instead of, 'you shall choose'. "You shall
behold" according to sight. In what? In the image of man, in those six
characteristics that we previously discussed, and everything is in that verse.
"...you shall behold..." is the first, of the hair; "out of all the
people" is the second, of the brow; "able men" is third, of the face;
"such as fear G‑d" is the fourth, of the eyes; "men of truth" is
the fifth, of the lips; "hating unjust gain" is sixth, of the hands and
For all these are the signs by which we recognize men on whom the spirit of
Wisdom rests. Yet Moses had no need of them, for as it is written: "And Moses
chose able men out of all Israel". (18:25) For the Holy Spirit came to him
and informed him. And through this he could see it all.
From where do we learn this? From the verse: "When they have a matter, they
come ('he comes') to me". (18:16) It is not written 'they come', but "he
comes." This is the Holy Spirit that came to him, and that is how he knew.
Therefore, Moses had no need to observe and ponder all this, since he knew
Similarly, King Solomon also knew. He knew through his throne, for the Holy
Spirit rested upon it. Shaking and fear overcame everyone who came near his
throne. And he could judge them without witnesses. Since there were images in
his throne, the image would knock if anyone approached with a falsehood, and
King Solomon would know that he came with a lie. Because of this the fear of the
throne fell upon all, and all were found righteous before him.
King Messiah will judge by the fragrance...
King Messiah will judge by the fragrance, as it is written: "and his delight
('smell') shall be in the fear of G‑d; and he shall not judge after the sight of
his eyes...". (Isaiah 11:3) And these three judged the world without
witnesses and without warning. The rest of the world must judge by word of
witnesses and by word of the Torah. It is incumbent upon those who are wise in
these images to warn people and give them succor, and to heal them. Happy are
they in this world, and happy are they in the World to Come.
Tarot cards, tea readings, phrenemology, alchemistry,
palm readings. We post-moderns think little of these mystic "sciences". But they
have been around for thousands of years and still practiced by many. This
portion of the Zohar gives over in explicit detail the meditations for viewing a
face, and the intuitive images that one can glean from them. Hair, forehead,
face, lips, and yes, indeed, the lines of the palms.
Moses needed to be able to judge the character of the
folks before him instantly. This is not idolatry, it is intuitive reflection.
With practice one can see the appearance of letters on another's forehead [the
mark of Cain was a
-Tav according to some]. Both former
[Arizal] as well as modern pure, holy kabbalists avail themselves of this
technique to read the people coming before them with questions and solicitations
for help. The most adept can determine all of the questioner's previous
reincarnations as well as the proper tikkun/rectification that is needed.
The Zohar shows how this method is encoded in the
words of a Torah verse, and then goes on to give tremendous detail on its
practice, from page 78 in the second volume onwards. The reading is based much
more than on simple body language or gestures alone. That is just the beginning
of the inquiry; the psychic resonance goes much, much deeper.
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