Yisro & Methods of Faith

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Yisro, the minister of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard everything that G-d did to Moshe and to Israel, His people – that HaShem had taken Israel out of Egypt. Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, took Zipporah, the wife of Moshe, after she had been sent away; and her two sons: of whom the name of one was Gershom, for he had said, “I was a sojourner in a strange land,” and the name of the other was Eliezer, for “the G-d of my father came to my aid, and he Saved me from the sword of Paro.” Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, came to Moshe with his sons and wife, to the Wilderness where he was encamped, by the Mountain of G-d. He said to Moshe, “I, your father-in-law Yisro, have come to you, with your wife and her two sons with her.” Moshe went out to meet his father-in-law, and he prostrated himself and kissed him[.]

Shemos 18:1-7

There are a lot of things that stick out in this introductory paragraph to the parsha, but there are two issues in particular that are bothering me.

  1. When did Yisro come to the camp? 
  2. Why does the Torah mention Yisro as the father-in-law of Moshe so many times if the Torah is known for its terse approach?

When did Yisro come to the camp?

There seems to be a dispute in the Talmud as to when Yisro came to bnei yisroel in bamidbar. Rashi mentions the two main opinions:

  1. Yisroel came before the Torah was given, after hearing the news of the Yam and the war against Amalek. 
  2. Yisroel came after Mattan Torah. 

Either approach still brings an issue. If Yisro knew that G-d was with bnei yisroel, then why not come before the Makkos? Why not come when Moshe came? After all, as we’ve discussed before, Yisro was on Paro’s court when Moshe was just a baby, and the Medrash discusses how Yisro helped to save Moshe’s life with the test between the coal and the gold.

I believe the answer to the kasha in the first question is found in the answer to the second question. Why does the Torah bring him as shviger so many times?

Both the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh and the Medrash bring some solutions for some of the times the title is mentioned, but neither in my opinion adequately address the frequency in such short succession. 

Minister of Midian – he was a priest of the Midianites. Even though he came to abandon this path and live a life of agnosticism, it was at this point that he chose to follow HaShem. It’s a title change for him. 

Father in Law – Instead of Kohen of Avodah Zara, he’s now tied to Moshe. There’s also the opinion that this title connection was necessary to explain why the Midianites let him leave. This title allowed him all the way to the camp, but not in it. Moshe had to come to him with the Sanhedrin to perform his conversion. 

Exploring the World

When Moshe’s children were born, Yisro was already no longer practicing Avodah Zara. It’s recorded in Medrash that Yisro argued with Moshe to let him teach the children Avodah Zara so that they could come to the same conclusions he did. Yisro, by a logical evaluation, similar to that of Avraham Avinu, looked at all the religions of the world and pulled them apart to see what worked and what didn’t work. It was only Judaism that he found a functioning complete system. 

Yisro’s first approach to HaShem was one of logical deduction and problem solving. 

Then came the Makkos, Krias Yam Suf, and the War against Amalek. Perhaps even Mattan Torah. 

With these events, Yisro had a second approach to HaShem, one of spiritual and emotional connection and realization of a deeper truth. 

In my own approach, I first did the former. I studied comparative religions, and when I met with a Rabbi, I found the error of my ways logically in a search for truth. But I wasn’t connected emotionally, and that took time. In some ways, as a tikkun for this, I have a chassidic way of life that draws me ever closer to spirituality and emotionality with relationship with HaShem, to overcome my natural inclination to be logical and deductive. 

We Can Apply the Same to Emunah

When we talk about Emunah, the approach of logic and deductive reasoning doesn’t get one very far. There must be a relationship with HaShem that transcends our ability to reason. That’s what the parsha is teaching us. 

In the beginning of the Parsha, we have Yisro, the one who came to HaShem out of logic. Then, near the end of the Parsha, we have Na’aseh v’nishma. We will do and we will listen. Bnei Yisroel just experienced a miraculous escape and HaShem revealed Himself in a supernal way that defies our imaginations. 

The response? We will observe Torah. Then we’ll hock about it. 

The reality is all of Torah is a chok – it’s all expected rules without explanations. Can there be explanations? Perhaps. But not at the cost of serving HaShem because that’s our Avodah – to serve HaShem. 

Not environmentalism.

Not civil rights.

Not patriotism.

Serving HaShem. That’s all there is. 

When it comes to it, the approach of Yisro has to end with the approach at Har Sinai. We need to come to HaShem in a simple emunah. Only then can we build on the structure of emunah to strengthen our spiritual connection. Logic does not penetrate the heart, but obedience to G-d’s Torah does. And we need to realize that sometimes, most times in fact, our hishtadlus is simply crying out to Borei HaOlam in prayer, and that He’ll work it all together.