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"And Moshe went out to meet his father-in-law, and he prostrated himself and kissed him, and each inquired about the other's well-being; then they came to the tent" (Shemos 18:7).
Rashi points out that Yisro received great honor at that moment for as soon as Moshe went out to him, Aharon, Nadav and Avihu went out with him, "and who was it that saw these go out and would not himself go out?" Consequently, all of Israel went out to greet Yisro when he came to join them in the desert.
It is interesting, though, that in the previous passages it says the following:
"And Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, came to Moshe with his sons and wife, to the desert where he was encamped, by the Mountain of G-d.
And he said to Moshe, 'I, your father-in-law Yisro, have come to you, with your wife and her two sons with her'" (Ibid. 5-6). Rashi brings the explanation of the Sages that Yisro said, or implied, to Moshe: "If you will not come out for my own sake, come out for the sake of your wife; and if you will not come out for your wife's sake, come out for the sake of your two sons."
It would seem from this that Yisro was actually asking for this honor by imploring Moshe to come out to greet him. Surely he realized that if Moshe would come out, a lot of prominent people would accompany him. Isn't it strange that Yisro, who himself was such a great person, sought tribute? And even more surprising is that he did it in such a transparent way
I believe that there is a very important lesson to be learned here.
The Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) is very shrewd, indeed. He will use any method - even contradictory ones - to cause us to misbehave. Usually, he finds it beneficial to make us haughty and filled with conceit. However, sometimes he deems it advantageous to make us exceedingly modest. For example, if we are called upon to partake in a great mitzvah he will suddenly implant in our hearts the feeling that we are not worthy of partaking in such a holy endeavor. Another time is when it is at the expense of others.
We usually don't like to honor others. If someone points out to us that we, ourselves, are very fond of kavod (honor), we may respond with unusual humility, "I am a small person on a low level with poor character traits. Therefore I crave honor. But he is a great person on a high level with exemplary character traits. He loathes honor and would perhaps even be upset if I praise him." This is a typical ploy of the Yetzer Hara.
Therefore, the Torah commands us, "Love your fellow man as yourself." (Vayikra 19:18), to teach us that just as we consider ourselves lowly people with lowly needs; when it comes to giving to others we should consider them just as mundane as we are and not suddenly hold them in great esteem as an excuse not to supply them with their own needs.
I once heard (perhaps from the mashgiach of Lakewood, Harav Hatzaddik Reb Nosson Wachtfogel zt"l) that the Alter of Slabodka said that one should consider the other both like Mordechai and like Haman. On the one hand, he should believe that the other is as worthy of honor as was Mordechai who saved all of the Jews in his generation from total annihilation at the hands of their enemies. On the other hand, he may say to himself that if the other fellow is like Mordechai, surely Mordechai would run away from honor and not be happy if it were bestowed upon him. Then, he should consider the other fellow like Haman who wanted honor so much that he was ready to destroy all of the Jews, in spite of all of the honor he received from everyone, just because one Jew, Mordechai, refused to acknowledge him!
What we must realize, though, is that this way of behavior is not limited to simple people only. Believe it or not, it also applies to Gedolim (great Jewish leaders)! Although they are tremendous Torah scholars and their devotion to Hashem is on an extremely high level, nevertheless, they are human beings too with their own frustrations and feelings of inadequacy, sometimes spurred by their sincere modesty. In the many years that I was privileged to be close to the greatest of the great of our leaders, I learned this lesson time and time again. At the beginning it was hard for me to comprehend that they, too, had to be told that they had spoken well and needed a hearty yasher koach ("more power to you") after delivering an address to a crowd or a lesson to a class. But when they began asking me my opinion of what they had said and their style of delivery, and whether or not the audience understood and appreciated their speech or discourse I began to realize that they really were unaware of how well they had performed and needed to be reassured. Although a voice inside of me said, "Don't you think that he is aware of how fantastic he was," I realized that it was the Yetzer Hara trying to prevent me from fulfilling my obligation towards a fellow Jew, and a great one at that.
One of the most dynamic speakers in our generation was Hagaon, Harav Mordechai Gifter z"l, Rosh Yeshiva of Telz in Cleveland. I once visited him the morning after he had delivered a marvelous speech in Brooklyn. The Rosh Yeshiva apologized to me that he was not alert since he had forgotten his sleeping pills at home and was up all night. When I asked why he needed sleeping pills, Rav Gifter explained that after every address he cannot fall asleep since he goes over his speech again and again in his mind, questioning himself whether or not he remembered to say everything that he intended; whether perhaps he should have excluded certain pieces and whether or not he had explained everything well. I couldn't believe what I heard, thinking to myself, can it be that the greatest speaker of the generation has the same problem that I have?
Perhaps Yisro was no exception. The Torah tells us that he came to Moshe to the desert. Rashi brings the comment of the Sages, "Indeed we know that they were in the desert, and it appears unnecessary to state that Yisro came to Moshe there. But by stressing this, Scripture is speaking in praise of Yisro; that he was living amidst all of the splendor that the world could provide and nevertheless his heart prompted him to go forth into the desert, a waste place, to hearken to the words of the Torah."
It is all very nice to speak of how great a man Yisro was and how he sacrificed everything to come and learn Torah, but perhaps it wasn't all that easy for him. Maybe it was difficult for him to give up "all of the splendor that the world could provide." And maybe, like all of us, he needed chizuk, fortification, to be able to pursue his lofty goals. Therefore, he asked Moshe to honor him, by coming to welcome him with the dignitaries of Israel, in order to get the boost he needed so badly to help him dedicate his life to proper service of Hashem.
It is to Yisro's credit that he recognized his deficiency and was not embarrassed to ask Moshe, his son in law, for help. Indeed, this is the way of those who truly desire to serve Hashem properly.
So, the next time we benefit from one of our Gedolim, let us not hesitate to give him the chizuk he may be in need of. We should approach him, even if we have to wait in line for awhile, and tell him how much we appreciated what he did for us. If we look closely into his eyes, we just might notice how much he valued our acknowledgement, and we will know that we did the right thing. Then we will be happy in this world and in the World-to-Come.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network