“Now Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law, heard of all that
God had done for Moshe, and for Yisrael His people, how God brought
Yisrael out of Egypt.”
The verse creates a curious conundrum: After we read that Yitro “heard of all that God had done for
Moshe, and for Yisrael”, which really represents a catch-all, it then offers a slimmed down version of
that grander observation: “how God brought Yisrael out of Egypt.” Put differently, at first the Torah
alludes to miracles galore, indicating discussion of all of the wonders that devastated Egypt, including
the vast miracles performed at the Red Sea. Viewed as a whole, this panorama is followed by news of
the Jews’ exodus. But, isn’t the exodus part and parcel of that bigger picture, “all that God had done for
Moshe, and for Yisrael His people?”
Furthermore, why doesn’t our verse refer to the plagues that rocked Egypt, bringing it to its knees? Mammoth miracles a many. And yet Yitro focuses on the Hebrews casting off their shackles and gaining freedom. Finally, why isn’t a word of Moshe’s performance uttered?
“Now Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law, heard…” Despite Yitro’s dominant position
within Midian society, and despite the honor Moshe might have shown to him by going to Midian and
debriefing the elder statesman, things did not turn out that way. Distance was not the issue; Midian was
close by. The prophet had even more compelling reasons to take the jaunt to Midian: His wife and
children were there. Why, then, had Moshe, uncharacteristically for a husband and father, not departed
and rode out to his wife and kids?
In fact, we need to reassess the entire scene. When Yitro, who was “the priest of Midian” and “Moshe’s
father-in-law” heard the news’ headlines, he was naturally gobsmacked. The priest learned “of all that
God had done for Moshe”, meaning the honor and prominence accorded to him. Yitro heard about
national redemption and unprecedented rescue operation: “And for Yisrael His people.” The purpose of
these wonders featured “how God brought Yisrael out of Egypt.” Divine miracles accompanied the
Hebrews out of bondage. Note, the Hebrew term we originally translated as “how” or ki needs a tweak,
seeing that ki allows for multiple meanings. We substitute “when” for “how” or ka’asher.
This emerges. The verse is meant to be read as a tell-all of what transpired in Egypt, “all that God had
done.” Thus, we understand that Yitro had been apprised of the plagues and ultimate crippling of what
had been a vibrant country and economy. The priest also knew about the splitting of the Red Sea,
including the drowning of Pharoah and his troops. Even the news of the Jews’ victory over Amalek had
made the rounds.
Sensational headlines piqued Yitro’s interest, to state it lightly. He also wanted to bring Tzipporah to
Moshe. The priest’s presence would help smooth reconciliation. When the prophet would see his wife
and two sons, healthy family life could resume.
This is especially so since the boys were a source of blessing and good cheer. One son’s name was
Gershom, a name given to mark Moshe’s sojourn in a foreign land: “I have been a stranger in a strange
land.” The second son’s name was Eliezer. That name invoked salvation – “the God of my father was my
help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharoah.” Indeed, providence stayed Pharoah’s hand from
executing Moshe as the prophet delivered plague after plague after plague.
Moshe, for his part, did not want to budge from the encampment, a place resonating with closeness to
the Creator or devekut. Moreover, the prophet served as the nation’s leader and he did not want to
leave his brethren. Also, Moshe needed to oversee the people’s preparation for receiving the Torah at
Sinai. Hence, the seer did not go to Midian so close to where the camp marched, to honor Yitro. Nor was
the prophet in the position to go to Midian and encourage his wife to join him, or to see his sons. This
devolved upon Yitro; he needed to make the trip.