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Parshas Yisro

By Dr. Meir Tamari

"And Yitro heard and came". Shall we say that only Yitro heard, when we know that the whole world heard? Yet only he heard something different than the rest of the world and therefore only he came. For Rabbi Yehoshua, what he heard was the war with Amalek, for Rabbi Eliezer HaModai it was Matan Torah and for Rabbi Elazar it was the crossing of the Red Sea".

This divergence of opinions among the Tanaim in the Mechilta as to what Yitro heard, relates to the reason why he had not come earlier. After all Moshe had told him while still in Midian, that they would leave Egypt and then receive the Torah. Furthermore, the text tells us that Yitro heard all the great things that Hashem had done to Israel. These should have been sufficient for Yitro to come. However, they are all specific and individual particulars and Yitro was 'clalli', a consensus. In this respect he was like Moshe who was the embodiment of all Israel and not just an individual or a specific part of the nation. This is why only Yitro could be suitable as a father in law for Moshe, who also was clali. There was no one in Israel who was clali as was Moshe, so it was not possible for him to join them as he did with Yitro. Yitro could not be moved by particulars; it required something that embodied a complete unity, that which is clali, all embracing and fundamental, to bring him.

There are seven midot of goodness in Israel, Chassidim, Giborim, Meirei HaTorah, Chozim, Neviim, Tzaddikim, and Bnei Melakhim. It is possible for a person to corrupt these same midot and thereby create the seven midot of evil, yet the converse is also true. Generally speaking, Chassidut sees midot as being a neutral potential, always depending on human agency to determine whether they are used for holy or unholy purposes. This is the way the Zohar explains the ken hatzipor, that can be holy or not. Cain was ken tzipor of the klipah, that is the perversion of the midot of the righteous and therefore he embodied all these seven evil midot. The Ari taught that Yitro was from the root of Cain and we see this in the Tanakhic texts; " Nevertheless, Cain shall be wasted" (Bamidbar, 24:22) and in Shoftim (4:11) " Chever Hacaini, who was of the children of Chovav, father in law of Moshe, had removed himself from Cain".

The name is the essence and the embodiment of the specific nature and character of a thing, an animal and a person "And Adam called them by name" (Bereishit, 2: 20). Yitro had seven names Rashi (Shmot, 18:1). Moshe too had seven names (Vayikra Rabba, chapter 1). In both cases these names represent the seven midot. Yitro, like Cain was the embodiment of the seven evil midot, not just specific or particular ones, just like the number 7 is the clali one, the embodiment, rather than just another numeral. This is the meaning of Chazal when they tell us that there was not a single form of idolatry that Yitro had not worshipped. People in error seek out idols hoping to draw strength either from this particular worship or from that specific idol. This is worship of a private nature. Yitroh, being clali, the embodiment of all the midot, therefore, could not pass over any of them. Now when he repented and accepted G-d, he became the embodiment of the good midot and it required the hearing of an event of that embodied G-d's greatness, to move Yitro to come.

Rabbi Yehoshu saw the war with Amalek as this event. Amalek is not just another nation nor just another enemy of Israel. Rather the Seven nations of Canaan are the 7 evil midot and Amalek is the embodiment of them all together. Amalek is reishit amim (Bamidbar,24:20) Israel is reishit and Torah is reishit, be-reishit was the world created. So Amalek is able to split the Heavenly throne- Kes Yah and prevents the holy light from illuminating the world. [Elsewhere the Shem Mishmuel explains that Amalek also is able to separate Israel from HaShem by cooling their ardor and the intensity of their worship 'karcha-kerach'. I have found it indicative of the unity of Torah to find that the Germanic Rabbi S.R. Hirsch also sees the divisiveness of Amalek in this word 'karcha', relating it however to mikre accident, that is denying that G-d affects and determines how the world progresses[.When we say, and the evil kingdom shall be destroyed this is Amalek. This is keter bemalkhut. This evil kingdom prevents the world from reaching out and allying itself with the Heavenly kingdom and the heavenly light from reaching into this world. The destruction of that evil income fundamentally changes all this. So it was the victory over Amalek who is clali that is reishit. that brought Yitro

Furthermore, the destruction of Amalek enabled Yitro to change his midot from their evil form to good ones. The war against Amalek was not merely one of the sword but accompanied by prayer, fasting and crying out to G-d (Rashi on Shmot 17:10. sword translated this way by the Targum on Bereishit, 48:21). Each individual's war with their midot requires these three same swords (Rambam, Hilkhot Teshuvah, chapter 2, halakhah 4). Thus Yitro was able win his war against the midot through the sur mi rah of the defeat of Amalek.

For Rabbi Eliezer HaModai, it was Matan Torah that Yitro heard. We know that Torah is the clali, the embodiment of the world. "G-d looked in the Torah and created the world". Torah is Divine Wisdom that descends from on high. "When you tore apart Heaven, You descended" (Yeshayahu, 63: ). The Targum and Radak explain that at Matan Torah, the Heavens were torn apart for the revelation. The Avnei Nezer taught that just as the rakiya- heavens, separates between the waters above and those below (Bereishit, 1:6), so too it separates the material world from the spiritual one. For Matan Torah to be possible it was necessary to tear the heavens- rakiya to tear, so that the spiritual could descend. This descent is the embodiment of the connection between Heaven and Earth, its clali, that moved Yitro to come. The whole Torah is Asei Tov and therefore the tearing of the Heavens that allowed Matan Torah, tears the hearts of people so that they can achieve Asei Tov and change teir midot. This applied to Yitro as well.

Kiriyat Yam Suf is Binah, there Israel understood and believed in HaShem and Mosheh. At Kriyat Yam Suf the plagues are described as the 'hand' of G-d. Hand is the unity of the five separate fingers, as we read in Avot (chapter 3, mishnah17), " How do we know that the Shechina resides where five learn Torah? 'He has established His bundle [a hand or any group of five-Rambam] upon the Earth' (Amos, 9:6). Here is the embodiment of the power of G-d, the clali that unites all the sections and all the particulars.

The MaHaral sees the kriat Yam Suf as the annulment of all the powers of nature and of the material. Elsewhere the Shem Mi Shmuel shows that this is not simply that G-d is more powerful but that nature and material are powerless without Him. He does this by bringing the midrash regarding the fiery furnace into which Hananya, Mishael and Azaryah were cast. The angel of water wished to go down and put out the fire. Said the Angel of fire, "If you go this only shows that G-d is more powerful. I will go and for fire to put out fire will show that nothing has any power, except that they all act only according to His will ".

The Ari and the Zohar, see Kriyat Yam Suf as the revelation of the Heavenly light. This light transformed Israel into prophets, so that a maid-servant saw spiritual things that Yechezkiel never saw.

At Yam Suf two things happened, there was redemption for Israel and a punishment for Egypt. There was Sur Mi Ra as explained by the Maharal and there was Asei Tov as explained by the Zohar and the Ari. Since the changing of the midot is so difficult and so extremely hard to achieve we require both Sur Mi Rah and Asei Tov. This is why Rabbi Eliezer taught that it was Kriyat Yam Suf that not only caused Yitro to come but enabled him to transform his seven midot.

Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Project Genesis, Inc.

Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics ( in Jerusalem.



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