January 16, 2014

Yitro(Exodus 18-20)

This week’s parsha contains the Aseret Hadibrot, so its significance is quite central. But before that, the Torah tells us of Moses’ father-law, Yitro, who comes with Moses’ wife and their two sons, to see his famous son-in-law, Moses.

When he leaves we read the following:

27. Moses saw his father in law off, and he went away to his land. כז. וַיְשַׁלַּח משֶׁה אֶת חֹתְנוֹ וַיֵּלֶךְ לוֹ אֶל אַרְצוֹ:

רש״י : לגייר בני משפחתו
and he went away to his land: to convert the members of his family. — [from Mechilta]

And he went on his way to his land – RASHI: In order to convert his family.

Why the need for this comment? Perhaps Yitro went back because he was homesick! Maybe he felt he should return to his family. What reason is there to think he returned for the purpose of converting them?

The Siftei Chachamim explains that since the first part of the verse says, “And Moses sent him off,” this is probably related to the latter part of the verse. So why would Moses send him away? If not for some holy task – like converting his family.

However, Rashi’s lead words don’t contain the words of the first part of the verse, which indicates that they are not related to the difficulty that Rashi perceived in the verse.

The Hebrew has “Vayelech lo” here translated as “and he went on his way.” Literally it means, “And he went for himself.” The verse should have said simply “vayelech el artzo” – “And he went to his land.”

In Parshat Lech Lecha, God says to Abram, “Lech lecha mei’artzecha” – “go for yourself, from your land.” Rashi there says it is for Abram’s “pleasure and good.”

We never find a verb used with “for you” when something unpleasant is discussed. And in Abram’s case, since he was asked to leave his homeland and his family, to go to some unknown place, this would cause him sadness. Rashi there was bothered by the fact that there did not seem to be anything pleasant in Abram’s leaving his home and family. Why then the use of the word “lecha”? Rashi therefore concluded that the addition of the word “lecha” indicates that, in fact, this is for Abram’s good “for his pleasure and his good” in the future.

Since Yitro was so impressed with Moshe and the God of the Jews and all He had done for them (see verses 9-11), it is indeed strange that he would want to leave this nation. But he did leave. Remember the word “lo” means he went “for his own benefit.”
What would be the benefit for Yitro to leave Moses and his people, considering his great impression of what the God of Israel did for His people? Having his loved ones also become part of the great nation, by converting them.


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