Parashat Yitro- Yitro’s Response
In the first section of Parashat Yitro, we read of the arrival of Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, at Beneh Yisrael’s camp at Mount Sinai. Yitro is described as "Kohen Midyan" – the priest of the nation of Midyan. He was a prominent clergyman, but he ultimately recognized the truth of the belief in G-d, and went out into the desert to join Moshe and Beneh Yisrael.
Rashi writes that what led Yitro to this decision to join Beneh Yisrael were two miracles of which we read in the previous Parasha, Parashat Beshalah. Namely, he heard about the splitting of the Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds), and the war against Amalek. These two great triumphs inspired Yitro and drove him to leave his faith and his people, and to join Beneh Yisrael.
We might ask why Yitro was especially inspired by the war against Amalek. It is easy to understand why the miracle of the sea would have a profound effect; according to one view, this event incorporated 250 miracles, and Beneh Yisrael themselves describe in the Az Yashir song of praise how the nations of the marveled over this miracle. The war against Amalek, however, does not appear to have been such a remarkable event. To be sure, Beneh Yisrael’s victory over Amalek was miraculous, but what set this miracle above the numerous other miracles performed for Beneh Yisrael, that it led Yitro to the drastic measure of abandoning his faith and joining them?
There is also another aspect of this story that requires explanation. The Torah relates that before Yitro’s arrival at the Israelite camp, he sent a message to Moshe informing him of his imminent arrival, seemingly indicating a request for a large, honorable welcome. Moshe indeed arranges a grand ceremony to welcome Yitro to the camp, and the question arises as to why a noble man like Yitro would request such a reception. Did Yitro really crave public honor, to the point where he asked Moshe to prepare a large reception for him?
The Be’er Yosef explained that Yitro decided to join Beneh Yisrael to counterbalance the effects of Amalek’s brazen attack. After the miracle of the Yam Suf, Beneh Yisrael were deemed invincible. The nations around the world were awe-struck by the slave nation that overpowered the mighty Egyptian empire without even taking up arms. Beneh Yisrael were looked upon with dread and reverence, as an untouchable people. Amalek, however, changed that perception. Amalek launched its assault in order to break this aura of invincibility, to demonstrate that Beneh Yisrael are not really that different than other peoples, to show that they, too, are vulnerable to surprise attack and can be dealt a debilitating blow.
Upon hearing of Amalek’s attack, Yitro decided to join Beneh Yisrael. This decision was not borne out of inspiration, but rather out of a realization that bold action was needed to rectify the effects of Amalek’s assault. Amalek succeeded in lowering Beneh Yisrael’s estimation in the eyes of the world, and Yitro therefore responded by doing what he could to bring honor and prestige to Beneh Yisrael. If he, a highly respected pagan priest, would leave his people and join Beneh Yisrael, he figured, the world will notice. Word will spread that this is a special nation that has now emerged on the world scene. It was in response to the epic Hilul Hashem caused by Amalek’s assault that Yitro decided to join Beneh Yisrael, out of a determination to do whatever he could to reverse the effects of this attack and restore the sense of awe and grandeur that Beneh Yisrael had achieved after the miracle of the sea.
And this is why Yitro, uncharacteristically, requested a large, public reception. He wanted his arrival to be made as public as possible, in order to achieve his goal. As he was joining Beneh Yisrael for the purpose of restoring their honor and prestige, he wanted his arrival to be made into a public spectacle, rife with pomp and fanfare, so that news of this event would spread far and wide, and people around the world would recognize the greatness and special stature of the Nation of Israel.