Yogi Berra may have been an 18 time all-star, won ten world series rings – more than anyone in Major League history, caught Don Larsen’s perfect game, managed both the Yankees and the Mets, but he will probably be remembered more for his Yogisms; his quotable quotes which have entered the vernacular of every day speech. Among his famous sayings are "It ain't over till it's over”, "You can observe a lot by watching”, and my favorite, "It's like déjà vu all over again”. Berra explained that this quote originated when he witnessed Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris repeatedly hitting back-to-back home runs in the Yankees' seasons in the early 1960s.
Very often we find stories in the Torah difficult to understand and then with the help of Rabbeynu Bachya, Rabbeynu Yishak Luria – the Arizal, The Megaleh Amukot and others who open our eyes to the transmigration of souls from one generation to another and their tikun, we begin to understand. Things begin to make sense in light of previous lives and we utter, "It's like déjà vu all over again”!
This week we read the portion of Yitro, a portion which contains the most important event in world history, Hashem’s revelation to the entire Israelite nation at Mount Sinai. Why of all people is Yitro honored with this portion being named for him? As the portion opens we see that Yitro is sending a message to Moses, “I am Yitro your father-in-law”. Why include the title? Additionally the Torah which is typically short on details explains that Yitro is bringing his daughter, Moshe’s wife and Moshe’s two sons. We are told somewhat ambiguously that Moshe goes out to greet him and one bows to the other, and one kisses the other.
Yitro then blesses Hashem, seemingly the first to do so after the Exodus. We are told that Yitro offers burnt offerings to Elokim. Again we wonder why we need this information. Then Yitro goes on to criticize Moses and suggests a new system of governing and judging the people, telling Moses that if you follow my advice, you will be able to survive and all the people will live in peace. One has to wonder at the gall of Yitro, the priest of Midian, in telling Moses, the man of G-d, what to do. Moses immediately accepts and then puts into practice the very next day appointing 78,600 judges to assist him.
The Arizal reveals to us an intriguing piece of information providing us with a deeper understanding of this opening chapter of the portion which in fact covers the first three aliyot. The Arizal explains as we have mentioned a number of times that Moshe was a gilgul – a reincarnation of Hevel. We wrote that the name Moshe indicates his soul Mem for Moshe, Shet for Shet (Adam’s third son who was born Tachat Hevel – under or replacing or perhaps to carry Hevel’s soul) and Heh for Hevel himself.
The soul of Kayin also comes back in Moshe’s life to be repaired. The soul is divided into three to better allow a rectification of each part. The higher part of Kayin’s Neshama comes back in Yitro. Rav Chaim Vital notes that this is hinted to by the first letters of the words “Ani chotencha Yitro” – I am your father-in-law Yitro – which spell the word “achi” – my brother. As if Yitro is sending Moses a message saying, I am your brother Kayin and now is the time to elevate the level of my soul. Furthermore the Zohar writes commenting on the seven names of Yitro, one of which was Keini, that he had this name as he separated himself from Kayin. (The other parts of Kayin’s soul come back in the Misri – The Egyptian Moshe kills before fleeing Egypt and in Korach who is swallowed up by the earth. This is hinted to in the verse Shivatayim Yukam – Yud for Yitro, Kuf for Korach and Mem for Misri).
If we go back in time to Bereshit and the related Midrashim, we are told based on the verses surrounding each birth that Kayin was born with one sister who became his wife and Hevel was born with two sisters. One of Hevel’s wives was particularly beautiful, and Kayin wanted her for himself. The motivation behind Kayin’s slaying of his brother was in his desire to take Hevel’s wife for himself. This supposedly was the real motive behind the killing.
Additionally Hashem tells Kayin the bloods of your brother are crying from the earth alluding to the fact that Kayin not only murdered Hevel but those who would descend from him. Thus we learn that Yitro brings his daughter Siporah to Moshe to make up for the sister Kayin desired and also the children to make up for the descendants Hevel would not have.
We are told that one prostrated himself and kissed the other. Rashi questions, “I do not know who prostrated himself to whom”. Perhaps in place of the disrespect, animosity and fratricide that occurred between Kayin and Hevel, Moses and Yitro make up for it with love and mutual respect.
The Torah tells us that the sacrifice offered by Kayin did not find favor in Hashem’s eyes. Kayin’s Korban not being accepted was the start of things and Kayin was incredibly jealous of Hevel. Here we find Yitro correcting this by bringing proper sacrifices to Hashem which were enjoyed not just by him, but also by Aharon and the elders of the generation.
Finally, the Chida writes that while the Torah doesn’t recount the final conversation between Kayin and Hevel prior to the murder, the Targum Yonason ben Uziel records that part of it was Kayin’s blasphemous claim that there is no Divine judge or system of justice regarding our actions in this world - “Les Din V’Les Dayan,”. Now we find that the gilgul of Kayin, the Tikkun of Kayin is in rectifying this by suggesting to Moshe the concept of establishing a proper system of courts and judges. With Moseh immediately accepting the suggestions and putting them into place, it seems as if Moses was waiting for Yitro to come and make the suggestions to allow the soul of Kayin to be corrected.
This idea of Déjà vu all over again is repeated in the Ten Commandments themselves. It seems that although this is Hashem’s Divine Revelation to mankind, there is nothing new in those Ten Commandments. We heard all of them before as part of the seven misvot to the children of Noah, as part of the law we were taught at Marah including Shabbat and as part of ethics required by mankind.
So what’s the message in the repetition? Been here, done that? Am I required to figure out who I was before, what I did before and what I need to do to fix what came before?
By: Rabbi David Bibi
Rabbi Abittan would tell us not to worry about previous lives, but to worry about our previous actions in our own life. He would explain that every year, every month, every week and every day is a chance – hamekadesh betuvo bechol yom tamid - a chance to renew, as my mom says, today is the first day of the rest of your life. Whatever mistakes we made in the past, we have today to fix them. Whomever we hurt, we have today to apologize and make amends. Whatever we neglected to do, we have today to do. Instead of deju vu all over again, let’s take today as an opportunity to do it better.