Parashas Yisro

This week’s parashah opens as follows (Shemos 18:1): “And Yisro, priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moshe and for Yisrael His people, how Hashem had brought Yisrael out of Egypt.” Shortly afterward, the Torah states (ibid. 18:7-8): “And Moshe went out to meet his father-in-law … and Moshe told his father-in-law all that Hashem had done to Pharaoh and to Egypt for Yisrael’s sake, all the travail that had come upon them on the way, and how Hashem saved them.” An obvious question arises: If Yisro had already heard what happened, what did Moshe tell him? The Maggid offers two answers to this question. We previously presented one of them; now we present the other.
Yisro apparently thought, in view of Moshe’s greatness, that all that Hashem did for the Jewish People was primarily in his merit, with the Jewish People being a secondary beneficiary. This view is reflected in the opening verse of the parashah, which mentions Moshe before Yisrael. But in fact the opposite was the case: Hashem had acted primarily for the Jewish People’s sake, with Moshe being a subsidiary figure. Indeed, when the Jewish People committed the sin of the golden calf while Moshe was at the top of Mount Sinai, Hashem told him to descend, and the Midrash relates that He explained to Moshe (Shemos Rabbah 42:2): “It is not on account of your honor that you came up here, but rather on account of My children’s [the Jewish People’s] honor. I showed their forefather [Yaakov] a vision of a ladder with angels ascending and descending upon it, and I told him, ‘when your children are righteous, they ascend, and their representatives ascend with them, and when they falter, they descend, and the representatives along with them.’” Moshe recognized from the start that Hashem’s main focus was on the Jewish People, not on him, and when he found that Yisro mistakenly believed otherwise, he corrected him, stressing that what Hashem “had done to Pharaoh and to Egypt” was “for Yisrael’s sake.”
To prove to Yisro that this was so, Moshe told him about the “travail that had come upon them on the way,” i.e., the Amalekites’ assault upon them. The Maggid explains how this fact proved the point, illustrating the matter through a parable. A young man visited his father-in-law’s home and saw there an impressive array of valuable gold and silver items. When he visited again some time later, the valuable items were gone and his father-in-law looked distraught and embarrassed. He asked him why he was so uneasy, and in the course of doing so he also asked about the valuables. The father-in-law replied: “It is because of these valuables themselves that I feel embarrassed, for I had to pawn them to get a loan.” The son-in-law responded: “You don’t need to feel embarrassed about this. On the contrary, I’m glad to hear your story, because I thought that the valuables might not really be yours, and now I know that they are.”
The parallel is as follows. When Hashem is granting a person blessing on account of someone else’s merit or for some other reason, the blessing will continue even if the person sins. In this vein, Ramban on Bereishis 15:6 explains that Avraham had concluded that Hashem’s promise to grant him many descendants was an act of pure kindness, and not a recompense for his good deeds, and he was therefore confident that the promise would be fulfilled even if he sinned. Along similar lines, the Gemara in Berachos 7a teaches that when we see wicked person who has it good, this is because he is the son of a righteous man (רשע וטוב לו רשע בן צדיק). But when Hashem is granting a person blessing on account of his own merit, a sin on his part will lead Hashem to reduce or halt the flow of blessing. It is if the blessing has been pawned to cover the deficit generated by his sin. Now, when Hashem performed great miracles for the Jewish People in Egypt, a person hearing about what Hashem had done might be uncertain about why. But what happened to them on the road made it clear. They started to lapse, complaining and testing Hashem, and they were immediately punished with an attack from the Amalekites – their greatness was pawned. From this it can be seen that Hashem had blessed them with greatness on account of their own merit.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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