By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
June 21, 2003
After being encamped at Chorev for nearly a year, the Children
of Israel begin their journey to the land of Canaan. During the past year they
were transformed from a rabble of former slaves into a fledgling nation: they
heard Hashem teach the Torah, they built the Mishkan and they organized their
camp. Now they are ready to establish the nation of Israel in the land
promised to their forefathers.
Against the backdrop of the Isralites’ decampment, Moshe approaches Chovav
with a proposal:
And Moshe said to Chovav son of Re’uel the Midianite, Moshe’s in-law (CHOTEN):
“We are journeying to the place about which Hashem said, ‘I will give it to
you.’ Go with us and we will do well with you, because Hashem has promised
good things concerning Israel” (Bamidbar 10:29).
There is some discussion among the commentaries regarding the identity of
Chovav. Ibn Ezra puts forward the suggestion that Chovav is Moshe’s
brother-in-law (that is the brother of Tzipporah, Moshe’s wife). He argues
that CHOTEN can mean either “father-in-law” or “brother-in-law,” and that
Re’uel is another name for Yitro. (Rashi agrees that Re’uel might be one of
Yitro’s seven names.) He also refers to the view of the Sages (also quoted in
Rashi and others) that Chovav is another name for Yitro’s father, or his
ancestor, in the same way that Yaakov (Bereishit 32:10) calls his grandfather
Avraham, “my father.” Ibn Ezra concludes that “the Torah has seventy facets,”
allowing for many interpretations. Ramban who agrees with Rashi here (and
comments in Shemot 2:16), explains that Yitro changed his name to Chovav when
“returned to the Torah of Israel, for this is the way of anyone who converts,
because to His servants He calls a new name (Yishayahu 65:15).”
If, as Rashi and Ramban assert, Chovav is Yitro, then he has been with the
Children of Israel for some time:
And Yitro, priest of Midian, father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that God did
for Moshe and for Israel, His nation, when Hashem brought Israel forth from
Egypt…And Yitro, father-in-law of Moshe, came with [Moses’] wife and sons to
Moshe, to the desert where he was encamped, by the mountain of God (Shemot
There is a question whether Yitro/Chovav joined the Children of Israel before
the Revelation or afterwards (Zevachim 116a; Mechilta Yitro, beginning). In
any case, he has been a part of the life of the Israelites during much of the
past crucial year. He has seen them begin to coalesce into a nation, and he
has provided Moshe with needed leadership advice (Shemot 18:13-26). Now that
the Children of Israel ready themselves for the three days journey that will
take them directly to Canaan, Moshe asks that Yitro/Chovav remain with them.
Ramban teaches that, as a covert, Yitro will not receive a portion of the land
when it is divided up among the tribes. Nonetheless, the verse (Bamidbar
and we will do well with you
- meaning that the people will give Yitro from the spoils of war and other
And he said to him: “I will not go, only to my land (ARTZI) and to my
birthplace (MOLADTI) will I go” (Bamidbar 10:30).
Yitro will return home, says Rashi, because of his possessions and his family
ties. Rashi does not give ARTZI its usual translation (“my land”), because
then Moshe’s subsequent assurance of benefit (in verse 32) – which we have
already established refers to moveable goods – should not placate him.
Similarly, Rashi does not translate MOLADTI as “birthplace,” because Yitro’s
land is not that which is calling him to return (Lifshuto shel Rashi, Rabbi
Shmuel P. Gelbard).
However, this does not mean that Yitro is placing possessions and homesickness
above his attachment to the Torah; after all, he is called Chovav, the “lover”
of Hashem and the Torah. Rather, says Be’er Ba’sadeh (commentary on Rashi, by
Rabbi Meir Binyamin Menachem Danon, d. 1855), Yitro wants to “tie up loose
ends” - sell off his possessions and bring the rest of his family to join the
Children of Israel. This is consistent with Rashi’s comment on Shemot 18:27,
that Yitro returned
“in order to convert the members of him family.”
