Seeing his wife preparing supper, he stood twenty feet behind her and asked, “Agnes, what’s for supper?” There was no response, so he moved up a few feet and tried again, but again there was no answer. Now he tried it from ten feet away, but once again there was silence. Finally, from five feet back, he asked, “Agnes, what’s for supper?” She replied, “Harry, for the fourth time, it’s spaghetti and meatballs.”
Moral of the story: Poor Harry was sure that his own hearing was perfectly intact and he wasn’t getting a response because his wife was the problem. We are somewhat like Harry. There may be loud sounds emitted all around us, messages conveyed to us by world events. Yet, because we are so involved with trivial matters, we become hard of hearing, totally oblivious to these important lessons.
“And Yisro, the minister of Midyan, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard everything that Hashem did to Moshe and to Yisroel, His people, that Hashem had taken Yisroel out of Mitzrayim” (Shemos 18:1). “And Yisro heard” implies that he was the only one to hear, but of course this isn’t so. In the beautiful shirah that the Bnei Yisroel sang, “shomu amim yirgozun,” people heard and they were agitated. Terror gripped “the dwellers of Peloshes.” All of the nations heard, yet only Yisro is acknowledged as having heard.
There is hearing and there is hearing. The entire world heard about the earth-shattering events of Mitzrayim. It astonished them, it scared them, and it may have satiated their desire for news, but, in the end, after the dust had settled, it affected no change on their part. Yisro, on the other hand, heard the news in a way that they didn’t. He was a thinker. He analyzed what happened and he absorbed the lessons of these events. It aroused him to uproot himself from the comfort and the honor he had in Midyan to join the Yidden in a strange, uncomfortable place for the sake of truth.
“What did Yisro hear that made him come? The splitting of the Yam Suf and the war against Amaleik” (Rashi). One can certainly understand why hearing about Krias Yam Suf would inspire Yisro to join Klal Yisroel, for it was one of the most astounding miracles in the history of the world. Furthermore, after hundreds of years of the Yidden being oppressed, Hashem’s exactitude of justice was clearly seen. Each and every Mitzri received precisely the punishment that he deserved. But what was it about milchemes Amaleik that motivated him to join the Jews? This was not such an open miracle, as it involved struggle on the part of the Yidden. Furthermore, why didn’t Krias Yam Suf itself suffice to get him to come to the midbar?
Surely, Yisro was inspired by Krias Yam Suf and wanted to come closer to Hashem and His people. After serving every single form of idolatry that existed, he was now certain that he had found the true G-d. But he thought that leaving his surroundings and joining a new nation was impossible. Leaving his comforts and honor for a place fraught with danger was hard enough. Joining a strange nation and being considered an outsider made it more difficult. How would he be accepted and how would he get accustomed to becoming part of a new people with a new language and a strange manner? The difficulties were too numerous for him to make the move feasible. But then came Amaleik.
What in the world was Amaleik thinking when they came to fight against the Jews? They also heard about the miracles that Hashem performed for Moshe and Klal Yisroel. They also heard about the bitter ending that the Mitzriyim, the tormentors of the Yidden, had met. They knew that they were trying to do the impossible with their attack. And yet they uprooted themselves from their comfort zone for a place fraught with danger. And for what? For no constructive purpose at all. For plain, utter hatred. Hatred for Hashem and His people. And, surprisingly, for a short time, they succeeded. They defiled Jews with immorality and weakened their stature in the eyes of the nations (Rashi, Devorim 25:18). It took a special effort on the part of Moshe Rabbeinu and Yehoshua to weaken their nemesis, but they could not vanquish them completely.
If so, Yisro thought, if an entire army can sacrifice itself against all odds for nothing more than pure hatred, then I most definitely should ignore the hardship and make the move. And if Amaleik, with zealousness, was somewhat successful going against Hashem, then how much more successful will I be, with Hashem’s help, in coming close to Him and to His people?
One shmiah, one hearing, done properly, can transform a person’s life not only for himself, but also for his progeny, forever. Look at what it accomplished for Yisro. Upon his arrival to the midbar, he was given a great welcome by Moshe, Aharon, and the elders of Klal Yisroel. According to one opinion, even the holy Aron was brought out to welcome him. He went from being a mere dignitary of his day who would have been forgotten with time to becoming a member of Hashem’s people. And he was eternalized in the Torah. He also merited for his progeny to become kohanim gedolim and others who sat on the Sanhedrin (Sotah 11a).
We live in a world today where we are flooded with news. One news station proclaims, “Give us twenty-two minutes and we’ll give you the world.” Quickly, news flashes are broadcast without any pause for reflection, without any time to absorb what transpired, and without the ability to realize the significance of events. Within moments of each other, we can hear about a tragic plane crash with many lives lost, a government upheaval in the Middle East, and the Super Bowl…not necessarily in that order. We are so inundated with facts from all over that we have no time to digest them and we don’t focus on the significant occurrences that we must learn from.
Just a few weeks ago, we heard the news of terrorists in Paris invading the offices of a publication called Charlie Hebdo and killing some of its writers. Shortly after that came the wanton murder of four holy Jews in a kosher grocery store. Millions marched and declared, “We are all Charlie.” From all around the world, publishers received calls encouraging them not to be intimidated by fanatics and not to give up their cause. Courageously, they did not yield. Rather, they published millions of copies of their next edition, vowing to continue, come what may.
But what does Charlie Hebdo stand for? They are the epitome of what Amaleik stands for: leitzanus and prikas ol. As described by the press, they are “anti-religion, pro-secular, they mock politicians and all religion.” While freedom of speech and expression is important, there are boundaries. But to Charlie Hebdo, nothing is sacred. They are willing to risk their lives for their evil cause, denying that there is a G-d who rules the universe. And millions around the world identify with their cause.
We are not Charlie Hebdo. They are our adversaries, as they ridicule all that we stand for. But, like Yisro, we can learn a lesson from them. If they are willing to risk their lives for utter emptiness, to fight against Hashem, how much more must we exert and extend ourselves to make sacrifices for Hakadosh Boruch Hu.
What does a tzaddik learn from milchemes Amaleik? It is well-known that the Chofetz Chaim eschewed any luxury. He lived a very simple life in a plain house with a dirt floor. Visitors from afar who expected to see a decorated home as befitting such an exalted personality were surprised to see the austere home in which he lived.
In his old age, when he was very frail, the family acquired a cushioned chair that would be easier for him to sit on. He refused it, saying, “How can I get pleasure from such a chair when I know that Hakadosh Boruch Hu’s throne is incomplete until the coming of Moshiach because Amaleik clouds His Presence?”
Once, a Yid came to him for a brachah for parnassah. The Chofetz Chaim blessed him that Hashem should send him sustenance.
“A comfortable, plentiful parnassah,” the Yid added to his request.
The tzaddik let out a sigh. “And is the Holy Shechinah dwelling in comfort? As long as Amaleik exists, Hashem’s name is incomplete and so is His throne. His throne is cut in half and we should live in comfort?”
Perhaps it is precisely because the Chofetz Chaim was so removed from the futilities of this world that he so deeply felt the pain of Hashem’s throne being incomplete, whereas we, who are so preoccupied with our physical needs and comforts, don’t sense this at all. Were we to learn from Yisro and leave our comfort zone, we would become more sensitive to this and make more sacrifices to sanctify Hashem’s name with our avodah.