Yisro: God’s Best Friend ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

The Midrash tells us that Moshe’s father-in-law Yitro (Jethro) had seven different names by which he is called in the Bible: Yitro, Yeter, Reuel, Chovav, Keini, Putiel, and Chever. The Midrash explains how each of these appellations applies to Yitro, but for the purposes of our discussion we will focus only on two names. Yitro is called Reuel because he became a friend (reyah) of G-d, and he is called Chever because he became a friend (chaver) of G-d. These two names of Yitro conjure two different Hebrew words which mean “friend”. In this essay we will explore the implications of these two words and how they are not totally synonymous. We will also discuss a third word for “friend” — amit.

Rabbi Elazar Rokeach of Worms, a late 12th century Asheknazic scholar, in his commentary to the Siddur, explains the differences between these three words for “friend”. He argues that chaver is a friend who has left his original place and has attached (chibbur) himself to another place (like a member of a society is called a chaver of that body). Alternatively, he explains that chaver refers to two people who were separated and now came close to each other, like old friends reunited. The word amit is somebody who comes sometimes, but not so frequently. Therefore, it implies a lesser degree of intimacy than the word chaver does. The word reyah, on the other hand, is somebody whom one is with frequently and to whom one reveals his secrets.

Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer (1866-1935) offers a slight variant on this explanation, but the gist of it matches what Rokeach writes. He writes that the word chaver, which is related to the word for connection, implies affinity or connection in one shared aspect (e.g., “We are friends because we both go to the same school.”). By contrast, the word amit, which is not related to connection, denotes a person with whom one enjoys a business relationship. The word reyah tends to denote complete affection, and is the ultimate form of companionship. In short, Rabbi Wertheimer also understands that amit denotes a less intimate associate, reyah the most intimate companion, and chaver somewhere in the middle. (When G-d commanded the Jews to ask of their Egyptian “friends” to borrow gold and silver vessels in Exodus 11:2, the Torah uses the word reyah, which implies a very close form of friendship. I’m not sure what to make of this.)

Should we try to translate these terms into the English vernacular, chaver would mean “friend”, amit, “acquaintance”, and reyah, “confidante”. Indeed, the Bible itself implies that reyah refers to the closest form of inter-personal relationships. When discussing different people whose negative influence might cause a person to commit idolatry, the Torah (Deut. 13:7) mentions “your friend who is like yourself” (rayacha kinafshecha). Similarly, the Torah commands ve’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha, “love your fellow like yourself” (Lev. 19:18). In some places in Rabbinic literature the commandment to love one’s rayah like oneself is specifically applied to one’s wife (e.g., see Kiddushin 41a and Niddah 17a), and indeed in common usage one refers to his wife as rayati (although the term chaver is also applied to one’s wife, see Shabbat 63a). Depending on the exact context, Targum Onkelos sometimes translates ray’ayhu (“his friend”, the third-person possessive form of reyah)into Aramaic as chavrei (his “chaver”) and sometimes as rachamohi (“one who loves him”).

As we have already noted, the root of the word chaver denotes attachment. But what does the root of the word reyah mean? The root REISH-AYIN — ra — usually means “bad” or “evil”. What does that have to do with friendship? The Bible itself already makes a pun on this similarity, roeh kesilim yeiroah (Proverbs 13:20), which means “he who befriends fools will become evil”. Rashi explains that yeiroah does not mean “will become evil,” but actually means “will become broken” (see also Maharsha to Berachot 63a regarding Proverbs 18:24). Indeed, the Talmudic expression kotel rauah means a broken wall, and teruah refers to a series of broken-up sounds which emanate from a Shofar (as opposed to tekiyah which denotes one unbroken note).

In essence, the root of the word reyah means “broken”, but the word reyah also refers to a close friendship, which is a form of connection (just like the word chaver). These two aspects are diametric opposites! It seems that this is yet another example of a phenomenon in the Hebrew language whereby a word can paradoxically carry one meaning and carry the exact opposite meaning, as well. Alternatively, we may suggest that the word reyah implies the idea that your friend’s existence as a separate body is only because he is “broken” apart from you, but is really meant to be attached to you.

Whenever you are contemplating the idea of friendship, you must remember the immortal words of the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” Y’all come back now, or as President Bill Clinton famously said, “Shalom Chaver.”

