After the miraculous exodus from Egypt, Moshe is reunited with his family, who has been brought by his father-in-law Yitro. Moshe greets his father-in-law with honor, proceeds to relate everything that has befallen the people of Israel, and enumerates all the kindnesses that Hashem has performed for them. Rejoicing over the news of the rescue and salvation of the Jews, Yitro exclaims: “Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the gods, for in the very matter in which [the Egyptians] had conspired against them…” (Exodus 18:11). As Rashi explains, Yitro had experienced every manner of idolatry and therefore could definitively declare that Hashem is greater than all other gods. After seeing the manner in which the Egyptians were punished, Yitro recognized that our G-d is greater than all others.
What exactly was it about the punishment of the Egyptians that led Yitro to this realization? As the Midrash explains, Yitro took note of the middah k’negged middah, the measured reciprocity of the retribution, which was precisely commensurate with and parallel to the manner in which the Egyptians had plotted against the nation of Israel. They resolved to throw the Jewish children into the water; they were, themselves, drowned in the water. What was it about this response that enabled Yitro to recognize the qualitative superiority of Hashem?
Yitro had dabbled in every variety of idolatry and had experience with the common nature of that worship: You give me my offering, you serve me, and I will ostensibly give you sunshine or crops or health, and so on. None of these gods cared if you were nice to your neighbor or if you had gluttonously overindulged at dinner last night. There was no relationship with such a god. Not so with Hashem, the G-d of Israel. Hashem is lovingly observing how we live our lives. He takes note of our thoughts, words and deeds, and responds to us accordingly. The middah k’negged middah of Hashem’s response to the Egyptians revealed the care and concern that He has for His world and how it is conducted.
Yitro succeeded in appreciating, through the Divine providence of Egypt’s fate, the relationship, which Hashem maintains with His world. Fortunate are we to have a G-d who takes interest in our lives.
Rabbi Zakem is a Kollel Scholar and Director of Community Outreach for the Greater Washington Community Kollel.