At the beginning of this week’s parshah, Moshe’s father-in-law, Yisro, joins Bnei Yisrael in the desert, along with Moshe’s wife and children. The parsha starts off, “וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרוֹ כֹהֵן מִדְיָן חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אֱ־לֹהִים לְמֹשֶׁה וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עַמּוֹ כִּי הוֹצִיא יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּצְרָיִם…וַיָּבֹא יִתְרוֹ חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה וּבָנָיו וְאִשְׁתּוֹ אֶל מֹשֶׁה אֶל הַמִּדְבָּר” “Yisro, the minister of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that God did to Moshe and to Yisrael, His people- that Hashem took Yisrael out of Egypt…Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, came to Moshe with his sons and wife, to the desert…”(Shemos 18:1,5). Rashi here asks, what did Yisro hear that caused him to come? He answers that he heard about the Splitting of the Sea and the miracle of the war with Amalek. When Yisro arrives, the pasuk describes his meeting with Moshe. “וַיְסַפֵּר מֹשֶׁה לְחֹתְנוֹ אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְ־הֹוָ־ה לְפַרְעֹה וּלְמִצְרַיִם עַל אוֹדֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל אֵת כָּל הַתְּלָאָה אֲשֶׁר מְצָאָתַם בַּדֶּרֶךְ וַיַּצִּלֵם יְ־הֹוָ־ה” “Moshe told his father-in-law everything that Hashem had done to Paroh and Egypt for Yisrael’s sake- all the trouble that had befallen them on the way- and that Hashem had rescued them.” (18:8). Rashi again explains here that he told him about the miracles by the sea and the battle, learning it out from the word “הַתְּלָאָה” “the trouble”.
The Kli Yakar asks several questions on these two instances of Yisro hearing about the miracles that Hashem did for Bnei Yisrael. First off, very simply, why did Moshe have to retell to Yisro the story of the miracles that happened to the Bnei Yisrael? The only reason Yisro came was because he had heard about the miracles! Next, he points out the discrepancies between the pesukim. When Yisro hears about the miracles, the pasuk says that he heard about “אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אֱ־לֹהִים לְמֹשֶׁה וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל” “all that God did to Moshe and Yisrael”, but when Moshe tells over the miracles to Yisro, he describes them as “כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְ־הֹוָ־ה לְפַרְעֹה וּלְמִצְרַיִם עַל אוֹדֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל” “everything that Hashem had done to Paroh and Egypt for Yisrael’s sake”. Why the difference? Another point he brings from this phrase is why does the pasuk have to state explicitly that he heard Hashem took Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt, the pasuk said earlier that he heard everything that Hashem had done for them? Was the Exodus not included in that?
The last question he asks is from Pasuk 11. The pasuk says, “עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי כִּי גָדוֹל יְ־הֹוָ־ה מִכָּל הָאֱ־לֹהִים כִּי בַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר זָדוּ עֲלֵיהֶם” “Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the gods, for with that they schemed against them…!” (18:11). Rashi explains that Yisro tried every single form of idolatry that existed and had rejected them all. He could therefore truly say that “Hashem is greater than all the gods”. But if Yisro had already heard all that Hashem had done for the Jews, how come it took him till now to realize that Hashem was the greatest god? He should have realized this before he even came!
The Kli Yakar explains that at the time, many people believed that there were two gods, one who controlled all the good events in the world and one who controlled all bad events. The god that controlled the good events had absolutely no power over the god that controlled bad and vice versa. This meant that you could not believe in both of them since they canceled out each other. Yisro was a little more progressive than the rest of the world and was hoping to find a god who controlled both good and bad. So when he came and joined the Jews in the desert, he was hoping to find proof that Hashem was the answer to his long search for a deity. When he heard about all the miracles that Hashem had done for the Jewish People by the Red Sea and by the battle with Amalek, he only heard about the good things that Hashem did for the Jewish people, like the fact that they walked through on dry land, but not the bad things he did to the Egyptians at the same time (i.e. when he drowned them in the sea). So Yisro still did not have proof that Hashem had control over anything other than good events. This is also why the pasuk mentions the Exodus out of all the other miracles. It symbolizes only the good things which Hashem did to Bnei Yisrael, but not the bad things he did to the Egyptians.
Later on when Yisro talks to Moshe and hears about all the things that Hashem did to Paroh and Mitzrayim, it is referring to all the bad things which Hashem did to them like the makkos and drowning them in the sea. So only then Yisro could truly say, “עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי כִּי גָדוֹל יְ־הֹוָ־ה מִכָּל הָאֱ־לֹהִים”. Only now he realizes that Hashem is the one true God who controls everything that happens in the universe and is therefore worthy of service.
However, there still exists the possibility of two gods, one who controls good and did good to Yisrael and one who controls bad and did bad to the Egyptians? Let’s take another look at Pasuk 11. “עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי כִּי גָדוֹל יְ־הֹוָ־ה מִכָּל הָאֱ־לֹהִים כִּי בַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר זָדוּ עֲלֵיהֶם” “Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the gods, for with that they schemed against them…!”(18:11). Rashi asks, what exactly did Yisro see from what Egypt schemed against the Jews that Hashem was the greatest God? He explains that Yisro saw that Hashem punished מדה כנגד מדה, measure for measure. Whatever and however the Egyptians wanted to punish Bnei Yisrael, Hashem punished them the exact same way. If the god for bad and the god for good are two separate gods, then why would someone who did bad be punished? You are fulfilling what “god” wants! Rather, it must be that Hashem is the one and only God and he was punishing the Egyptians for doing bad to his nation, Yisrael, for which he wanted to do good.
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