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PARSHAT YITRO – TRUSTING IN G-D BEYOND HUMAN LOGIC

בס”ד

PARSHAT Yitro 5784

Lessons from Yitro and the Struggle with Amalek

Jethro priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel, God’s people, how יהוה had brought Israel out from Egypt. וַיִּשְׁמַ֞ע יִתְר֨וֹ כֹהֵ֤ן מִדְיָן֙ חֹתֵ֣ן מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֵת֩ כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשָׂ֤ה אֱלֹהִים֙ לְמֹשֶׁ֔ה וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל עַמּ֑וֹ כִּֽי־הוֹצִ֧יא יְהוָ֛ה אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃
Exodus 18:1

In Judaism, during every morning and evening prayer service, the Shema Yisrael (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) is recited: “Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G d, the L-rd is One.” שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְ”הוָה אֱלֹקינוּ יְ”הוָה אֶחָד׃

This prayer, ‘Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One,’ encapsulates the essence of the Jewish monotheistic faith. G-d is not merely the Creator of nature but also the One who transcends it. He is not just a Just Judge but also Merciful. G-d encompasses everything, and apparent contradictions are fundamentally a unity. Despite our experiences of judgment, we may know that it is based on His goodness.

Yitro appears to be a man who deeply sought the truth, experimenting with various idols in his search. According to Rashi’s commentary on Exodus 18:11, Yitro possessed full knowledge of every idol in the world and, as the priest of Midian, had worshipped them all. When Moses shared with him about G-d, he found Moses’ story so logical that he came to believe in the G-d of Moses. Yitro trusted Moses to such an extent that he even gave his daughter in marriage to him, despite Moses being a stranger. His daughter could have married someone of importance in their own society, making Yitro’s trust in Moses remarkable.

Moses returned to Egypt while Yitro stayed in Midian. However, when Yitro heard about what G-d had done for Moses and the people, he set out on a journey to meet Moses. What had he heard that prompted him to go to Moses? Yitro had learned about how G-d led the people out of Egypt. The Netivat Shalom emphasizes that Yitro’s journey was primarily based on his knowledge of the parting of the Red Sea and the battle against Amalek. These specific miracles inspired him to take his camels, Moses’ wife, and sons and go to Moses. What made these events different?

Yitro believed Moses’ words about G-d because he could understand and accept them through his own intellect and logic. However, the miracle of the Red Sea surpassed his own logic; this was the moment when Israel truly escaped from Egypt. Yitro, having been an advisor to Pharaoh, was familiar with the system Egypt used to prevent prisoners from escaping. When he heard that the Israelites had left Egypt, he simply could not believe it, it was beyond logic.

The idea that the Egyptians would drown went completely against the logic of the Egyptians advisors and maybe even beyond his logic.  Perhaps he was even present when Pharaoh decided to drown Jewish babies in the Nile, and he might have left Egypt due to his disapproval of this decision. In Sotah 11a:11, we read that Pharaoh’s advisors considered this method a safe way to avoid the “wrath of G-d.” For the Egyptians, it was logical that G-ds could administer punishments.

Rather, let us come and judge them with water, by drowning the Jewish babies. G-d will not punish us with water, for the Holy One, Blessed be He, already took an oath that He will not bring a flood upon the world, as it is stated: “For this is as the waters of Noah unto Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth” (Isaiah 54:9). The Gemara comments: And Pharaoh’s advisors did not know that He will not bring a flood upon all the world, but He may bring destruction by water upon one nation.

Yitro understood that the judgment of the Red Sea was a just verdict against Egypt. His own logic fell short, and he decided to serve G-d as He desired. (The opinions of the sages vary on whether Yitro converted to Judaism or if he returned to his land as a Noahide to teach his people about G-d).

In contrast to Amalek, who persists in his own logic despite witnessing G-d’s deeds and attacks Israel. This illustrates the ongoing conflict between human logic and G-d’s ways, as we read in Exodus 17:16.

וַיֹּאמֶר כִּֽי־יָד֙ עַל־כֵּ֣ס יָ֔הּ מִלְחָמָ֥ה לַיהֹוָ֖ה בַּֽעֲמָלֵ֑ק מִדֹּ֖ר דֹּֽר׃ {פ}

He said, “It means, ‘Hand upon the throne of יהוה !’ יהוה will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages.”

The theme of the war with Amalek is a relevant example for our personal lives. The more we trust in G-d, the more we experience the struggle with our own logic. But as we witnessed that G-d granted victory to Israel, He will also prevail in our lives if we place our trust in Him.

This theme of Amalek is also evident in global situations, such as the response to the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The world, driven and blinded by its own logic, attacks Israel without recognizing the injustice and danger inflicted upon it. Just as G-d granted Israel complete victory over Amalek, so will it happen today. Not because it is logically feasible for Israel – given its small size – to defeat all hostile nations around it, but because G-d, in His Torah, declares that Israel will triumph over the nations because G-d fights for them. Consider, for example, Zechariah 9:10 and 15.


