What convinced Yisro to convert?
(18,1) “And Yisro the high priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that G-d (Elo-him) had done for Moshe and for Yisrael, His people, that Hashem had taken Yisrael out of Egypt.”
Rashi brings the Mechilta, which asks: What news did Yisro hear that made him come? The splitting of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek. All the commentaries ask that it says in the posuk a different reason - that he heard that Hashem had taken Yisrael out of Egypt - and yet the Mechilta states that it was because of the splitting of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek!
But it seems that the Mechilta had a difficulty with the double expression - “all that Elo-him had done for Moshe”, and “that Hashem had taken Yisrael out of Egypt”. The name Elo-him signifies the attribute of justice, and is used when G-d brings something bad, G-d forbid, on a person. But the four letter name of Hashem signifies the attribute of mercy, and is used in connection with bringing something good.
Now, some of the earlier heretics were of the opinion that there were two gods - one that does good, and one that does evil - and each one cannot do what he other one does. Thus, although Yisro had seen what Hashem had done to Egypt, he thought that Yisrael were under the authority of the god who does evil, and he is not able to change the course of nature for the good. Therefore, he did not want to convert, because observing the Torah is very difficult, and according to his erroneous understanding he could only lose if he converted - if he transgresses the Torah evil will certainly befall him like it had happened to the Egyptians, and if he keeps the Torah he will not receive something good, because this god is not able to change the course of nature for the good.
However, with the splitting of the Red Sea it was clear that he had erred, because G-d had changed nature for Yisrael’s benefit, and at the same time He had changed nature to cause the Egyptians’ demise' Thus it was clear that Hashem has the power for good and evil, and there is no one besides Him. Similarly, in the war with Amalek it was recognizable that Hashem rewards those who do His will, changing the laws of nature for them. Because when Moshe raised his hands Yisrael prevailed against Amalek, and when he lowered his hands Amalek prevailed. From this Yisro understood that everything was from one G-d.
This is the meaning of our posuk: “And Yisro heard all that Elo-him had done for Moshe”, that is, with the attribute of justice, “and for Yisrael, His people”, that He has the power to change nature from evil to good and vice versa, as happened with the splitting of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek. Then he understood “that Hashem had taken Yisrael out of Egypt”, that everything was done by one G-d who can do good or evil. Not like he had originally thought, that El-him was one god that does evil and Hashem was another god which does good, but rather He is one, and there is none besides Him.
With this, we understand what Rashi wrote on posuk 11: “Now I know that Hashem is greater then all the gods” - I recognized Him in the past, but now even more. Because originally I thought that there are others like Him, who can change nature from good to bad. But now I see that Hashem is greater than all the gods, and there is no one unique as Him in any aspect.
What did Yisro stipulate with Moshe when he returned to Egypt?
(18,1) “And Yisro the high priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that G-d had done for Moshe and for Yisrael, His people, that Hashem had taken Yisrael out of Egypt.”
Another explanation of the posuk is according to what I wrote in parshas Shemos, that when Yisro said to Moshe, “Go in peace”, he was stipulating with him that he should go only in the name of peace, but not to make war with Pharaoh, but Moshe did not listen to him. See there.
We can add here that Yisro was concerned lest Yisrael make war with Pharaoh in a natural way with sword and spear and kill the whole nation, and therefore Moshe would be an evil doer. Or maybe he was concerned that they would not be able to defeat Pharaoh, and so what happened to the children of Ephraim who had left Egypt thirty years early and had been killed by the men of Gath would happen to Moshe. Therefore, he warned him to go in the name of peace, and not to make war. And since Moshe did not listen to him and went back to Egypt not in accordance with Yisro’s wishes, he made Yisro angry at him. But now Yisro heard that his will had been heeded, because Moshe had not done evil towards Pharaoh or started a war against him, but instead Hashem Himself had warred against him from heaven and brought down Pharaoh’s pride in an unnatural way. Therefore he now came.
This is what the posuk is saying: “And Yisro heard all that G-d had done for Moshe and for Yisrael, His people” - he heard that Hashem had done this, and “that Hashem had brought out the children of Yisrael from the land of Egypt”, and not Moshe. Thus his anger against Moshe abated, and he came now to convert.
