We sometimes think that our day is unique in how information is disseminated. With the creation of social media, news can spread in an instant.
However, even thousands of years ago, gossip moved quickly. After the Israelites were rescued from slavery and the Egyptians perished in the Sea of Reeds, word got out about the miracles wrought by God. Information spread so fast that it created true hysteria; the surrounding nations heard about the Israelites’ triumph and were filled with fear.
As the Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk teaches: “Some hear and are rewarded, while others hear and suffer.” Egypt’s neighbors heard the news about the Israelites, and they began to suffer. They were not punished by God; they suffered because of their own volition. They heard the news and fled from the Israelites, fearing that they would be the next attacked.
Yet, there was one who looked upon this news differently. As the Torah teaches: “Jethro priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people … and [Jethro] brought Moses’ sons and wife to him in the wilderness” (Exodus 18:1-5). Jethro heard the same gossip, the same news as everyone else. He too was filled with true fear; yet, when word arrived, he packed his bags to meet the Israelite people.
What was the difference between Jethro and all the others? Jethro wasn’t some sort of superhero. Jethro too was scared and fearful. Yes, he was Moses’ father-in-law, but he also was a Midianite priest of a hostile nation. Jethro had just as much to fear as anyone else.
What set Jethro apart? It was his outlook and his inner strength. Jethro was able to experience that moment of fear and was able to live with it. He decided that instead of letting the fear rule him, he would overcome it and live life to the fullest.
We too live during difficult and challenging days. Sometimes, like the neighboring nations, we might want to deny reality, we might wish to hide from the world. We can be scared and fearful, but we must emulate Jethro and live with this fear. Our responsibility is to engage with the truth and to never deny reality. Our hope is that we always do our part to shape the world around us, never succumbing to fear, but doing our part to work toward peace and wholeness.
Rabbi Andy Gordon is the spiritual leader at Bolton Street Synagogue.