We in this generation have seen miracle after miracle unfold. We have watched a battered people return to their homeland. We have tasted of the fruits that have blossomed in a land that had lain barren for centuries. We had experienced one miraculous battle after another of a small and gifted army. More recently we see a small state whose economy continues to flourish despite the financial ravages all around them. We see the nations planning and conspiring to destroy this land fall into disarray and confusion. So much unfolding in such a short time.
Yet the majority of the nations in the world simply does not understand or accept this land and this people as a prophetic reality. On the other hand there is a smaller but increasing number of people that are growing in this understanding. What can explain such a diversity of vision and experience?
The commentator Ibn Ezra suggests that the placement of the story of Yitro ( Jethro) coming to join the people of Israel right after the story of the battle with Amalek is not a function of chronology. Rather it’s placement becomes a prototype for describing two opposing reactions to G-d’s involvement in this world and His involvement with the people of Israel.
We read in the beginning of this Parsha that ” Now Moshe’s’ father in law, Yitro , the chieftain of Midian, heard all that G-d had done for Moshe and for Israel, His people that HaShem had taken Israel out of Egypt.” ( Exodus 18:1) What exactly did he hear that moved him so that he would leave his kingdom of Midian and wander into the wilderness to meet this ragged group of freed slaves?
Rashi asks the same question and responds that ” he heard of the splitting of the Red Sea and the war against Amalek.
Yitro was not the only man who heard of these great events. We read earlier ” People heard, they trembled; a shudder seized the inhabitants of Philistia. Then the chieftains of Edom were startled; the powerful men of Moab, trembling seized them; all the inhabitants of Canaan melted. May dread and fright fall upon them; with the arm of Your greatness may they become as still as a stone, until Your people cross over, O HaShem until this nation that You have acquired crosses over. “( Exodus 15: 14-16)
We also will read in the book of Joshua the following;
“And she said to the men, I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt; ( Joshua 2:9-10)
Yet with all that miraculous activity the nations remained separate and distant. What did Yitro understand that the others did not?
Yitro had conceived of G-d as the “All High G-d ( Kel Elyon) ” that remained just out of touch with the real world. It was that same perception that led many of the nations into idolatry as they tried to fashion a god in their own image to replace He who could not be related to. Yet now, Yitro perceived how a nation of mortals were being asked to act in mortal ways and succeeded in stirring the heavens to respond. G-d tells Moshe at the edge of the Red Sea ” Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the children of Israel and let them move forwardl. ( Exodus 14:15 ) When Amalek attacks the Children of Israel at Rephidim we read “Moshe said to Joshua, Pick men for us, and go out and fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of G-d in my hand ( exodus 17:9). This was a new spiritual understanding.
The actions of human beings had the power to stir and release Divine intervention. This is what led Yitro to declare; “Blessed is HaShem, Who has rescued you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh, … Now I know that HaShem is greater than all the deities…” ( Exodus 18:10-11)
On the other hand we are witness to Amalek and its reaction to the same events. Despite the miraculous events in Egypt and the cataclysmic experience at the Red sea we read ” Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim.”(Exodus 17:8 ). Regardless of all the “facts on the ground ”Amalek , the descendant of Esau could not countenance the success of Jacob’s descendants. Everything would be ignored on the altar of hatred for this people.
It is that exact unending passion of the descendants of Esav (Esau) to replace and destroy the descendants of Jacob that led to the divine declaration ” And he said, For there is a hand on the throne of the Eternal, and there shall be a war for HaShem against Amalek from generation to generation. (ibid 16) .
This is the reality we see unfolding before us in our days as well. There will be many of the nations in this world who will ignore the signs, dismiss the facts and hold on to their illusions. They will do all this in their passionate but futile urge to replace and destroy the people of Israel.
Yet we are also witness to a growing group of people who are being filled with the heart of Yitro and comprehend and see the destiny laden hand of G-d in our days. These are those in the nations who will stand firm with the people of Israel. The important issue is to develop the discerning eye to identify which is which.