When was Tzipporah sent away?
(18,2) “And Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, took Tzipporah, wife of Moshe, after she had been sent away.”
Behold, the Torah does not tell us when she was sent away, and the words of Chazal concerning this are well known. But if not for their holy words, it seems to me that this was at the time when Moshe started to conduct the miracles against Pharaoh. And since Yisro had stipulated with Moshe that he should go back to Egypt only in the name of peace, and not to make war and to kill Pharaoh, as I wrote earlier and also in parshas Shemos at length, when Tzipporah saw that Moshe started to smite Pharaoh she wished to respect the command of her father and so did not wish to remain with Moshe. Therefore, he sent her away.
Alternatively Yisro's intention might have been like what we learn from the gemora in Berachos 56a: Bar Hedaya was traveling with Rava in a boat, and he said: Why should I travel with somebody who I predicted would experience a miracle. Perhaps the miracle will occur right now, that the boat will sink and he will be miraculously saved, but I will drown. From this we see that it is normal to be particular about being with somebody who experiences miracles.
Here too, Yisro did not want to endanger his daughter by having her go to a place where the Egyptians would be smitten and Yisrael would be miraculously saved. Especially as during the three days of darkness many of Yisrael died and Yisro was afraid that she too would be harmed. Nor did he wish to have his daughter saved by a miracle. Therefore, when he gave permission to his daughter to go with Moshe, he stipulated with Moshe to go only for peace, and not for war. So when Tzipporah later saw that Moshe started to smite Pharaoh she wished to heed the command of her father, and thus she did not wish to be with Moshe. Therefore, he sent her away.
How had Tzipporah been sent away?
(18,2) “And Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, took Tzipporah, wife of Moshe, after she had been sent away.”
The Yalkut Shimoni records a dispute concerning our posuk “after she had been sent away” - R. Yehoshua explained that it was after she had been sent away with a bill of divorce, and R. Eliezer explained that it was after she had been sent away with words. What is the source of their dispute?
I explained in my sefer Nidrei Zeiruzin, at the end of the 3rd chapter, the posuk (4,26) “For you are a bridegroom of blood to me”, which Tzipporah said after she circumcised her son. It says in the Targum Yerushalmi that when Yisro gave to Moshe his daughter Tzipporah, he stipulated with him not to circumcise his first son. So now that he had been circumcised this condition was broken, and so the marriage was annulled retroactively and he needed to marry her a second time. Therefore she said, “you are a bridegroom of blood to me”, that through the blood of circumcision you have become to me like a new bridegroom.
According to this I explained elsewhere that this is what our posuk is saying: “And Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, took Tzipporah, wife of Moshe”, who was again the wife of Moshe, because he remarried her, “after she had been sent away” - after she had been sent away from being Moshe’s wife, when the stipulation not to circumcise had been broken.
We can now explain the dispute of the Rabbis in the above Midrash. According to the Targum Yerushalmi which said that the reason why Moshe had not done the circumcision until now was because Yisro had stipulated with him not to circumcise his first son, Tzipporah did not need a bill of divorce at all, since he had broken his conditions of marriage. Therefore, R. Eliezer said that she was sent away with just words.
However, the gemora in Nedarim explains that the reason that Moshe did not circumcise his son is because he said: If I circumcise him and then I travel, it will be a danger to the child - and not because of his Yisro’s stipulation. From here it is apparent that the son in question was his second son, Eliezer, about whom there was no stipulation not to circumcise. And since Moshe had not broken his agreement with Yisro, the marriage was not annulled because of the circumcision, and therefore R. Yehoshua explained that Tzipporah had separated from him with a bill of divorce.
Why didn’t the Torah write Moshe’s reasons for naming his sons when they were born?
(18,3) “And her two sons, one of whom was named Gershom, because he (Moshe) said: I was a stranger in a foreign land. And the name of one was Eliezer, because the G-d of my father is my aid and saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.”
