Parashas Yisro

In the beginning of this week’s parashah, Yisro comes to meet Moshe, and Moshe tells him about the Jewish People’s experiences – the harsh slavery in Egypt and the wondrous redemption. Yisro then declares (Shemos 18:10-11): “Blessed is Hashem, who has rescued you from the hand of Egypt and from the hand of Pharaoh …. Now I know that Hashem is greater than all gods ….” The Gemara remarks (Sanhedrin 94a): “It is a disgrace to Moshe and the 600,000 [Jews] that they did not say ‘blessed is Hashem’ but Yisro did.” It is indeed astonishing that Moshe and the Jewish People did not say “blessed is Hashem.” Didn’t they see everything that Yisro saw?
To explain the matter, the Maggid turns to the following Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 20:2):
I said to the carousers, “do not revel” (Tehillim 75:5).  Cursed be they, who bring curse to the world! And to the wicked, “do not raise your pride” (ibid, end). … Said Hashem to the wicked: “The righteous do not rejoice in My world, and yet you seek to rejoice?” … Yisrael shall rejoice in their Maker (Tehillim 149:2). It is not written “rejoice,” but rather “shall rejoice” – only in the end of days will they rejoice in Hashem’s works. Hashem shall rejoice in His works (Tehillim 104:31). It is not written “rejoiced,” but rather “shall rejoice” – only in the end of days will Hashem rejoice in the deeds of the righteous.
We are led to wonder: It may be that the righteous do not yet rejoice, but is this reason to curse the wicked who seek to rejoice, and think that the righteous should also rejoice? The answer to this question is as follows. The Gemara in Shabbos 88a teaches that heaven and earth were in limbo until the Jewish People accepted the Torah – only then were they firmly set in place. Similarly, the world to come and all its blessings are in limbo until the Torah is upheld in its entirety and the wicked totally disappear. So long as the wicked walk the earth, even the righteous are unsure whether they will merit experiencing the world to come. They fear, as did Yaakov and David (Berachos 4a), that sin may cause them to lose the blessing they have been promised. There is a constant danger that the evil influence of the wicked may lead them to fall from their lofty spiritual state. As Shlomo HaMelech puts it (Koheles 9:18): “A single sinner can ruin much good.” Thus, the wicked deserve to be cursed for seeking to rejoice.
The Maggid brings out the point with a parable. A certain man was under threat of calamity. All his relatives mourned and cried over the threat. Word then got out that the endangered man himself was sitting at home having a good time. People cursed him, saying: “How is it that your relatives, who have reason to rejoice, restrain themselves and mourn your plight, while you yourself make merry?” The wicked endanger themselves and their fellow men through their behavior. The righteous, who have reason to be content with their record of good deeds, refrain from rejoicing and instead worry over the peril that the wicked cause to themselves and to others. Meantime, the wicked themselves seek to rejoice.
So long as the wicked are present, neither the righteous nor Hashem can rejoice. The righteous are held back from rejoicing because they see themselves as being in peril of spiritual downfall, as we have explained. And Hashem also is held back from rejoicing; He cannot rejoice while the world has not yet reached its final state of perfection. David HaMelech thus says (Tehillim 104:31): “Hashem shall rejoice in His works” – Hashem cannot rejoice now, but both He and the righteous will rejoice in the end of days when the wicked are gone. And thus David concludes (ibid. 104:35): “Sinners will cease from the earth, and the wicked will be no more. Bless Hashem, O my soul, Hallelujah.”
We now return to the Gemara in Sanhedrin: “It is a disgrace to Moshe and the 600,000 that they did not say ‘blessed is Hashem’ but Yisro did” To bring out the meaning of this remark, the Maggid presents a parable. A matchmaker made a match between a young man and a young lady. The two respective families arranged the traditional engagement party. At the party, the matchmaker rejoiced profusely – more than the two families themselves. The families were held back from complete rejoicing because they did not know whether the match would lead to a successful and harmonious marriage – only much later would they see how the match turned out. But the matchmaker could rejoice the moment the engagement was made final and he got his matchmaking fee.
The parallel is as follows. Moshe and the Jewish People had already received great beneficience from Hashem, including the miracles He did for them in Egypt and at the Sea of Reeds, and, greatest of all, the Giving of the Torah [apparently the Maggid is following the opinion of R. Elazar HaModai, who says that the episode with Yisro occurred after the Giving of the Torah (see Mechilta on Shemos 18:1)]. But, nonetheless, they could not yet fully rejoice over the relationship they had formed with Hashem, for they did not yet see how the relationship would ultimately end up. Yisro, on the other hand, could rejoice over his dealings the moment he converted and became Jewish; he knew for sure that he had done well, for he cast aside falsehood and embraced the truth. He therefore declared: “Blessed is Hashem, who has rescued you from the hand of Egypt and out of the hand of Pharaoh.” He then goes on to explain why he said what he said: “Now I know that Hashem is greater than all gods.” He achieved a great gain by acquiring the knowledge of Hashem’s greatness – knowledge that he did not have beforehand. The Jews were not to blame for not saying “Blessed is Hashem” – on the contrary, under the circumstances it was right for them to refrain from making this declaration. Nonetheless, it was a disgrace to them that they were not yet able to make the declaration because of their uncertain position.

David Zucker, Site Administrator

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