A Drash for Yitro 5767
by Marc Mangel
I will not be here next week, for Parshat Mispatim. Were I here, I would give the drash and remind you that it is that Parsha which inspires the Hebrew Free Loan Association. Please donate after Shabbat.
This week’s Torah portion begins that Yitro, the father in law of Moses “heard all that God did to Moses and to Israel” (Ch 18, v1) and that he takes Zipporah and the two sons of Moses and goes to the Israelite camp.
There, we are told that “Moses told his father-in-law everything that HaShem had done to Paraoh and Egypt for Israel’s sake” (Ch 18, v 8). Yitro then blesses HaShem and concludes that “HaShem is greater than all the gods” and makes olah and peace offerings and, the commentators understand, accepts the Torah.
It is remarkable, then, that we do not know exactly what Yitro heard or what Moshe told him. Rashi says that Yitro heard of the splitting of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek. However, the Talmud says that there is a third option – that Yitro heard of the giving of the Torah.
The Gaon Moshe Feinstein (Rosh Yeshiva Mesivtha Tiferet Jerusalem) emphasizes that it is exactly this lack of clearness that is important! He says, “It is axiomatic that different people are inspired by different things…Among righteous people there are those whose main strength and greatness lie in their prowess in Torah learning [they would be moved by the giving of the Torah]. Others excel in their ability to combat those who wish to perpetuate evil ideals [they would be moved by the war with Amalek]. A third group may be known for their deeds of great kindness [they would be moved by the splitting of Yam Suf]”.
The key is that although we do not know what inspired Yitro, he was moved to action. The truth is not in what he heard, but in what he did with the information. The truth is in the action.
In addition, we also do not know if the arrival of Yitro took place before or after Mattan – the giving – of the Torah. To be sure, it is placed in the scroll beforehand, but we know that this does not necessarily mean that this is when it took place (but could be why Rashi only gives two of the three reasons that are in the Talmud).
In addition to Mattan Torah, there is what we might call Mekabel – the receiving — of the Torah. Even if one is FFB (Frum from Birth) he or she must choose to make this our holy book. And every week, those of us who come here are making that choice – by our actions, we are saying that this is our holy book. Of course, we may ask ‘is it true?” but perhaps more important — and the lesson of Yitro – is that we should ask “what truth does the Torah teach for our time and how does it spur me to action”.