Why in the first posuk concerning Gershom does it say “because he said: I was…”, but in the second posuk it does not similarly say “because he said: the G-d…”? We can answer this by first understanding why the reasons for naming his sons were not mentioned at the time when Eliezer was born, in Parshas Shemos.
But actually there is a further question, because apparently his being saved from the sword of Pharaoh occurred before he was a stranger in Midian, and if so, he should have named the first son Eliezer, and the second Gershom. But it seems to me, that when Moshe said that Hashem saved him from the sword of Pharaoh, he was not referring to the past, but rather to the future, to the time of the splitting of the Red Sea, and how Hashem rescued him at that time from the sword of Pharaoh, as it says (15,9), “The enemy said…I will draw my sword”. Because in Egypt Moshe had no reason for concern, because he was not subject to the servitude with Yisrael, since the tribe of Levi were not enslaved, as Chazal stated. But at the splitting of the Red Sea, Pharaoh wanted to kill Moshe more than all of them, because he said to himself that Moshe tricked him by saying that they were only going for three days, but now they fled completely, and Pharaoh held that Moshe had seduced them into fleeing completely. Therefore he wanted to kill him with his sword, and Hashem saved him together with Klal Yisrael. This was his intention when he said, “the G-d of my father is my aid, and rescued me from the sword of Pharaoh” - at the sea.
Therefore, it was not appropriate to write “because he said”, because although Moshe had actually named Eliezer when he was born, the name referred to the future. With the name Gershom, where the intent was about what had already occurred, he actually said “I was a stranger…”, and so the posuk states that “he said: I was…”. But with Eliezer, where the intent was on the future, he did not say with his mouth, since it had not yet occurred, rather he just thought it.
And therefore the Torah uses the future tense, “and he will save me”, rather than the past tense, “and he saved me”, because Moshe’s intent was that he was that he trusted in Hashem, “the G-d of my father”, that He would save him from Pharaoh’s sword at the Red Sea. (The Rav’s intent here is that the Hebrew word ויצילני can be understood two different ways - either ‘and he will save me’, or ‘he saved me’, the past tense using the vav conversive. But if the past tense was intended it could more clearly have used the straightforward past tense והצילני, which unambiguously means ‘and he saved me’ ).
Why was Moshe reluctant to accept Yisro as a convert?
(18,6) “And he said to Moshe: I, Yisro, your father-in-law, am coming to you…”
It is says in the Midrash: Said Hashem, this person who is coming to Me, is coming only for the sake of heaven. Draw him close, and don’t distance him. Immediately, Moshe went out to meet his father-in-law.
Why is it that Hashem did not want to accept the Erev Rav (the mixed multitude of peoples, who came out of Egypt with the children of Yisrael) into Klal Yisrael, but Moshe did accept them, and he did not suspect that that maybe their motives were not for the sake of heaven. And with Yisro it was the opposite - Moshe was concerned that maybe his motive was not for the sake of heaven, and Hashem commanded him to accept him.
We can answer according to what Chazal said, that they didn’t accept converts during the days of Dovid Hamelech and Shlomo Hamelech, nor in the days of Moshiach, because at these times they are not converting for the sake of heaven, but only because of the abundant goodness they can expect if they convert. Here also, Yisro was coming to the wilderness to convert at a time when Yisrael had already left Egypt, and Hashem had done for them miracles at the splitting of the Red Sea, and the war against Amalek, and they had abundant benefits. Therefore, it was understandable that Moshe was concerned to accept him, lest his motives were only for these benefits. Therefore Hashem, who knows hidden things and the thoughts of a person, testified that his motives were pure, and that it is fitting to accept him.
With this, my son, the sharp one, Chaim Yehudah, explained the posuk later on, “Moshe related to his father-in-law all that Hashem had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians on account of Yisrael, and about all the hardships that had befallen them on the way, and Hashem had saved them. And Yisro rejoiced about all the good that Hashem had done for Yisrael, that He had rescued them from the hands of the Egyptians”. He asked: In posuk 1, where it says that Yisro heard all that G-d had done for Moshe and for Yisrael, His people, that Hashem had taken Yisrael out of Egypt, why did it not say there also, “and Yisro rejoiced”.
