Monday, February 17, 2014

411 - Yisro

This week's parsha begins, "Yisro, the priest of Midyan, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard everything that Hashem had done for Moshe and Bnei Yisrael; how He redeemed them from Mitzrayim" (Shemos 18, 1). Rashi gives us a list of the numerous miracles that prompted Yisro to leave his prestigious position in Midyan and travel out to the desert to meet the Jewish People: Krias Yam Suf, the war with Amaleik, the daily mann that fell from Heaven and the rock that spewed drinking water.

However, from a conversation that took place after he met with Moshe, it seems that there was yet another impetus for his conversion to Judaism. Yisro exclaimed, "Now I know that Hashem is greater than all other gods, for their scheming turned against them" (ibid. 18, 11). Rashi, citing the Targum, explains thatYisrowas awed by the fact that theEgyptians schemed to destroy the Jewish People by drowning their sons in water, and they themselves ended up drowning in water. It seems that it was this phenomenon that clinched Yisro's decision to convert. What was so unique about this incident that succeeded in convincing Yisro in a way that the numerous miracles did not?

The answer, says Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) is that this was the first time that Yisro encountered the attribute of middah kineged middah (measure for measure). For him, this was an altogether new level of Hashgacha Pratis. The drowning of the Egyptians symbolized exact judgment down to the type of punishment meted out. This affected him in a way that the other miracles had not.

Middah kineged middah is a feature that has been manifested throughout the generations. The last Mishna in the first perek of Sotah enumerates a number of punishments and rewards mentioned in Tanach, and shows how each one was meted out measure for measure. Additionally, the Gemara (Brachos 5a) tells us that one who is experiencing suffering should analyze his actions to try to ascertain the cause of his suffering. In other words, he should be able to deduce from the type of punishment exactly where he was derelict in his avodas Hashem. If his foot hurts he quite possibly went somewhere that he should have not.

In 1844 there was an assembly of Reform Jews in Germany, and they abolished many of the mitzvos and in effect created for themselves a "new Torah." The Malbim (in his introduction to Sefer Vayikra) writes that this gathering was the impetus for his writing a commentary on Tanach. When Reb Yisrael Salanter heard about this gathering he declared, "They made a new 'Shulchan Aruch' and permitted marriage to a non-Jew; there will come a time where the gentiles will make a new 'Shulchan Aruch' and make marriage to a Jew a transgression punishable by death." Ninety years later, right there in Germany, they instituted the Nuremberg Laws whereby a Jew found guilty of living with a gentile would be put to death. Middah kineged middah is built into the workings of the world, and thereby a great person has the ability to foresee what will happen even before it actually occurs.

Hashem is always sending messages, and we must bear in mind that they are not random, but rather specifically tailored to those receiving the message. We might not always be able to figure out what exactly Hashem wants from us. However, if we could come up with something related that needs to be rectified, then even if we did not properly decipher Hashem's intention, nevertheless, we have successfully taken His message to heart!

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