Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel WeinCourtesy

A literal reading of the Parsha tells us that Yitro, who was the high priest of Midian and the father-in-law of Moshe, saw of the events of the Exodus from Egypt and, according to Rashi based on Midrash, saw the battle the Jewish people fought against Amalek.

The Torah implies, and Rashi states openly, that upon hearing of these events, Yitro was propelled to leave his home, and to come into the desert to accompany the Jewish people, at least initially, on their travels through the Sinai desert. The Torah does not tell us how he heard about these events, but, apparently, they were of such earth-shattering proportions, that the news spread rapidly throughout the Middle East.

From the verses in the song of Moshe and the Jewish people, at the splitting of the waters of Yam Suf, it is obvious that Yitro was not alone in hearing about these wondrous events. The verse says that all the nations of the area were also astounded to hear of these miracles, and to realize that a new nation had been born from the slavery of Egypt. Yet, the reaction of the people in those countries and especially that of Amalek certainly differed greatly from the response of Yitro to the very same news.

The nations of the world chose either to oppose the news by attacking the Jewish people, or, mostly, to simply ignore it as not being worthy of their concern. People are so confirmed in their inertia that even when there is an event that obviously is historic and earth-shattering, but which would, at the same time, cause a reassessment of their own lives, attitudes, and policies, they will, in the main, either deny the news, besmirch the miracle, or ignore the matter completely.

It is to the credit of Yitro that he chose to act positively upon hearing of the events that occurred to the Jewish people in their exodus from Egypt. Of course, being the father-in-law of Moshe, he also had a personal vested interest in visiting his family, but, nevertheless, it must be recorded to his credit, that he uprooted himself to join the Jewish people in their travels through the desert.

One of the great tests in life is how one responds to news that is momentous and unexpected, that makes it necessary to change one's habits and life direction. Jews often piously – and I do not doubt their sincerity when they say it – put off momentous decisions until the Messiah arrives. But the little I know of human nature teaches me that even when the Messiah arrives, there will be many who will not be willing to change their life pattern, sell everything to join the Jewish people in the land of Israel, with all the accompanying hardships that inevitably will be involved.

People hear many things, many times very important things, but this knowledge does not necessarily imply that they are willing to act upon them in a positive and productive manner. Yitro is eternally privileged to have a portion of the Torah on his name because he heard and shortly thereafter, he acted.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Berel Wein