Parashat Shemot- Doing the Right Thing, No Matter What
Parashat Shemot tells of Moshe Rabbenu’s experiences after he grew up and went out to observe the plight of Beneh Yisrael. Moshe saw an Egyptian beating a slave, and he promptly killed the Egyptian, thinking that nobody was watching him. The next day, Moshe intervened when two members of Beneh Yisrael were fighting, and one of them turned to Moshe and asked, "Are you going to kill me like you killed the Egyptian?" Moshe realized that people knew what he had done, and he was forced to flee Egypt. He arrived in Midyan, where he saw a group of shepherds chase the seven daughters of Yitro, who had come to give water to their sheep. Moshe rescued the girls from the shepherds and drew water for them. The girls told their father, Yitro, what had happened at the well, and Yitro then invited Moshe into his home, and gave him one of his daughters as a wife.
The Gemara in Masechet Sanhedrin (104a) states that in reward for extending this invitation to Moshe, Yitro’s descendants "sat in the Lishkat Ha’gazit." The "Lishkat Ha’gazit" was the chamber in the area of the Bet Ha’mikdash where the Sanhedrin, the highest Rabbinic body, convened. Yitro’s reward for welcoming Moshe into his home was having descendants who were great scholars and were appointed to the Sanhedrin.
Why was this Yitro’s reward? What is the connection between Yitro’s invitation to Moshe, and the Sanhedrin?
The Torah tells us very little about Moshe’s early life, reporting only three incidents – his killing the Egyptian taskmaster, his intervening when two Jews were quarreling, and his rescuing Yitro’s daughters. The common thread between all these episodes is the commitment to justice without any concern about the consequences. In all three incidents, Moshe could not bear to witness people inflicting pain in others, and he got involved to help. Most remarkably, even after suffering the consequences of intervening to help the oppressed, becoming a homeless fugitive, fleeing Egypt alone and without any place to live, Moshe again intervened at the well in Midyan when he saw injustice perpetrated against seven innocent shepherdesses. The quality which the Torah sought to emphasize in introducing us to Moshe Rabbenu was his unwavering commitment to justice and truth, even when this came at great personal expense. This was, apparently, the most important quality that led to his being selected as leader of Am Yisrael.
It is no coincidence that Moshe married into the family of Yitro. Our Sages teach that Yitro had first lived in Egypt, where he served as an advisor to Pharaoh. When Pharaoh proposed the idea to oppress Beneh Yisrael, Yitro protested against this unjust plan – and he was dismissed from his position and forced to flee Egypt. In Midyan, Yitro had served as a pagan priest, until he arrived at the truth of monotheism, at which point he rejected paganism and endured the scorn and hostility of his townspeople. Yitro, like Moshe, paid a very heavy price for standing up for his principles and beliefs. This is why Yitro enthusiastically invited Moshe into his home and into his family after hearing of how he rescued his daughters. Yitro saw that Moshe was, in a sense, a kindred spirit, somebody who stood up for what is right no matter what this entailed.
This explains why Yitro was rewarded with descendants who sat on the Sanhedrin. One of the most important qualities that a judge requires is pure integrity and objectivity, an unwavering commitment to the truth. A judge needs to reach decisions free from any biases and predispositions, and free from personal interests. This quality was epitomized by Moshe and Yitro, who did what they knew was right even when this cost them a high price. They embodied the kind of uncompromising devotion to truth and to principle that is required of judges.
We may learn from the examples of Yitro and Moshe that we must be prepared to do the right thing even when it is inconvenient, and even when this comes at personal expense. Following our principles and values sometimes requires making sacrifices, but these are sacrifices that we must accept for the sake of living the way we are meant to live. And, in the long run, Moshe and Yitro ended up receiving great reward for their actions, showing us that in the end, we actually do not sacrifice, for the rewards far outweigh anything we lose in the course of upholding our values.