Friday, February 09, 2007

accepting the rough spots with the good parts - vayichad yisro

Our parsha opens "Vayishma yisro…es kol asher asah Elokim l'yisrael u'lMoshe avdo…” Yisro heard all that G-d did for the Jewish people, the Exodus from Egypt, and decided to come join them in the dessert. A few pesukim later after we read that Yisro is reunited with his son-in-law Moshe and “Vayesaper Moshe l'chosno es kol asher asah Hashem l'Pharoah ul'mitzrayim..vayichad yisro al ko hatovah", Moshe related to his father-in-law all that G-d had done to the Egyptians and Yisro was overjoyed (see Rashi) . What exactly did Moshe tell his father-in-law that Yisro did not already know? The story of the Exodus was not new news – that was what motivated Yisro (al pi pshuto shel mikra) to rejoin Moshe in the first place? Was there something added by Moshe’s first hand blow-by-blow account?

I am negligent in only rarely writing over Torah of the Radomsker from the Tiferes Shlomo, which is one of my favorite Chassidic seforim. His vort here is a gem. The Radomsker notes a subtle difference in the description of what Yisro had heard vs. what Moshe related to him. Yisro heard what G-d did for the Jewish people – the good part of the story, the happy ending. True, there was suffering along the way, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Evil is contrary to G-d’s ultimate purpose and was whitewashed out of the spiritually uplifting story that Yisro took in. However, when Moshe related the story, he did not just include the happy ending of the Jewish people’s redemption, but also included the downfall and punishment of the Egyptians. More than just a means to an end, the challenge of grappling and overcoming evil is itself part of G-d’s plan and man’s telos. The Radomsker reads “vayichad Yisro” not just an expression of joy, but vayichad from the root “echad”, one. The full religious experience demands wholeness – not just celebrating the good, but finding G-d even in the experience of evil and its eventual downfall.

Perhaps one other lesson is implicit in the Radomsker’s approach. Some parts of Orthodoxy inevitably “sell” better than others. There are mitzvos that would strike anyone as rational and ethical and which have set the moral standard for humanity. There are parts of our history which are inspiring, uplifting, and glorious. But it is fair to acknowledge that there are other parts to the story that we are less intellectually comfortable with and require a further commitment of faith to accept. A Yisro may be drawn into a kiruv seminar, an outreach program, a Hillel, a Chabad, whatever, because there is a beauty to Judaism that is attractive and which we should “sell” persuasively. But at the same time, like Moshe did, at some point in Yisro’s journey he needs to be made aware of the downfall of the Egyptians along the way, the rough parts that are less easy to swallow but which are also part of commitment.


  1. on the programs: Yisro strikes me as more of an intellectual seeker. He was supposed to have experimented with every type of A'Z. Some kiruv programs stress more of an emotional view of idenitty and belonging, which wouldn't be as effective for someone not born into the clan searching for truth..

  2. I actually first included that point but then took it out of the post... I guess you read my hava amina : )