By Rabbi moshe Mayerfeld
The Exodus – that’s the original one with Moshe the Israelite, not the one with Christian Bale – is recounted through a number of stages.
First we are told about the splitting of the Red Sea, and in this week’s Torah portion, we read of the climactic event of the revelation at Sinai. Between these monumental events, we are told of Moshe’s father-in-law, Yitro, and his desire to join the Jewish nation.
The Talmud tells us that Yitro was inspired by two specific events, the splitting of the sea and the ambush by Amalek.
This led him to join the Jewish nation. It makes sense that Yitro would be inspired by the story of the sea. But what was it that inspired him about the war with Amalek?
The rabbis teach us that Yitro’s journey was actually a two-stage process.
Hearing about the splitting of the sea was only stage one.
It illustrated God’s complete involvement and control over the world, which taught him to adopt a moral code of conduct – unlike the Egyptian slave-drivers.
That lesson would have allowed Yitro to remain at his home in Midyan, following the precepts of the universal Noahide laws and being a pious member of the nations of the world.
However, the events followed this great miracle were rather shocking. Amalek attacked the Jewish nation from behind, unafraid and undeterred.
This was an act that led Yitro to understand that Amalek was trying to bring down the flag bearers of goodness and morality.
Despite the threats and challenges of doing so, this was something compelling enough to inspire Yitro to act on his desire and join the Jewish nation.
Yitro’s journey mirrors the two stages of the development of our ancestors as they went from slavery to receiving the Torah.
A people enslaved for hundreds of years could not imagine anything as sweeping as complete freedom. Indeed, after generations under the absolute control of cruel task masters they struggled to see their greater purpose.
The nascent nation therefore also had to go through a Yitro-like journey.
First we connected to the power of the Almighty and then realised the power that we have as humans to create true good in this world. Yes, as we all know, we will have our battles. There will be attacks on our morals and efforts. However, we can overcome them. We accepted the Torah and its charge to create a more perfect society and a Godly world.
• Moshe Mayerfeld is the director of Aish UK and rabbi of Shomrei Hadath Synagogue