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SEARCHING FOR THE TRUTH

by Yoel Spotts    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Imagine for a moment the mayor of your city, in his weekly address to the citizens of the town, makes a startling announcement: He has decided to convert to Judaism. The news would certainly cause quite a stir. Now imagine the governor of your state making a similar declaration to the people of the state.

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Imagine for a moment the mayor of your city, in his weekly address to the citizens of the town, makes a startling announcement: He has decided to convert to Judaism. The news would certainly cause quite a stir. Now imagine the governor of your state making a similar declaration to the people of the state. It would certainly be a headline grabber. Finally, imagine the President of the United States announcing before the nation in his State of the Union address that he has decided to embrace the Jewish religion. The news would shock the country.

Such must have been the reaction to the events described at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion. Moses’ father-in-law Yitro, upon hearing of all the astounding miracles Hashem performed for the Children of Israel, decided to adopt the Jewish faith as his own. The same Yitro, who formerly was the leader of the Midianite people and served as the high priest for several well-known idolatry sects, was converting and embracing the faith of his son-in-law. No doubt many were stunned by Yitro’s decision; the defection must have sent shivers up the spines of not only the Midianites, but of many others as well.

Conspicuously, the narrative of Yitro’s conversion follows right in the footsteps of another major event Amalek’s attack on the children of Israel, which was related to us at the end of last week’s Torah portion. While all the other nations stood back in awe of the Jewish people, Amalek unabashedly stepped forward in opposition to Hashem’s nation. This progression was not coincidental. Rabbeinu Bachya, a classic 14th century Torah commentator, explains that this juxtaposition highlighted the stark contrast between the responses of Amalek and Yitro to the miraculous events that surrounded the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. Amalek chose to ignore all the signs that Hashem had chosen the Jews as His people; and to disregard all the spectacular, supernatural occurrences performed for the Jewish people. The nation of Amalek chose to not only close their eyes to the truth, but to attack those who carried its message. Yitro, on the other hand, took heed, paying very close attention to the events as they unfolded, and after witnessing one act of Divine providence after another, came to the conclusion that this nation must be very special. Yitro realized that he could not hide from the truth.

The Torah’s contrast between the reactions of Yitro and Amalek underscores a very important idea. Nothing can be more frightening than the truth. To realize that all that one has struggled for, all the effort one has exerted is in fact futile, can be among the most devastating sensations a person can experience. Without a great deal of self-control, when faced with the truth, humans tend to respond like Amalek. We ignore the signs, no matter how obvious they may be. Instead, we become defensive, forced to attack the source of truth in order to protect our own sense of self-assurance. Like Amalek, we attempt to destroy those who propound the truth so as not to have to face it. However, the reality is that we cannot escape the truth. Hashem has promised that eventually the truth will find us. Yitro did not wait until the truth was thrust painfully upon him. It did not matter that his entire life until that point had been spent worshipping idols and denying G-d’s existence. He listened to the messages and signs, and when faced with the truth, stepped forward to accept it. Certainly, following Yitro’s lead and welcoming the truth when it greets us is a tough pill to swallow, but ultimately it is the only choice that makes sense.

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Yoel Spotts, a native Atlantan, is a member of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College Kollel in Baltimore.

You are invited to read more Parshat Yitro articles.

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