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Over 208 million viewers tuned in at some point to watch the Super Bowl.  In fact, the big game drew so much attention, that last year a 30 second commercial cost $7 million, or $233,333 per second.   Consider this – In contrast, only 158.4 million people cast a vote in the 2020 presidential election, which was considered an impressive turnout.  Indeed, the last ten Super Bowls attracted more than 150 million viewers while the 2020 election is the only presidential election to hit that mark.  This is not just a statement on the country’s priorities – data also suggests that people like to watch and be spectators to something big.

Vayishma Yisro kohen midyan chosein Moshe eis kol asher asah Elokim l’Moshe u’lYisroel amo, ki hotzi Hashem es Yisroel mi’mitzrayim. Rashi, quoting the famous statement from the Gemara in Maseches Zevachim, asks, mah shemuah shama ubah? What did Yisro hear that inspired him to come. Rashi answers he heard about the splitting of the sea and the war with Amalek.


The question of the Talmud is perplexing. What do you mean “What did Yisro hear that made him come,” did the Rabbis not read the end of the pasuk, where it clearly states what Yisro heard?

But there is something that troubles me much more, that is indeed somewhat staggering. While we read this week of the impressive arrival of Yisro, how he abandoned all of the other religions and modes of worship to join the Jewish people in the desert, we never find out what actually happens to him. The pasuk tells us a little later, Vayeshalach Moshe es chosno, vayeilech lo el artzo. Moshe sends off his father-in-law, and he goes to his land. Why didn’t Yisro stay, where did he go off to? What ultimately happens to Yisro?

Indeed, we do encounter Yisro one more time. He reappears amidst the drama and saga of Jewish History. In the book of Bamidbar, Yisro reemerges among the nation of Israel, but again seeks to depart back to his home. This time, in a striking departure from what we would call normal behavior between a son-in-law and father-in-law, Moshe begs, pleads and implores Yisro to stay.

After a brief back and forth, the discussion ends abruptly and we are again left without knowing what happened to Yisro. Indeed, the Torah literally leaves it a mystery: did Yisro ultimately reside among the Jewish people or did he move on? The text is so ambiguous that it leaves room for the commentators to debate the issue. The Ramban explains that Moshe’s arguments were so cogent and convincing that Yisro yielded to the request and remained among Bnei Yisroel. The Seforno comments that Yisro followed his earlier pattern and once again split off from the Jewish people and headed home.

The question for us, though, is why would the Torah omit this seemingly important fact, this very relevant detail? We heard so much about his arrival, why not include whether or not he stayed?

The answer to both questions, I believe, is the same. In truth, the Torah is not concerned with what ultimately happens with Yisro. Where did he live, how many children did he have, what minyan did he daven at, what kind of yarmulke did he wear, all of this is not what we learn from Yisro. The Torah is most impressed with, and wants to impress upon us, how Yisro did not exist in life as a spectator, an observer, but rather lived by listening carefully and by being moved by what he heard. He didn’t watch from the sidelines, but he decided to enter the game.

The Talmud wasn’t asking what did Yisro hear that made him come, that’s clear from the pasuk. Look at the language of the question again. The Gemara didn’t ask mah shemuah shama, what did Yisro hear, it asked mah shemuah shama u’bah, what did Yisro hear that made him come, that got him off of his couch, and to live life.

Yisro merits having a Parsha named for him—and not just any Parsha, the one that contains the most seminal event in Jewish History, matan Torah—because he taught us a critical lesson. We must not live as spectators but we must enter the game. All of Yisro’s contemporaries heard the miraculous events that occurred to the Jewish people. We recite every day, Sham’u amim yirgazun, they all heard. But Yisro didn’t hear as a spectator from the sideline, he really heard the message and was moved to action.

I am a sports fan. There is nothing wrong with being a spectator at times but we have to distinguish between real life and leisure. In his book ““The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football and Basketball and What They See When They Do,” Michael Mandelbaum, a professor at Johns Hopkins, argues that we escape our lives and live vicariously through the athletes we watch when we become spectators. He writes, “The word sport is related to ‘disport’ to divert oneself. Baseball, football and basketball divert spectators from the burdens of normal existence…The prominence of the word play in team sports reveals their affinity with drama, the oldest form of which is in English, the play and the participants in which the actors are by tradition like participants in games called players.”

In the 1950s, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l met with a young man who was about to become a Bar Mitzvah. After meeting with him and giving him a bracha, he had one more question for him: “Are you a baseball fan?” The Bar-Mitzvah boy replied that he was. “Which team are you a fan of — the Yankees or the Dodgers?” The Dodgers, replied the boy. “Does your father have the same feeling for the Dodgers as you have?” No. “Does he take you out to games?”

Well, every once in a while my father takes me to a game. We were at a game a month ago. “How was the game?” It was disappointing, the 13-year-old confessed. By the sixth inning, the Dodgers were losing nine-to-two, so we decided to leave. “Did the players also leave the game when you left?” “Rabbi, the players can’t leave in the middle of the game!” “Why not?” asked the Rebbe. “Explain to me how this works.”

“There are players and fans,” the baseball fan explained. “The fans can leave when they like — they’re not part of the game and the game could, and does, continue after they leave. But the players need to stay and try to win until the game is over.” “That is the lesson I want to teach you in Judaism,” said the Rebbe with a smile. “You can be either a fan or a player. Be a player.”

This escape, this notion of living as a fan is perfectly acceptable for windows of time necessary to relax. The problem is that this mindset, this attitude has pervaded much of our ‘real’ lives. What might be termed ‘spectator psychology’ has invaded virtually every area of human concern. Far too many people sit on the sidelines and contentedly observe others.

People become ‘just spectators’ to their own lives. They therefore cannot act to improve their lives and to change what is going on in their lives any more than they can act to change what is going on in the movies or the soap operas.

In a reality TV, spectator society, it is so easy to sit on our couch and be critical of others. It is easy to become complacent, satisfied and content watching those around us but not actually seeking to change ourselves, to embrace that which is correct or to make a difference.

We don’t know what happens to Yisro, but it is unimportant. What is important is that he taught us how to be a seeker and a searcher. He taught us how to break the mold of those watching from the sidelines and make the decision to join the game.

Hashem tells Bnei Yisrael, Va’Esa Eschem al Kanfei Nesharim V’Avi Eschem Eilai, I will lift you up on the wings of eagles and I will bring you close to Me. The first move is made by Hashem; I will bring you close to Me. And in the next pasuk the Torah uses the term segulah: V’Heyisem Li Segulah Mikol Ha’Amim, you will be to me more beloved than all the nations. He makes the first move and we respond. As the pasuk says in the end of sefer Eichah, Hashiveinu Hashem Eilecha V’Nashuva; Return us to You and we will respond with Teshuvah.

In just a few months we will sit at the Pesach seder and when it comes time to welcome Eliyahu HaNavi we will get up and open the door. Let me ask you an obvious question: can Eliyahu not come through the chimney? Can’t he crawl through the window or walk through a closed door? Why do we have to open the door? If we want the geulah, the redemption to come, we can’t remain seated in our chairs as spectators, but we must get up and respond with action.

{Reposted from Rabbi Goldberg’s site}

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Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), a rapidly-growing congregation of over 950 families and over 1,000 children in Boca Raton, Florida. BRS is the largest Orthodox Synagogue in the Southeast United States. Rabbi Goldberg’s warm and welcoming personality has helped attract people of diverse backgrounds and ages to feel part of the BRS community, reinforcing the BRS credo of “Valuing Diversity and Celebrating Unity.” For more information, please visit