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When More is Less

Thursday, 1 February, 2018 - 3:58 pm

In Jewish literature there is a saying whose message is “more is less.” It has both Halachic/legal as well as philosophical applications. An example of the legal reference is regarding the Kosher status of an animal, where having an extra organ is as negative as missing one. The philosophical reference alludes to the notion that there are circumstances where adding to a discussion or argument actually detracts from the desired effect. (In modern lingo that would be known as TMI.)

How does this all fit with the idea of positive adding, such as going the extra measure when it comes to a Mitzvah or stretching oneself beyond the requirement to help another? When is more, less; and when is more a good thing?

This week’s Parsha is named Yitro, after Moshe’s father-in-law. Elsewhere in the Torah he is called Yeter (among other names). Both Yeter and Yitro are associated with the concept of adding. The Midrash points out that he is called Yitro because of his contribution to adding a passage to the Torah about judges. However the name Yeter also means added. So what additions might that name be referencing?

Chassidus explains that Yitro was a great philosopher and theologian. He explored all religions and branches of wisdom in the universe before he came to the truth of Torah and Hashem. While he was amassing wisdom, at the same time he was fattening calves for sacrificial worship to idolatry. This is possible because when wisdom is corrupted by ego and fueled by a lack of humility and submission to G-d, the greatest perversions of morality are possible. This is the meaning of Yeter. It is an addition that is actually a subtraction. Once he discovered the truth of Hashem, he became Yitro, a new kind of addition, the kind that adds to Torah rather than subtracting from it.

We find this paralleled in life as well. Some of the most cruel and corrupt people in history were also very educated. The more they learned, the more they were able to pervert that wisdom to perpetrate horrific travesties. This is true regarding science, technology, medicine and every other discipline known to humankind. On the other hand, when the learning is tempered with humility, great things result for mankind.

What changed for Yitro? The letter “vav,” signifying the truth of Torah. The “vav” is one of the four letters of the Tetragrammaton. Kabbala teaches that the “vav” represents the channeling of Divine wisdom to the world (through Torah). This then is the key. When one seeks the truth, one approaches it with a sense of humility, allowing the truth to overtake the sense of self.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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