Yisro, the priest of Midian, Moshe’s’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moshe and Israel His people . . . (Shemos 14:1-2)
Life takes place on many levels. We know that even from our own personal lives when the things we say or do can have different levels of meaning, one for the people we are addressing, and one for ourselves. Sometimes it is just plain deception, sometimes it is necessary deception, and sometimes it is just due to the limitations of the perceivers.
God has no problem sharing many of His secrets with mankind, which is why He gave the Torah 70 facets, and made it so that it can be understood on all four levels of Pardes: Pshat, Remez, Drush, and Sod, or simply, through hints, as a result of exegesis, or Kabbalistically.
You have to pity the person who doesn’t know this, or doesn’t believe it, especially when, as a result, they reject Torah. But then again, sometimes this is the choice they make, especially when their desire to integrate into the gentile world is much greater than their desire to integrate into the World-to-Come.
As I have mentioned before, I have taken to reading about Jewish history once again. I love history in general, and Jewish history in particular, and I know that it is extremely important for us to know how we got to where we are today. A ship without knowledge of its past, even if it has knowledge of its future, is a ship lost at sea.
In my reading, I am up to the period of emancipation which occurred in the 1800s. With new found acceptance into their gentile host societies, and in spite of prevailing anti-Semitism, many Jews used the opportunity to jump ship and either leave Judaism altogether, or rewrite it to suit their whims. Thus was born Reform Judaism, and all of its innovations to make it, in their own words, match the Christian approach to religion.
Now Orthodox Judaism not only had to fight the enemy from without, but it also had to fight an enemy from within. For, not only did Reform leaders turn their backs on their three-millennia-old heritage and their portions in the World-to-Come, they went on the offensive and insisted that the rest of the Jewish people do the same. Those who did not they condemned and often in the ugliest of ways, suggesting to many objective onlookers that what they felt was more self-hate than self-righteousness.
The story of Yisro is about the opposite approach. It is about how a man had the courage to reject the prevalent and accepted religions of his day to join one that was not. It is the account of a person whose desire for truth was greater than his desire for comfort and acceptance, because there was a good chance that he would achieve neither on both sides of the line. Just ask many ba’alei teshuvah, who often have difficulty fitting in well to communities in which its members grew up religious. Not only this, but basic skills which FFBs (Frum From Birth) developed long ago must be leaned anew by people becoming religious at the age of 20 and upward. Some people don’t even take on Torah until their 60s or later!
All of a sudden, people who had grown together with peers their own age for decades, advancing in skills as their peers did, which allowed for the development of their self-confidence, have to start from scratch with people who already have decades of experience on them. This often leads to moments of embarrassment and has to damage self-confidence.
Yet ba’alei teshuvah persevere. What’s a little embarrassment from time-to-time in light of the Ultimate Truth? Losing self-confidence can simply count as just one of those sacrifices you make to throw your lot in with the Creator of everything. It has to result in increased reward in the World-to-Come.
There is also compensation. It is ironic that many of the improvements made to the Torah world over the last couple of decades have been the result of the expertise of many ba’alei teshuvah. While secular, they picked up skill sets that they would not have gained had they grown up religious, which often come in handy on behalf of Torah.
Picking up such skills, no matter how valuable, is never justification for turning one’s back on Torah. But returning to Torah is justification enough to make use of skills gained and developed while secular, provided making use of such skills does not continue to compromise one’s commitment to Torah. And, where it has made a positive difference, the religious world has looked on with admiration and appreciation.
Nevertheless, leaving the world in which one grew up for a new one that is filled with uncertainty is never easy, especially if more than likely one will have to fight for some level of acceptance. You have to be a real truth-seeker to do that, and apparently, that is what Yisro was.
On the other hand, he had a little help from his friends. According to the Arizal, the day Moshe Rabbeinu killed the Egyptian back in Egypt, Yisro got a burst of spiritual inspiration that made him jump ship from his home society in preparation for joining that of the future Torah nation.
What was the connection between the two events? The Arizal revealed that both the Egyptian and Yisro received a part of Kayin’s soul, the Egyptian, a bad part, and Yisro, a good part. However, when Moshe Rabbeinu killed the Egyptian for beating a Jew, using a Name of God to do so, the bad part of Kayin’s soul became rectified and jumped to Yisro, spiritually enhancing him.
All of a sudden, Yisro became inspired to go beyond the spiritual limitations of his society and was primed to join Moshe Rabbeinu, and the rest of the nation. Considering that Moshe Rabbeinu was the reincarnation of Hevel, Kayin’s brother, Yisro and his son-in-law had much more in common than Moshe’s wife and children.
All of a sudden, Yisro does not seem as heroic as the Torah makes him out to be. Rather, it seems that his spiritual past and present kind of compelled him to take the steps he did in the name of the real God’s truth. If so, then what is to be learned by anyone else who might consider becoming a ba’al teshuvah himself?
As the Talmud points, blessing has a habit of attaching itself to the blessed. Money goes to money, wisdom goes to the wise, and good souls go to good souls. And, not every good soul starts off good; some become good as a result of personal tikun, by working on ones-self to become a better person. Ultimately, all God wants to see from us, to help us excel in ways we might otherwise not be able to, is a desire on our part to make the positive change. Eisav was evil, but by hunting for food for his father, he would have created a spiritual base to which the blessing his father had planned to give him, could have taken hold.
Yisro, on his own, created such a base, to which God sent all the blessing that allowed him to succeed in ways he could never have on his own. The same thing is true of every potential ba’al teshuvah, even the ones born religious from birth; it’s about creating a spiritual base to which God can attach all kinds of Heavenly assistance to allow us to achieve goals we might have thought we could only dream of achieving.
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org