Yitro: An Invitation to the Royal Wedding ~ Tzvi Abrahams


An Invitation to the Royal Wedding

הַזְמָנָה: invitation, designation, preparation

זִמּוּן: blessing Hashem

זְמַן: time

מְזוּמָן: ready, (ready cash, readies)

הַזְמָנָה: Invitation, Designation, Preparation

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵךְ אֶל הָעָם וְקִדַּשְׁתָּם הַיּוֹם וּמָחָר וְכִבְּסוּ שִׂמְלֹתָם…

And Hashem said to Moshe, “Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow and they should wash their clothes. And they should be ready for the third day, because on the third day Hashem will come down on to Mount Sinai before the eyes of the whole nation.”1

Rashi and Targum Onkelostranslate the word וְקִדַשְׁתֶּםasוְזִימַנְתֶּם, from the root זְמַן/time, meaning that Hashem was telling Moshe to prepare the people for a future point in time. This was, in fact, a הַזְמָנָה/invitation that Hashem was sending to the Jewish Nation, where the wordהַזְמָנָהis rooted in the word זְמַן, meaning that an invitation is really a request upon the invitee to prepare himself and be ready for a future point in time.

Finally the day arrives — the day we’ve all been waiting for — the day of the royal wedding where the king and princess will at long last be united in holy matrimony. Pomp and fanfare signal the approaching royal carriages as they make their way from the royal palace to the festival hall. All the eyes of the nation are awestruck as the royal procession passes by. All try to catch a glimpse of the beautiful princess, who is wearing fine-looking garments and is ornated with the crown jewels. Deep down, everyone is asking the enigmatic question: what is it about the princess that she became the chosen one?

Rabi Yaakov says: Prepare yourself in the corridor in order that you will be able to enter the banqueting hall.2

Hashem has, in effect, sent us all an invitation. This world is the invitation, where we have been given the precious gift of time to prepare ourselves by cleaning up our act, ridding ourselves from all the shmutz, and disinfecting ourselves from all the contaminations. Only then, after many cycles of refinement, will we be ready to clothe ourselves in our finest attire and step into the limelight.

זִמּוּן: Blessing Hashem

Just like הַזְמָנָהis an invitation, so too זִמּוּן, at the end of the meal, is an invitation for the other members of the meal to prepare themselves for bentching, in order that they will be in the right frame of mind to thank and praise Hashem.

זְמַן: Time

Everything has a time…a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to cry and a time to laugh…a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.3

Everything has its appropriate time. We are not in control of how much time Hashem gives us; we just have to be aware of how we spend our time. We use the expression “spending time” because time is like money — it is precious. If we value money, then time is money; if we value learning Torah, then we are held accountable for בִּטוּל זְמַן/wasting time. If we want to measure where we are holding, then all we need to do is to take note of what we do with our spare time. “Killing time,” as the expression denotes, is literally killing oneself. If we were suddenly given a diagnosis that we only had one more year to live, our perspective of time would dramatically change. 

How much money would we be prepared to pay to extend our lives by another year, another month, even another day? We could accomplish so much in one day. The Kli Yakar, on the verse in Bereishisthat says, “and Avraham was old and came with days,” explains that for the wicked people the light of their days is their youth when they are physically strong and healthy, whereas their darkest days are when they are old and infirm.4The tzaddik, however, sees the light of his days when he is a זָקֵן/elder, aged in wisdom, like an aged wine, or a fine single malt matured over time. The am ha’aretz, all the time he ages, he grows more stupid.5Therefore, there is a huge difference in the value of one day spent watching TV soaps and a day spent soaping oneself with the clean, purifying waters of the Torah.

Instead of being a timeline, which is continuous, Hashem has seen fit to slice up time into various time bites: years, months, weeks, and days. Even the days are split into day and night, morning, afternoon, and evening. Why is this so? 

Day follows day, week follows week, month follows month, and year follows year in a repetitive cycle that gives us the opportunity to review and compare ourselves to see how we have progressed from a year ago, a month ago, even a day ago. If we do our cheshbon hanefeshcorrectly, then we should be able to gauge whether we are on target to be ready for The Big Day.

מְזוּמָן:Ready (ready cash, readies)

מְזוּמָןmeans “being ready.” In Modern Hebrew, it means “cash,” because unlike property, which is tied up, money is ready to be spent right now. In England, there is an expression, “have you got the readies?” meaning ready cash.

So as we said before, time is like money; it has a currency value, and we are free to spend it according to how we value it. If we don’t really appreciate it and think that we have all the time in the world, then we will most likely be prone to killing time, yet if we were really aware and focused on the true meaning of time beingזְמַן, of being a הַזְמָנָה/invitation — and not just any invitation, but an invitation to the royal wedding — then we would be sure to make every second count. 