But according to what we have explained, it is very good, because Yisro himself was concerned initially that he would not be accepted as a convert, since he had heard about all the good things that Hashem had done for Yisrael. Therefore, it does not say earlier that Yisro rejoiced, because his happiness was not complete, because they might not accept him at a time when so much good was happening to Yisrael. But later, when he heard that which Moshe related to him about all the hardships that had befallen them on the way, since that there were also bad things happening to them, he now thought that they would certainly accept him. Therefore, it says that “And Yisro rejoiced, about (מעל) all the good that Hashem had done for Yisrael”, which can be translated: Yisro was now rejoicing about his certain conversion, even more than his rejoicing for all the good that Hashem had done for Yisrael. These are the words of my son, the wonderful words of wise person.
Returning to our matters, Moshe did not want to accept Yisro lest he was coming to convert because of all the abundant good, and not for the sake of heaven. But the Erev Rav converted at the very beginning, whilst Yisrael were going out of Egypt, and at that time things looked bad. At that time they did not know what they were going to eat or drink, and they were traveling in a wilderness, a place of poisonous snakes and scorpions. Hashem himself mentions this merit of trustingly following Him into the wilderness, “I remember to you the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following me into the wilderness, to a land not sown”. All the more so was this remarkable for the Erev Rav, and so Moshe thought that certainly their intentions were for the sake of heaven, and thus he accepted them. Hashem, however, knew the future, and knew that they were going to make the golden calf, and to cause others to sin. Nevertheless, since Moshe wanted it, He did not protest, because when a Tzaddik decrees, Hashem fulfills it, as I wrote earlier in Parshas Beshalach.
Why did only Moshe ask about Yisro’s welfare, and not vice versa?
(18,7) “So Moshe went out towards Yisro, and he bowed down to him, and kissed him, and they greeted one to the other, and they entered the tent.”
Rashi explains that it was Moshe who greeted Yisro, asking about his welfare. If so, we have to ask why indeed Moshe asked Yisro, but Yisro did not in return ask about Moshe’s welfare, as is customary.
We can understand this with the following analogy: If a poor relative comes a long distance to his wealthy, honored cousin, to ask him for assistance, it would be normal for the wealthy man to ask his poor cousin how things are with him, and what can he do for him. But the poor man will not ask about the wealthy cousin’s welfare, and if he does ask, the wealthy man would respond to him: If you are doubtful about my situation, why did trouble yourself to travel such a long distance based on a doubt. So, certainly you already heard whilst you were in your home that I am wealthy and honored, and that my situation is good, and therefore you came to me for assistance. So why are you asking about my welfare.
Here too, Moshe needed to ask about Yisro’s welfare, because he did not know, but Yisro did not need to ask, because if he did not already know that Moshe’s situation was very good, he would not have come to the wilderness. Indeed, the posuk says explicitly, “Yisro heard all that G-d had done for Moshe and for Yisrael, His people”. So we see that he clearly knew about Moshe’s greatness, and thus Rashi’s explanation that Moshe asked Yisro, but not vice versa, is very good.
Why did Moshe relate to Yisro the wonders of Hashem? Surely he already knew this, and that is why he came!
(18,8) “Moshe told his father-in-law all that Hashem had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians…”
Rashi explains that Moshe related all this in order to draw his heart, to bring him near to the Torah. The question here is why didn’t Rashi explain the more obvious explanation, that he was informing Yisro about all the wonders that Hashem had done.
But it seems that Rashi had a difficulty explaining this way, because it already says, “Yisro heard all that G-d had done for Moshe and for Yisrael, His people”. If so, why would Moshe need to tell him again. Therefore he explained differently, in accordance with what Chazal said: One should not get up to pray except when he is in a state of joy, like one who does a mitzvah. The Rabbis explained that this refers to saying “Ashrei” before praying. It is clear from the gemora, that this applies also to learning Torah, that one should be in a joyful frame of mind before starting to learn. If so, just as saying Ashrei and thereby relating the wonders of Hashem is a fitting preparation for praying with a joyful heart, so too with learning Torah, one should start by relating Hashem’s wonders, and then when he starts to learn, it will be with joy.
