Rabbi 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 were none in Israel
who were as clali as was Moshe, so it was not possible for him to join them
in marriage 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.
The Tanaiim were divided as to what this all-embracing event was.
Rabbi Yehoshua 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 prevent 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 saying that all is mere accident and chance,
thereby 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 according to Rabbi Yehoshua, it was the victory over
Amalek who is clali, that is reishit, that brought Yitro.
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 the Divine Wisdom that descends from
on high; “When you tore apart Heaven, You descended” ; The Targum and Radak
explain that at Matan Torah, the Heavens were torn apart for the
revelation. The Avnei Nezer explained 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. So Rabbi Eliezer Hamodai
saw Matan Torah as the sight that Yitro saw and came.
Kiriyat Yam Suf is Binah, because it was there that 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 andAzaryah were cast. The Angel of Water wished to go down
and put out the fire. Said the Angel of Fire , Everybody knows that water
puts out fire, so you will only show that G-d is more powerful. I will put
out the fire, so that although fire normally does not put out fire, I will
thereby show that nothing else has any power except what He give them.
Reach of these Tanaim therefore saw a different one of these as the
powerful event that caused even the clali, Yitro to come.
Shem Mi Shmuel, 5671.
Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Torah.org.
Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.