וְעַתָּה אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי 
And now if you will surely listen to My voice…6

Now is the time, for tomorrow will be too late. מָחָר/tomorrow is the tool of the יֵצֶר הָרָע. I hear it not only in myself but all the time in my younger children; whenever it is time to do some learning with Abba, it is always “Not now…”

As Hillel said, “If not now, when?”

We fool ourselves into thinking that there is a tomorrow, “mañana,mañana!” But mañanamay never come. We have all been witness to this; we all live among people who are no longer here, who have passed on, some even at a relatively young age. For all of us there will come a time when there will be no tomorrow.

If Hashem came to us in a dream and told us that we had one more week to live, would we do anything different? If the answer is yes, then why are we not already doing it? It is a sign that we are not living life to the fullest.

It means that we are not fully prepared to leave. It means that we have not fully embraced the idea that life is a הַזְמָנָה/invitation to a future event. If we are not willing to fully prepare ourselves, then we are in effect spurning the invitation, with no RSVP to say that we are coming. And so the angel at the gates of the royal banquet hall will say to us, “Your name is not on the guest list. You are not coming in!”

1Shemos 19:10–11.

2Avos 4:16.


4Kli Yakar to Bereishis 24:1.

5Shabbos 152a.

6Shemos 19:5.

Yisro: Myself and I ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein


Myself and I

The Ten Commandments famously open with the words, “I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of Egypt…” (Ex. 20:2). In this context, the Hebrew word for “I” is anochi. But try using the word anochi to mean yourself in Modern Hebrew, and you will encounter chuckles and guffaws. The word anochi is considered somewhat archaic; the way one refers to himself in Modern Hebrew is ani, not anochi. In fact, even in the Bible the word ani appears more than twice as many times as does the word anochi. So are these two words truly synonymous? Is there any difference between them?

The Maharal of Prague (1520–1609) writes that the difference between ani and anochi is that ani is the simple way of expressing first-person, while anochi refers to a reflexive first-person, i.e. when one stresses oneself. In other words, ani simply means “I”, while anochi means “I [myself]”.

Similarly, Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740–1814) and the Malbim (1809–1879) explain that both the words ani and anochi are used to highlight a novelty, but the difference between them is in where the novelty lies: When using the word anochi, the novelty is in the subject (“I [and not someone else] did such-and-such”), but when using the word ani, the novel idea focuses on the predicate. Accordingly, ani omed (“I am standing”) means, “I am standing [as opposed to sitting]”, while anochi omed means, “I [as opposed to someone else] is standing.” According to these authorities, when G-d began saying the Ten Commandments by proclaiming, “I am Hashem your G-d…” He meant to stress that He—and no other—is our G-d who took us out of Egypt.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808–1888) offers a slightly different twist on this discussion. He explains that ani connotes the first-person speaker as distinct from his intended audience, while anochi connotes the first-person’s intimacy with his audience in his role as their benefactor. By this rubric, G-d used the word anochi when introducing the Decalogue in order to establish His closeness to the Jewish People, especially in His role as their G-d and in taking them out of Egypt. This explanation somewhat echoes the Midrashic tradition that the Hebrew word anochi in the Ten Commandments is related to the Egyptian word anoch, which means “love” and “endearment”.

Rabbeinu Bachaya (1255–1340) writes that the word anochi has deeper, Kabbalistic implications than the word ani does, but he does not explain this any further. This might imply that the word anochi alludes to one’s soul, while the word ani represents his body. However, there is evidence to the contrary: Ibn Ezra explains that the word anochi is related to the Hebrew word anoch (plumb line). Based on this, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Edel (1760–1828) writes that anochi recalls the bob at the bottom of a plumb line that serves to anchor the straightedge. This is analogous to the role of the body vis-a-vis the soul, as the body serves to anchor the soul in This World by containing it within physical boundaries. Accordingly, Rabbi Edel argues that although the words anochi and ani both mean “I”, they refer to two different elements of one’s personal existence. When a speaker uses the word ani he speaks on behalf of his own soul. But, when he uses the word anochi, he refers to his body—his anchor to This World.

As an interesting side point, Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785–1865) proves from various sources that although the word ani is usually a common noun that refers to the first-person, when G-d uses that word, He sometimes uses it as a special name of Himself.