“וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה לְחֹבָב בֶּן רְעוּאֵל הַמִּדְיָנִי חֹתֵן משֶׁה נֹסְעִים | אֲנַחְנוּ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַר יְהֹוָה אֹתוֹ אֶתֵּן לָכֶם לְכָה אִתָּנוּ וְהֵטַבְנוּ לָךְ כִּי יְהֹוָה דִּבֶּר טוֹב עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל” “And Moshe said to Chovav the son of Reuel the Midianite, the father-in-law of Moshe, we are traveling to the place that Hashem said, ‘I will give to you’. Go with us and we will do good for you, because Hashem has spoken of good fortune for Yisrael.” (Bamidbar 10:29). In this pasuk, we see Moshe’s father-in-law, Yisro, is leaving the Bnei Yisrael to return home. Moshe asks him to stay but to no avail. The commentaries ask several questions on this pasuk. First of all, why does the pasuk call him “Chovav” instead of how he’s been known until this point, Yisro? Secondly, why does Moshe use the word “נֹסְעִים ” when talking about Bnei Yisrael’s traveling, and the word “לְכָה” when telling Yisro to travel with them, why doesn’t he use the same language for both? Third, why does he say that Hashem spoke about good “עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל”, literally “on Yisrael”, instead of “for Yisrael”?
Another question is brought from Yisro’s response. “ לֹא אֵלֵךְ כִּי אִם אֶל אַרְצִי וְאֶל מוֹלַדְתִּי אֵלֵךְ” “(Yisro said,) I will not go, for I will go to my land and my birthplace” (10:30). Why does Yisro use the word “אֵלֵךְ” twice? The last question comes from Moshe’s response to Yisro. “וְהָיָה כִּי תֵלֵךְ עִמָּנוּ וְהָיָה | הַטּוֹב הַהוּא אֲשֶׁר יֵיטִיב יְהֹוָה עִמָּנוּ וְהֵטַבְנוּ לָךְ” “And if you go with us, then we will bestow upon you the good which Hashem grants us.” (10:32). Didn’t Moshe already mention is Pasuk 29 all the good that Hashem will do for Bnei Yisrael? Does this mean that he didn’t promise Yisro any of it when he spoke about it the first time? Why does he need to mention it again?
The Kli Yakar explains that the difference betweenנֹסְעִים , to travel, and לְכָה , to go, is in the mindset of the traveler. When a person “travels” in the Torah, it means not only are they physically leaving the place where they are coming from, they are mentally leaving as well; they are removing themselves as residents of that place and no longer identify with it. When someone “goes” in the Torah, it means that they are only physically leaving the place they are coming from. Moshe was telling Yisro that while Bnei Yisrael must completely, physically and mentally, remove themselves from the place they were leaving, Yisro did not have to do this. He only physically had to “go” with them. Moshe told him this because Yisro was a convert and Moshe thought that perhaps he would feel uncomfortable completely removing himself from his previous life. This is also the reason the pasuk called him “Chovav” which comes from the Hebrew word for affection or fondness. Moshe wanted to show Yisro that even though he was not a Jew by birth, the nation would welcome him with open arms.
Yisro responds to Moshe that he is only “going” to the land of his ancestors. The Kli Yakar explains that Yisro was a little insulted that Moshe thought that he would be unable or unwilling to completely remove himself from his past and put himself entirely in with the Jewish People. Therefore, he makes a point of saying he is only going to his homeland, not traveling. In fact, the Meforshim say that he went back in order to convert the rest of his family! (Yisro’s descendants did eventually join Bnei Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.) With this intention, Yisro’s mind would always be occupied with thoughts of Avodas Hashem and would in no way be persuaded to go back to his old ways.
So what does Moshe respond to him? Moshe greatly admired Yisro’s sacrifice. To be able to give up your past and join another nation, which at this point in history is still more of a family, is no easy feat. Moshe felt that if Bnei Yisrael could observe Yisro and see how he broke off the wrong path and made a full commitment to Hashem and the Torah, they would also be inspired to continue on the path they were on and make a full “travel” to Eretz Yisrael, breaking off physically and mentally from their slavery in Mitzrayim. Therefore he makes special mention of all the good that Hashem promised Yisrael, to show Yisro that he could be the cause of it through his positive influence over the nation. But this could only happen if Yisro stayed with them. Because of his desire to bring the rest of his family to Torah, Yisro instead returned to Midian. Perhaps, if Yisro had been with Bnei Yisrael, certain events could have been avoided, such as the episode with the spies, found in next week’s parshah.
We just celebrated this week the holiday of Shavuos when we received the Torah. Let us take the example of Yisro and make our own journey, a journey where we break off totally from whatever paths may entice us, and turn full steam into the proper way.
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