This is what our posuk is saying, “Moshe related to his father-in-law all that Hashem had done to Pharaoh…”, in order to draw his heart to Torah, that is, to get up to learn Torah from the joy of a mitzvah, and to afterwards start learning with him Torah.
Why is the name 'Elo-him' which signifies the attribute of justice used in this posuk?
(19,17) “And Moshe brought forth the people towards G-d from the camp, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain. ”
Chazal taught that Hashem held the mountain over Yisrael and said to them: If you accept the Torah, good; if not, there will be your burial.
According to this we can understand why in posuk 20 it says “Hashem descended on Mount Sinai” - it mentions the four letter name of Hashem which signifies mercy, but here it says “Moshe brought the people towards Elo-him” - it writes the name Elo-him which signifies justice. Because Rashi explains on the posuk “the angel of Elo-him traveled” (Shemos 14:19) that the use of the name Elo-him teaches us that Yisrael were being judged at that moment whether they would live or die - whether they would be saved or destroyed together with the Egyptians in the sea.
Here too, the name Elo-him was used because Yisrael were being judged at that time. And what was the judgement? “They stood at the bottom of the mountain” - the mountain was held over them for life or for death. (See also the sefer Yesod Moshe who expands on this).
How does the posuk indicate that Hashem sometimes punishes a person for his evil thoughts?
(20,1) “And G-d spoke all of these things, saying.”
We can explain that the reason why it mentions here the name Elo-him which signifies the attribute of justice, and not the four letter name of Hashem which signifies mercy, is because Chazal teach that Hashem does consider an evil thought as if it is an evil deed except in the sin of idol worship, as it says “in order to seize the House of Yisrael in their hearts, who turned away from Me with their idols, all of them” (Yechezkel 14:5). Also, since belief in the existence of G-d is what one believes in ones heart, denying the existence of Hashem is mainly in ones thoughts, and therefore also for these thoughts one is punished.
Now, Chazal also teach that Hashem wanted to create the world with the attribute of justice, but He saw that the world could not exist like this, and therefore He combined with it the attribute of mercy. The meaning of this teaching is that initially Hashem wanted to punish transgressors also for their evil thoughts, but if so the world could not exist. Therefore He combined with it the attribute of mercy, so that He would only punishe evil deeds, not evil thoughts.
According to this, these two mitzvos of “I am Hashem your G-d” - to believe in G-d, and “their shall be no other gods besides Me” - not to worship idols, remained with the attribute of justice and even thoughts are punishable. Therefore these two commandments were said with the name Elo-him which signifioes the attribut of justice.
This is the precise meaning of the teaching of Chazal that the first two commandments we heard “מפי הגבורה (form the mouth of Hashem)”, because גבורה is the attribute of justice, as the Kabbalists explain. But the other commandments were said with the name of Hashem which signifies the attribue of mercy, because with these Hashem does not punish evil thoughts.
Why did Hashem not address Yisrael directly?
(20,1) “And G-d spoke all of these things, saying.”
The Midrash says that this posuk can be explained by the posuk in Amos 3:8 “if a lion roars, who is not afraid?”. What does the Midrash mean?
We can explain the meaning according to what the sefer Ma’asei Hashem writes, that the reason why Hashem spoke to Moshe and not to all of Yisrael is because if a king tells Reuven direactly to do a certain thing, he will be overcome by a great fear and not be able to understand anything the king tells him. But if the king tells Shimon to tell reuven to do a certain thing, even if if Reuven is listening to the king telling Shimon since the king is not addressing him directly he will not be so afraid.
This what the Midrash is teaching us. The Midrash had a difficulty with the word “saying” which appears to be superfluous, and so must be interpreted to mean that Hashem said to Moshe that he shoiuld tell Yisrael. But since Yisrael were also standing next to Mount Sinai and heard Hashem speaking, why did Hashem need to address Moshe and not Yuisreal themselves? Therefore the Midrash says “if a lion roars, who is not afraid?”, that if Hashem would have addressed Yisrael directly they would have not understood anything due to their gret fear. Therefore, He told Moshe to tell them so that they would not be so afraid and would be able to undertsand what Hahem was saying.