וְהִכְרַתִּי־רֶ֣כֶב מֵאֶפְרַ֗יִם וְסוּס֙ מִיר֣וּשָׁלַ֔͏ִם וְנִכְרְתָה֙ קֶ֣שֶׁת מִלְחָמָ֔ה וְדִבֶּ֥ר שָׁל֖וֹם לַגּוֹיִ֑ם וּמׇשְׁלוֹ֙ מִיָּ֣ם עַד־יָ֔ם וּמִנָּהָ֖ר עַד־אַפְסֵי־אָֽרֶץ׃

He shall banish chariots from Ephraim
And horses from Jerusalem;
The warrior’s bow shall be banished.
He shall call on the nations to surrender,
And his rule shall extend from sea to sea
And from ocean to land’s end.

יְ”הֹוָ֣ה צְבָאוֹת֮ יָגֵ֣ן עֲלֵיהֶם֒ וְאָכְל֗וּ וְכָֽבְשׁוּ֙ אַבְנֵי־קֶ֔לַע וְשָׁת֥וּ הָמ֖וּ כְּמוֹ־יָ֑יִן וּמָֽלְאוּ֙ כַּמִּזְרָ֔ק כְּזָוִיּ֖וֹת מִזְבֵּֽחַ׃

G-d of Hosts will protect them
With slingstones that devour and conquer;
They shall drink, shall rage as with wine,
And be filled [with it] like a dashing bowl,
Like the corners of an altar.

Lesson for Noahides

Herein lies an important lesson for Noahides. Noahides can adhere to the seven Noahide commandments because, from their own logic, they can reason that these are the right and moral path. However, when this adherence is not grounded in the Torah, and the commandments are not followed because G-d gave them, one’s own logic can lead to a misunderstanding or neglect of G-d’s commandments.

Take, for example, the prohibition of murder. This seems a logical prohibition; naturally, you should not kill a person. Yet, we find ourselves on a slippery slope when we approach this prohibition solely from our own logic. Is it still considered murder if you relieve someone of their suffering? Or is it a humane act? And if, hypothetically, euthanasia were a permissible action, when would it be allowed, and when would it be considered murder? Our own logic falls short, and we must simply follow the seven Noahide commandments as G-d gave them. When Noahides adhere to these commandments because G-d gave them, they are considered MiChasidei Umos HaOlam, the Pious Among the Nations, and they receive reward in the World to Come, as we read in Mishneh Torah, Kings and Wars 8:11:

כָּל הַמְקַבֵּל שֶׁבַע מִצְוֹת וְנִזְהָר לַעֲשׂוֹתָן הֲרֵי זֶה מֵחֲסִידֵי אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם. וְיֵשׁ לוֹ חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. וְהוּא שֶׁיְּקַבֵּל אוֹתָן וְיַעֲשֶׂה אוֹתָן מִפְּנֵי שֶׁצִּוָּה בָּהֶן הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בַּתּוֹרָה וְהוֹדִיעָנוּ עַל יְדֵי משֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ שֶׁבְּנֵי נֹחַ מִקֹּדֶם נִצְטַוּוּ בָּהֶן. אֲבָל אִם עֲשָׂאָן מִפְּנֵי הֶכְרֵעַ הַדַּעַת אֵין זֶה גֵּר תּוֹשָׁב וְאֵינוֹ מֵחֲסִידֵי אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם וְלֹא מֵחַכְמֵיהֶם:

Anyone who accepts upon himself the fulfillment of these seven mitzvot and is precise in their observance is considered one of ‘the pious among the gentiles’ and will merit a share in the world to come. This applies only when he accepts them and fulfills them because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah and informed us through Moses, our teacher, that Noah’s descendants had been commanded to fulfill them previously. However, if he fulfills them out of intellectual conviction, he is not a resident alien, nor of ‘the pious among the gentiles,’ nor of their wise men.

The struggle with our own logic is an ongoing process. Victory does not stem from human reasoning but from trusting in G-d. Just as Yitro chose G-d’s will above his own logic, we too may entrust ourselves to G-d’s guidance, knowing that everything that comes from His hands, whether we perceive it as good or hidden good, is indeed good. Together with Israel, we declare: the L-rd is our G d, the L-rd is One.

Learning Points


1. Yitro’s Spiritual Journey: The Search for Truth

   – Yitro, as a priest of Midian, explored various idols in his quest for truth. His profound understanding of different belief systems did not hinder him from recognizing the logic in Moses’ account of God’s deeds. Yitro’s spiritual journey teaches us the importance of intellectual openness and the pursuit of truth.

2. Overcoming Logical Barriers: Yitro and the Miracle of the Red Sea

   – Yitro’s acceptance of Moses’ words was rooted in his intellectual comprehension, but the miracle of the Red Sea surpassed his logical understanding. The conflict between Yitro’s worldly knowledge, especially as a former advisor to Pharaoh, and the divine intervention challenged his preconceptions. This highlights the ongoing struggle between human logic and divine ways, emphasizing the need to trust in God beyond our understanding.

3. Amalek’s Logic vs. Divine Victory: A Global Perspective

The conflict with Amalek serves as a metaphor for the ongoing personal and global struggles between human logic and divine guidance. The response to conflicts, such as the Israel-Hamas situation, often reflects the world’s logic, blinding it to the injustice faced by Israel. The biblical narrative of God delivering Israel from Amalek encourages individuals and nations to trust in divine justice, even when it contradicts human reasoning.

These lessons underscore the significance of intellectual humility, trusting in divine guidance, and acknowledging the limitations of human logic in our spiritual and moral journeys.


By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources:

נתיבות שלום

Text: Sefaria.org

With thanks to B. Yaniger for the inspiration and feedback

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