The Things That Yisro Heard

The Torah tells us that
after Yisro heard all that had happened to Moshe and Israel when HaShem took
them out of Egypt, he came to join them. Yet, Rashi asks, What report did he
hear, and come? And the answer Rashi gives—that he came because he heard about
Krias Yam Suf and Milchemas Amalek—is not what the Torah says.

Chazal ask: Was Yisro the only one to hear it? Everyone heard
about Krias Yam Suf. They experienced it, too. All the waters in the
world split at the time of the Splitting of the Sea. The Midrash says: “There
are those who hear and benefit, those who hear and lose out.” At Mattan Torah
the whole world was shaking, so they came to Bilaam, saying that HaShem is
bringing another flood. Bilaam told them that it’s no such thing. What, then?
God, he told them, is giving His people the Torah. So they went home. What was
bothering them was that they were afraid that maybe they were going to be
destroyed. Once they were assured that that was not the case, it no longer made
any difference to them. But Yisro heard. He took it personally, and he came.

So Yisro, as the Torah says, heard everything. But what
specifically inspired him to come? As Rashi says, it was Krias Yam Suf and Milchemas
. Rav Neiman asks, “Why does it say Milchemas Amalek? Why not
the Victory over Amalek? And why did he come? He could have converted right
where he was, in Midian.” So, one thing is that after Krias Yam Suf—and
all the world heard it—you would think that everybody would become yirei
. And yet, immediately after that was Milchemas Amalek. It
didn’t take long for the effect to wear off. You can see miracles, but they
don’t guarantee anything. If the impression of those miracles can so easily be
disregarded, I’d better go out there right now and join them, before I lose
out too.

Another peshat: Why did he have to come and join them? Why
not just convert where he was? He heard two things: “HaShem will fight for you
and you remain quiet.” Yisro heard and understood that the Torah doesn’t
want us to fight. God will take care of things. Then, a few weeks later, he gets
another message: Milchemas Amalek. What did God say over there? Go out and fight
with Amalek! But this contradicts what we heard before. So I have to join them
and find out what’s going on over here. You can’t remain separate from the
Jewish people and know what’s going on. You need the daas of gedolei
to know when to fight and when not to fight; when and how to apply
the principles of Torah. That’s why he had to come.

Then it says that Moshe told Yisro all that had happened to
them. But Yisro already heard about what happened. Why did he have to hear it
again? The answer is that he didn’t have to hear it again, but it was a
mitzvah for Moshe to tell him. It’s brought down in the name of the Brisker
Rav, that gratitude is not sufficient; you have an obligation to tell others of
the great things HaShem has done for you. There are two reasons for this: One,
is that until you articulate something, you yourself don’t understand it. That’s
why the order in the Torah is b’ficha, b’levavecha la’asosam.
First, in your mouth, speech; then thought; then action. In Telze they used to
say that people who say, “I understand it but I can’t explain it,” don’t
understand it.

But there’s another idea, and that is communication. HaShem
doesn’t do miracles for everybody, but everybody has their specific miracles
that they can share with others, who can thereby benefit from their experience. Klal
Yisrael areivim zeh l’zeh
. Just as I have an obligation to help you to do
mitzvos, I have a responsibility to help you to know HaShem. He didn’t perform
the miracle for my sake alone. He wanted others to know about it through me.

In the preface to Shemonei Esrei, we say, “HaShem sfasai
tiftach, ufi yagid tehilasechah
.” The word yagid always means to
tell over to someone else. But in Shemoneh Esrei nobody is allowed to hear you,
so you’re not talking to another human being. And HaShem doesn’t need to
hear your praises of Him. But if, in Shemoneh Esrei, you attain to a new
perception of HaShem, then you have an obligation of yagid, to tell, later on,
of the greatness of HaShem. That is what we are asking for in HaShem sfasai
tiftach, that we should reach a new awareness of HaShem, such that it entails
telling it over to others. True, Yisro had already heard, but Moshe had his own
obligation to tell over his personal experience. 

(Parshas Yisro Tape #316)