In Parshat Yitro, we are told (18:5-6) “And Moshe’s father-in-law, Yitro,
came with Moshe’s sons and his wife to the desert, to the mountain of
Hashem. And he sent word to Moshe saying ‘I, your father-in-law, and coming
to you with your wife and her two sons with her”. The Midrash Mechilta
gives us a bit of background on Yitro by telling us that he had served every
idol that there was and after coming across some evil or injustice
associated with each idol, he rejected all of them in favor of serving
Hashem. As a result of this choice, Yitro and his family were shunned by
their fellow Midianites, to such a degree that when his daughters went out
to draw water, the Midianite shepherds would chase them away. At one point,
Moshe, who had fled from Egypt, came across the well where the daughters
were being harassed, and helped them draw water. As a result of that
kindness, Moshe was allowed to marry Tziporah. Interestingly however,
according to the Midrash Mechita, before Yitro gave his final consent, he
told Moshe “You may marry her on one condition. The son who will be born to
you must be brought up in idolatry first and only afterwards, in the worship
of Hashem”. Surprisingly, Moshe’s response was to agree.
Two questions come to mind. First of all, if Yitro had already rejected all
other idols, why did he make Moshe’s marriage to Tziporah contingent upon
the sons being brought up in idolatry? Secondly, and more importantly–how
could Moshe agree to bring up his sons in idolatry, even if temporarily?
The Chiddushei Harim (the first Gerrer Rebbe) says “Any man who has set
himself a goal in life and a way to accomplish that goal, once he is
successful, he regards his path as the ideal one for achievement and will
encourage others to follow”. In other words, people often think that if
something worked for them, it will certainly work for everyone else because
it is obviously the only correct way to do things (does anyone personally
know someone like this?). Similarly, Yitro felt that the surest and most
rewarding way to perceive the truth about Hashem was to come to it after
examining everything else. I have often heard students suggest that the
only way they can truly believe in Judaism is by studying other religions as
a basis for comparison, at least to be better able to refute arguments made
by people of other religions. But as the Gemarra says (Shabbos 104a) “Truth
stands, falsehood does not”. Learning about falsehood does not reinforce
your truth. Instead, it will only chip away at your belief in your truth.
This touches on another famous idea from an event in this week’s parsha. In
chapter 20 of Parshat Yitro, the Jews receive the Torah on Har Sinai. The
Midrash says that before Hashem gave the Torah to the Jews, he went to all
the other nations and asked them if they wanted the Torah. Each nation
asked what was in it. Hashem responded by showing each nation a law which
went against the very essence of that nation. For example, Yishmael, who is
known for thievery, was told “Do not steal”. Esav, known for murder, was
told “Do not murder”. Moav, known for immorality, was told “Do not commit
adultery”. As a result, each nation rejected the Torah.
The classic question asked is—”How could Hashem tell each nation the very
thing that He knew would make them unable to accept Torah? Is that fair?
And on a Philosophical level, doesn’t that completely sabotage their Bechira
The truth is, even before Hashem told the nations what was in the Torah, it
was already over. Or as R. Akiva Tatz puts it “The moment the nations asked
‘what’s in it’ they failed the test”. In other words, in asking that
question, the nations were measuring Torah against THEIR barometer of truth,
to see if it was something they wanted to accept. But of course, since
their barometer of truth was based in falsehood, it could only make them
reject the Torah which is the ultimate truth.
Yitro used his barometer of truth to try to advise Moshe to rear his sons in
idolatry first before they came to Hashem, because that is what worked for
him. But Moshe understood that Yitro’s true intent was not really about the
idolatry, rather it was about raising his children to fully appreciate
Hashem and His Torah. Essentially, Moshe was agreeing to the truth behind
Yitro’s request, as opposed to the request itself.
May Hashem grant us all the wisdom and merit to raise our children to fully
appreciate Hashem and His Torah, through teaching them the truth and keeping
them far away from falsehood.