Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Yitro
To dedicate this lesson

Don't be indifferent!

Yitro heard of all that God had done for Moses and the nation, so he came to the wilderness. What did Yitro hear? What caused him to leave his home and go to the wilderness? What happened that he couldn't be indifferent?


Rabbi Yisrael Wende

Parashat Yitro begins with the verse "Now Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel His people, how that the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt… And Yitro, Moses' father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness where he was encamped, at the mount of God". What did Yitro hear? What caused him to leave his home and go to the wilderness?

The Talmud in Tractate Z'vahim brings a few opinions of the sages: Rabbi Yehoshua says Yitro heard about the war with Amalek, Rabbi Eleazar ha-Moda'i says he heard about Matan Torah and Rabbi Eliezer says he heard the splitting of the Red sea. Why does the Torah have to tell us that Yitro heard something before he came, the reason of family unity (to return Moses wife and children to him) should be enough! If there is something special about hearing what does each of the rabbis add?

When a person sees or hears about a big event, an event of great spiritual significance, he should be affected. A normal person should not remain indifferent to formative events. The Torah teaches us that the union of Moses' family is important, and Yitro does bring Moses' wife and two sons with him, but he also has another motive. Yitro is not indifferent to reality, especially to revelations of the Divine Presence (Shekhina). Each one of the sages highlights a different aspect of revelation of the Shekhina, each of which aspect should affect all those who hear about what happened.

a) Matan Torah was an event where God was revealed in the world. It was "above" nature, the universe stood silent to an appearance of the holy Torah, but the event was "above" nature, the laws of nature didn't change. Although this event was elevated from ordinary reality and therefore also a bit detached from it, because of the greatness of Matan Torah you just can't remain indifferent.
b) Splitting the Red Sea was an absolute miracle, a complete change of nature. No new Torah was given, but the great miracle gave a high spiritual level to all who saw or heard of it. This was a miracle in nature.
c) The war against Amalek involved no large miracle, no new Torah was given, it was war! What was special was the way the people of Israel fought it, when Moses prayed and held up his hands, the people looked up to heaven and won. This war is an example of a case in which nature itself is part of the miracle.

Each one of the sages highlights another dimension of revelation of Shekhina in the world - Shekhina over nature, changing nature and blending with nature. We should look at these three dimensions, recognize them and not remain indifferent to their appearance.
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