When my father-in-law comes, he fixesthings from the moment he gets here until the moment he leaves. Yitro, whom this week’s Torah portion is named for, likewise comes to the rescue of his son-in-law, Moses. The first or primary essence of Yitro’s assistance occurs when he encourages Moses to delegate some of his judicial duties. Can you imagine that many Jews and only one judge trying to keep everyone happy?
Yitro was inspired to join the Jews. Heretofore, he had been a priest of Midian, so it was a “stretch” for him to implant himself with the Israelites. He had heard of the wonders and deeds which God performed for the Jewish people during their exodus from Egypt. We see (at 18:9) Vayichad Yitro al kol hatovah asher asah Adonai liYisrael, asher hitzilo miyad mitzraim, And Jethro rejoiced over the kindness that the Lord had shown Israel when He delivered them from the Egyptians.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov has an insight that captures the essence of 18:9. He points out that Yitro rejoiced over “all” the good done by God. Rabbi Nachman says that many people find goodness in details of life. At a wedding they might like the food or the music, or perhaps they are happy for the chatan or kallah (groom or bride). But it takes a special sensitivity to see how all of these blessings unite and to trace their source to God. Yitro had the gift of rejoicing over the source of blessing. Here vayichad means “he rejoiced,” but also perhaps that “he united.” Yitro noted all of the blessings already encountered by Israel and identified their source. It was this awareness that allowed him to move to blessing God in verse 11 and to leading Israel in worship in verse 12. Read those two verses; I hope you will find them as moving as I do.
In contrast, the children of Israel were able to identify only discrete details, such as the splitting of the sea, the water from a rock, and manna from heaven. When each blessing was over, they reverted to their sullen selves, forgetting what this journey was all about. After all, their stated purpose in leaving Egypt was to worship God. What happened? It took an outsider, Yitro, to recognize the remarkable transformation of Israel from slaves to free people. They were burdened with fear, hunger and thirst—but he saw the good above everything, and he led them in blessing and worship.
For me, the application is obvious. This is the week of Matan Torah, the receiving of the Torah. How fitting that it aligns with new beginnings the week after Tu B’Shevat! However, we cannot get to Sinai until we feel joy for the many blessings bestowed upon us. Yes, the journey is arduous. Perhaps our last few months were disappointing, or perhaps we are anxious already about the challenges awaiting us in the weeks ahead. But here we are, in a community of Torah, immersed in opportunities for mitzvot and ma'asim tovim, good deeds. Let us look at that big picture and rejoice, blessing God and devoting ourselves to divine worship. Only is this way can we merit hitgalut kvod Adonai, awareness of the dwelling of God's glory in our midst.
May this new term be a time of discovery, of growth and of great joy.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham