Chazal (Sanhedrin 96) are critical of Klal Yisrael because it was Yisro and not they who was the first to say “baruch Hashem” in response to yetzi’as Mitzrayim. The obvious question is that Klal Yisrael may not have said the exact words "baruch Hashem," but they did sing shiras ha’yam – why is that any less significant? What is the secret ingredient in Yisro's words that made his thanks to Hashem so special?
In the past we discussed two answers offered by the Ksav Sofer: 1) Bnei Yisrael sang shirah because they experienced the jubilation of being saved and seeing their enemy's downfall. However, because he was a ger and shared a certain kinship with the Mitzrim, Yisro was pained by the Egyptians being drowned. Rashi comments on “Vayichad Yisro” that “na’asah besaro chidudim." Nonetheless, Yisro still said “Baruch Hashem.” The ability to thank Hashem even when experiencing pain is something that Yisro alone accomplished. 2) Bnei Yisrael experienced first hand the exodus from Mitzrim and kri’as Yam Suf. Yisro heard about it; it was a vicarious experience. His “Baruch Hashem” was the joy of someone who can be mishtatef b’simchas chaveiro, someone who shares in and feels joy at his friend’s good fortune even if it is not his own personal simcha. That thanks belonged to Yisro alone.
I want to share with you a brilliant answer of R’ Shlomo Fischer (in his Derashos Beis Yishai) that draws on some of the topics we discussed these past few weeks. Just to review: We mentioned (link) that Hashem had to increase the burden of servitude on Bnei Yisrael so that they could go free after only 210 years instead of 400. The qualitative increase in pressure served as a substitute for the quantitative amount of time spent in Mitzrayim, but that in turn was for Bnei Yisrael’s benefit because it allowed the exodus to occur sooner. We also mentioned the view of the Ramban (link - Ramban holds like Ra'avad) that even though the punishment of galus had been decreed upon Klal Yisrael from the time of Bris bein haBesarim, the Mitzrim still deserved to be punished for carrying out that decree because they went above and beyond what was necessary in their zeal to oppress Klal Yisrael. Rav Shlomo Fischer puts two and two together. Yisro said, “Ki gadol Hashem m’kol Elokim.” Elokim is the name that refers to how Hashem is manifest through the laws that govern the universe. One of those natural laws is that man has free choice -- the Mitzrim were free to decide whether and to what degree they would persecute Bnei Yisrael. Because of the severity of their persecution, “Ki badavar asher zadu aleihem,” the Mitzrim were punished. Yet, the same harshness and severity which the Egyptians were free to choose to inflict and for which they were punished must have also occurred by virtue of Hashem’s hashgacha, as it was that very same qualitative increase in severity which was the trigger that allowed the galus to end after only 210 years instead of 400 at tremendous benefit to Klal Yisrael. “Ki gadol Hashem m’kol Elokim” – even while you play by the rules of free choice and deliver schar and onesh accordingly, Hashem you reign above those rules in showing your awesome hashgacha over the universe.