Reality Check by Josh Rubin


In Parashat Yitro, we read about Yitro, Moshe's father in-law, joining Bnei Yisrael as they travel in the desert. We see the miracles that Hashem performed for Bnei Yisrael which pushed Yitro to choose the path of Judaism.

Many commentaries argue about the issue of chronology in this Parasha, with each side bringing proofs to support its position. Though it would make sense for the Torah to be in chronological order, it is odd that Yitro mentions Yetziat Mitzrayim without mentioning Kriat Yam Suf, which happened right afterward. The Parasha begins, "Yitro, the priest of Midyan, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that God did for Moshe and for Bnei Yisrael, His people- that Hashem took Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt." The Parasha then records that Yitro traveled to the Israelite camp to live with Moshe, and that Moshe "told his father-in-law everything that Hashem had done to Paroh and Egypt for Bnei Yisrael's sake- all the trouble that had befallen them on the way- and that Hashem had rescued them." Next, the Torah explains that Yitro "rejoiced over all the good that Hashem had done for Bnei Yisrael" by saying, "Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the gods."

It appears that Yitro heard two separate things about Bnei Yisrael, each of which elicited a distinct reaction. First he heard about the exodus from Egypt, after which he swiftly runs to accompany Bnei Yisrael. After hearing about "all the goodness that Hashem did for Bnei Yisrael,“ he rejoices. What exactly is this "goodness" that Yitro heard about? Rashi says that Moshe told him about the splitting of the sea, the miraculous victory in the war against Amalek, the Mann, and even the water well that accompanied the nation.

The issue that truly requires an explanation is why Yitro rejoices only after being informed of these other miracles, and not when he first hears about the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. Rashi teaches us that Yitro must have experimented with every possible form of religion. If he hadn't, he could not have said, "Now I know Hashem is greater than all the gods." All of Yitro's life is surrounded by fantasy. He creates his own "gods" in order to solve his problems, gods that obviously don't exist. However, when he hears about a God who has performed an unprecedented miracle (Rashi explains that the borders of Egypt were sealed, and not one person had ever managed to escape), he knows that he has found something authentic. When Yitro hears that a nation of 600,000 people just walked out of Egypt, he recognizes Hashem’s omnipotence. When he is assured of this reality through the countless miracles that occur, he celebrates. Yitro finally encounters authenticity.

When people are faced with problems, they try to avoid them by creating an alternate reality in order to preserve their happiness. This alternate world can last only for so long before reality hits. With his new perspective on God, Yitro was able to live out the rest of his life in happiness, and if we can follow Yitro's example, we can too. 

-Adapted from a Dvar Torah by Rabbi Uri Pillchowski

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