Therefore, we find Yitro’s clan, known as Kenites, ultimately settling among
the Israelites (Shoftim 1:16). The Sages say that they attached themselves to
Ya’avetz and their descendants became scribes and members of the Sanhedrin (Sotah
11a, and elsewhere).
But for now, Moshe tries to persuade Yitro/ Chovav not to depart:
And he said: “Please do not forsake (TA’AZOV) us, since you know our
encampments in the desert, and you were (V’HAYITA) for us as eyes. And it
shall be that when you go with us, that with the good with which Hashem will
benefit us, we will benefit you” (verses 31-32).
Possibly, Moshe accepts that Yitro must return to his land for a time, but he
pleads with him not to sever all ties (TA’AZOV); when he - or his clan – will
rejoin the Israelites, they will share in their good fortune.
Rashi, however, reads this as a second plea for Yitro to remain. Not only will
Yitro benefit, but his present departure, after all the miracles he witnessed,
will cast Israel in a bad light. Other prospective converts, seeing Yitro
leave, might be dissuaded.
V’HAYITA can either be translated in the past tense, or in the future tense.
Rashi quotes three views:
1. Past – “and you were like eyes for us”: This seems to mean that you have
been an outside witness to all that has befallen us.
2. Future - a) “and you will serve as our eyes”: Anything which we may not
notice you will enlighten us. This continues Yitro’s role as adviser.
3. Future - b) “you will be like our eyes”: You will be as beloved to us as
our eyes, as it says, And you shall love the convert (Devarim 10:19). In this
context it is important to add that the Israelites always warned the Kenites
beforehand of any war in this area, so that they might remain safe (see Shmuel
A fourth reading is found in Ramban. He and others understand it to mean that
Yitro’s knowledge of the desert will guide them in their journeys.
Despite Moshe’s heartfelt requests, Yitro/Chovav returns to his land, if only
temporarily, and Moshe provides him with an honorable escort (see Ibn Ezra on
At critical moments in the formation of the Israelite nation, Yitro appears to
offer advice and to provide perspective regarding their mission. His love for
Hashem earns him – as it does all sincere converts – a treasured place in the
hearts of the Jewish People.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
When Yitro was about to return to Midyan, Moshe Rabbenu implored him to
stay with Bnei Yisrael as they prepared to enter Eretz Yisrael. Prompted
by a number of textual difficulties, the Kli Yakar explains the dialogue
between Moshe and Yitro (10:29-34) as follows:
Moshe Rabbenu: My dear father-in-law Yitro, we are on our way to the place
that Hashem has promised us. We have nowhere else to go, for Eretz Yisrael
is our destiny. You have other alternatives, but we ask you to come along
with us. We will provide you with material wealth, as we all love you
(10:29, "Chovav" = beloved) and Hashem has instructed us to be kind to
those who have joined our ranks.
Yitro: I appreciate your offer, but I must return to my birthplace. I have
all that I need and I will have a better life back in Midyan.
Moshe Rabbenu: I understand, but don't forget that Hashem will bestow upon
us spiritual blessings as well, and you will also benefit from them. In
fact, "vehayita lanu le'einayim (10-31)" (literally, "you will be our
eyes") - your progeny will serve in the Sanhedrin that sits in the Lishkat
Hagazit of the Beit Hamikdash; your descendants will be included among the
future spiritual leaders of the Jewish people.
It is this last argument which convinces Yitro to go to Eretz Yisrael. As
the Kli Yakar points out, not only did Yitro have the opportunity to lead
a comfortable life in Midyan, but he also felt an obligation to bring
others in the "old country" to recognize Hashem. Nonetheless, the
possibility for spiritual growth that awaited him and his family in Eretz
Yisrael outweighed all other considerations.
Moshe Rabbenu learned important lessons from Yitro; we should do the same.
Rabbi Aharon Angstreich
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320