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Behaalotcha 5772

By: Rav Yonatan Horovitz

Are You Coming or What? Rav Yonatan Horovitz Towards the middle of this week's parsha, Beha'alotecha, we witness an interesting but somewhat enigmatic conversation between Moshe and his father-in-law: Moshe said to Chovav, son of Re'uel the Midianite, Moshe's father-in-law, "We are setting out for the place of which the Lord has said, "I will give it to you", Come with us and we will be generous with you; for the Lord has promised to be generous to Israel." "I will not go", he replied to him, "but will return to my native land." He said, "Please do not leave us, inasmuch as you know where we should camp in the wilderness and can be our guide. So if you come with us, we will extend you the same bounty that the Lord grants us." (Bamidbar 10:29-32) Several questions arise on examination of this exchange. We will focus on two. First of all, why is Moshe so concerned that his father-in-law, Yitro join them on their march to Eretz Yisrael? After all, even if Moshe did want his children's grandfather to continue living nearby, this dialogue would not need to be recorded at such a crucial point in the narrative, just before the nation departs from Har Sinai. Secondly, we do not seem to know if Yitro actually agreed to go or not. The Torah does not tell us, which makes us wonder as to the reason for the entire episode being written in the Torah. Let us examine several commentaries who deal with some of the details of this conversation. The first issue to be clarified regards the name used for Yitro. Although he is referred to by a different name, most of the mefarshim claim that the person with whom Moshe is conversing is indeed Yitro. There are a number of commentators who suggest that this is Yitro's son or other relative of the family but we will follow the majority opinion. Why was Yitro reluctant to go to Israel? According to Ramban, he thought that he would not receive a portion for him and his family in Eretz Yisrael. Moshe reassures him that this is not the case. In trying to convince Yitro to join Am Yisrael, Moshe tells him: "do not leave us, inasmuch as you know where we should camp in the wilderness and can be our guide". To what does this refer? According to Rashi, this may mean that Yitro will be able to assist the people in their future travels as is inferred from the translation that we have employed (JPS). Rashi also posits that this relates to past events which Yitro has experienced; miracles on the one hand and the advice Yitro gave him on the other. If we adopt the former approach, how are we to view this request from Moshe? Rav Yonatan Grossman, in his article on this episode, finds fault in Moshe's willingness to rely on Yitro for advice and assistance. Rather than viewing Yitro as the "einayim" the guiding light in their ensuing journey, Moshe should have looked to the Aron, representative of The Almighty as their guide. This is conveyed by the very next verse: "They marched from the mountain of God a distance of three days, the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord traveled in front of them on that three-day journey to seek out a resting place for them". (Bamidbar 10:33) This juxtaposition conveys to us the notion that Moshe should have been relying on God rather than seeking out alternative guides for the journey to Eretz Yisrael. Rav Hirsch, on the other hand views Moshe's request from Yitro in a very different light. He posits that this demonstrates Moshe's human qualities. Yes, Moshe received the Torah and was charged by God with the responsibility to teach the Torah to the people. That does not mean that Moshe knows all. As previously, when Moshe heeded Yitro's advice as to how to best organize the judicial system, so too here Moshe sought help in another area of knowledge, in which he was not an expert. How to navigate the various perils in the wilderness and eventually on entering Am Yisrael was something about which Moshe had little experience. He wished to enlist any help he could, in this case that of his father-in-law. We could add that this demonstrates the greatness of Moshe's leadership. He knew of his limitations and was therefore prepared to look elsewhere for the help needed. It is possible that the two explanations offered above do not differ as to how to understand Moshe's leadership role and skills. Rather, they disagree as to the extent to which Moshe was to rely on God at this stage of the journey. We know that as the book of Bamidbar progresses, Bnei Yisrael are slowly weaned off the miraculous existence in the desert in preparation for their eventual entry into Eretz Yisrael. The question is when this transformation was supposed to occur. Rav Grossman implies that at this stage Moshe was to rely entirely on the Aron, meaning on Hashem. Rav Hirsch, while he may agree that Bnei Yisrael are still living by miracles, feels that any move towards a more natural form of existence is to be encouraged. In that vein, Moshe's plea to his father-in-law was part of this process and therefore to be viewed in a positive light. Based on the ideas raised above we can understand why the Torah does not tell us whether Yitro acceded to Moshe's request or not. This detail is less important than the message we glean about Moshe's role as leader of Am Yisrael. However, there could be alternate reasons as to why we are not told of Yitro's final decision. We should be aware that there are other instances in Tanach where we are left with a question mark. Examples which come to mind include the episode of Dina in Shechem and the end of the book of Yonah. In the first case, the matter is resolved later on in Sefer Bereishit. In the latter we are left to ponder how the conversation between Hashem and Yonah continued. In our story too, many mefarshim point out that we find record of Yitro's descendants living in Eretz Yisrael (Shoftim 4:11, Sh'muel Aleph 15:6). Nevertheless, we still wonder why the Torah does not tell us of the outcome of the conversation between Moshe and Yitro. We must conclude, as above, that this dialogue is included because of its content and not in order to learn of its eventual resolution. If we pay close attention to the text (something which is lost when using a translation), we find that the root "tov" occurs no less than five times within four verses and always employed by Moshe. It would appear that Moshe is conveying to Yitro how good, how wonderful, how "tov" is the land which Hashem had promised Bnei Yisrael. Moshe could not comprehend why anyone would not want to join the nation on this journey to Eretz Yisrael. It is possible that Moshe was not just talking to his father-in-law. He was speaking to the entire people. Yes, this particular conversation took place between two individuals but Moshe intended for its content to be heard and internalized by all of Am Yisrael. This is the triumphant march to Eretz Yisrael and it is "tov, tov, tov". It is the best, most wonderful land and Hashem promised it to us. Whether Yitro agreed to join this journey is not crucial for us to know. The message of Moshe to his generation and to future generations rings loud and clear: Vhaya hatov hahu asher yeitiv Hashem imanu,vehetavnu lach. Eretz Yisrael is good. It is the best place for the Jewish people and it allows us to share of that good with others. Shabbat shalom, Rav Yonatan


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