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Yisro 5784 - Heroes in the Shadows

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Yisro is probably one of the most enigmatic personalities in the Torah.  On the one hand, he is a relatively well-known character.  He is Moshe Rabbeinu’s father-in-law, and he has an entire parsha named after him.


At the same time, we know relatively little about the details of Yisro’s life:

-        Chazal tell us he had many names. 

-        Yisro’s time on stage is relatively short.


We find only one perek, one chapter dedicated BOTH to his arrival in the desert AND his departure.  He shows up at the beginning of the parsha, gives his son-in-law advice about how to judge the people, and just like that, the Torah tells us:


(כז) וַיְשַׁלַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת חֹתְנוֹ וַיֵּלֶךְ לוֹ אֶל אַרְצוֹ: פ

Moshe escorted his father-in-law out, and he went back to his land.


-        And even during the time that Yisro DOES show up, there is a significant debate within the meforshim as to WHEN he came and HOW LONG he stayed for.


To understand more about Yisro, let’s take a look at the moment that he LEAVES.


Because many of the meforshim are bothered.  According to chazal, Yisro converts to Judaism, so why doesn’t Yisro just stay with Klal Yisrael?  


Seforno writes that Yisro was an older person already, and he was concerned that the long journey to Eretz Yisrael would be too much for him.  So, even though in Sefer Shoftim we are told that his sons joined Bnei Yisrael and head to Eretz Yisrael, Yisro heads home to live out his days where he is more comfortable.


Rav Yonasan Eibshitz notes that not ONLY does Yisro go home, but he goes home quickly after his arrival.


He notes that many of the rishonim, including Rashi & the Ramban, while they disagree about when exactly Yisro arrived, they AGREE that the reason the Torah places his arrival and departure so close together in the same chapter is because that is exactly what happened.  Yisro arrived, gave his advice, and then left relatively quickly.  


And R’ Eibshitz offers two possible explanations:


#1 – He notes that the language of “VAYISHALACH MOSHE ES CHOSNO” implies that Moshe somehow encouraged him to leave, or at least was SUPPORTIVE of the idea.


Why?  Let’s remember what Yisro’s advice was:


He was bothered that Moshe was taking every single question himself.  People were waiting on-line for hours for even the simplest concern. 


And Yisro tells Moshe:

 ](יז) וַיֹּאמֶר חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה אֵלָיו[ לֹא טוֹב הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹשֶׂה:


“What you are doing is NOT GOOD!


You can’t handle that type of burden, nor can the people.” 


And, taking Yisro’s advice, Moshe elects many shoftim, judges, leaders who will respond to the simple questions, saving only the most challenging ones for Moshe, himself.


And while this was important from an efficiency standpoint, Moshe knew that there was one significant drawback that could, at least in the short-term, lead to frustration amongst the people: 


Now, because people would have to bring their cases to someone other than Moshe, every person who would lose would argue: “If Moshe was judging my case I would have won!”  And people could become frustrated and angry with Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law who showed up and caused me financial ruin!


Therefore, argues Rav Eibshitz, even though Yisro’s contribution was important and necessary, it made sense for him to head back home as soon as his plan was implemented.  There are some initiatives, argued Moshe, where it is better for the inventor NOT to be front facing.  Sometimes we make an impact best we were are less-known, or even anonymous.   


#2 – And Rav Eibshitz offers one more answer as to why Yisro leaves so quickly and why the Torah says that Moshe SENT HIM. 


Rashi notes that the reason Yisro went home was:

לגייר בני משפחתו

To convert his family to Judaism.


What does Rashi mean?


Yisro, it seems, is really the first person we hear of who CONVERTS to Judaism.  We had only JUST become a nation, and Yisro is the first one who was NOT from the family of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov who decides to join Am Yisrael.


And, not surprisingly, he feels left out.  In fact, he’s even unsure if he really belongs, or if HKBH is really interested in having non-genetic Israelites join His people.


But then what happens?  He gives Moshe an idea, but he’s not sure if HKBH will agree to it.  And he tells Moshe:


שמות פרשת יתרו פרק יח

(כג) אִם אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה תַּעֲשֶׂה וְצִוְּךָ אֱלֹהִים וְיָכָלְתָּ עֲמֹד וְגַם כָּל הָעָם הַזֶּה עַל מְקֹמוֹ יָבֹא בְשָׁלוֹם:


If you are willing to do this, and, of course, if Hashem commands it, then all will go well.


Yisro has offered his idea, but he’s not sure if HKBH will agree.  And what happens next?

  (כד) וַיִּשְׁמַע מֹשֶׁה לְקוֹל חֹתְנוֹ וַיַּעַשׂ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר אָמָר:    

Moshe listens to exactly what Yisro told him to do. 


And the meforshim explain that clearly Moshe asked HKBH and He agreed!


It was at that moment that Yisro was ECSTATIC!  He now knew that Hashem is not only OK with geirim, with converts, He is proud to have us!  And He feels our contributions are meaningful! 


So, what does he do?  He goes right back to his family.  Why?  Says Rashi, to convince them to also join Am Yisrael.  To tell them how much HKBH would be happy to have them.  To tell them that EVERY member of Klal Yisrael, those born into it, and those who CHOOSE it, can make a meaningful impact on the nation. 



All three answers to our initial question speak to that mysterious nature of Yisro because he wasn’t about the limelight 


And older man who had learned life is not about the fame you attain but the impact you can have 


And to know that everyone can have that kind of impact 


Why does yisro come and go so quickly?  Bc he wasn’t interested in being noticed or recognized.  Just having an impact. 


Why is the parsha called YISRO?


Because it is fundamental to a life of Torah to know that a Torah life it is NOT about fame I can achieve as an individual, but the IMPACT I can have on my people.  And to know that is something that ALL OF US, even a quiet, older man who we never hear from again, who wasn’t even part of our family initially can do.



Since the breakout of the war, we have heard so many stories of heroism. Some involve a hero with a name and a picture. Some involve an anonymous hero who makes a donation or performs an act of chesed and then disappears. And then there are stories that we never even hear about. They involve people who do something that very few people know about and their story is never told, either because the people who know aren’t in a position to tell the story or because the act of heroism, while great, is too technical to make for a good story. It’s quite possible that for every story of heroism, there are many stories of unsung heroes that will never be told.


It’s nice to be recognized for stepping up and it can even be hurtful if someone’s contributions are not recognized. Yet Klal Yisrael also needs unsung heroes. People who will do things that nobody will know about, and sometimes can’t know about.


And if someone might ask: Am I really needed? The answer is that if we gauge need by only looking at the great stories of heroism, it might be difficult to find opportunity.


What Yisro saw and shared with his people is that everyone has what to contribute when the metric of success is impact, not fame.





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