In this week’s parsha, Parshas Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, Yisro, joins the Bnei Yisrael in the desert, along with Moshe’s wife and children. When he arrives, Moshe immediately tells him about the amazing things Hashem had done so far for the Nation in the desert, including the manna, the Well, and the battle with Amalek. Upon hearing about these miracles, Yisro began to thank Hashem.
“וַיֹּ֘אמֶר֘ יִתְרוֹ֒ בָּר֣וּךְ יְהֹוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר הִצִּ֥יל אֶתְכֶ֛ם מִיַּ֥ד מִצְרַ֖יִם וּמִיַּ֣ד פַּרְעֹ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר הִצִּיל֙ אֶת־הָעָ֔ם מִתַּ֖חַת יַד־מִצְרָֽיִם” “Yisro said, ‘Blessed is Hashem, Who has rescued you from the hand of Egypt and from the hand of Paroh, Who has rescued the people from under the hand of Egypt.” (Shemos 18:10). This seems like a beautiful and sincere blessing fitting to be in the Torah, but the medrash actually says that this beautiful blessing was a disgrace for Bnei Yisrael. From the day they left Egypt, no member of Bnei Yisrael had ever blessed Hashem; to have Yisro, who wasn’t even present by these miracles, be the first one to do so was embarrassing.
Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l asks why this was so embarrassing. The nation had sung a beautiful song by Krias Yam Suf praising Hashem profusely and exclaiming Him as the King of the World, why was this not enough? Why did they specifically have to ‘bless’ Hashem like Yisro did?
The difference is simple. When a song used for praise and thanks is sung, it’s most effective when conducted together with a group of people and is therefore performed that way. However, a blessing is able to be given even by just one person. By Krias Yam Suf and all the other miracles in the desert, the Bnei Yisrael felt that the reason they were being saved was because they were a nation. Hashem was helping them because they were ‘Bnei Yisrael’. Therefore, they figured they should also praise Him as a nation.
But this was a mistake, there remained a responsibility to thank and praise Hashem on an individual level since they weren’t just being saved as a collective, each person had their own unique value which granted them salvation. It was important for them to consider the individual gain they had received after each and every episode in the desert, both for their own salvation as well as the thanks each person had for the rest of the nation being saved as well. They had a responsibility to bless Hashem as individuals as well.
Yisro was a convert, an outsider, who had not witnessed any of the miracles to this point; the only way he could thank Hashem was as an individual. And even though the Jewish Nation had now become his people too, in terms of these events, he thanked and blessed Hashem as an individual for what He had done for his people. After this, the lesson for the rest of the nation became clear; even though they themselves had been directly involved in the miracles, they still had a responsibility to thank Hashem as individuals, both for saving themselves and the other members of the nation. This was just another lesson the nation learned from Yisro.
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