This week we meet a fascinating new individual. Yisro (Jethro), Moshe’s father in law, was attracted to the Chosen Nation. Rashi comments that the catalyst was two miraculous events in the short history of the nation: the splitting of the Red Sea, and the victory over the attacking Amalekites.
Clearly there was something about those episodes that Yisro found particularly inspiring.
The Ksav Sofer explains by answering another question.
The incident with Amalek clearly shows us that the Jews left Egypt well armed and trained for combat. Rashi himself suggests that the ‘silver and gold’ that they had claimed from the Egyptians, as mentioned in the Torah, refers to Egyptian weapons.
So why did they not just take out their swords at the Red Sea and fight the Egyptians themselves?
The Ksav Sofer’s answer can be summed up in one word:
Two hundred years earlier, the twelve sons of Yaakov had been allowed to settle there and flourish. Yes, the country later enslaved them and oppressed them. But gratitude is something that is everlasting.
Yisro initially assumed that the people were unequipped to defend themselves against the Egyptians. Their victory over Amalek showed him that their unwillingness to fight the Egyptians stemmed from their innate trait of gratefulness. Having taken Moshe into his home In Midyan years ago, Yisro reasoned that the Jews would honour their debt of gratitude to him in a similar fashion. And so it was.
As the Maharal teaches, real gratitude is much more than simply ‘paying back’ favours with identical ones: it’s a feeling of indebtedness that should stay with a person forever.
A verbal ‘thank you’, or even a gift and/or a card, as important as it is, is just the beginning, the basic obligation of decency. Real gratitude continues forever.
(The author thanks Rabbi Binyomin Denderovicz for the idea)