וישמע יתרו כהן מדין חתן משה את כל אשר עשה אלקים למשה ולישראל עמו
And Yisro, priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that God had done for Moshe and Israel, his nation.
Yisro, the quintessential truth-seeker, finally heard something that drove him to take the plunge and join the Israelite camp led by his son-in-law Moshe. The Torah’s vague description of his having heard “all that God had done for Moshe and Israel”, leaves one wondering: What, precisely, did he hear? Which event served as the impetus for his life-altering decision?
Addressing this question, our Sages tell us (see Rashi) that what did it was actually two separate events- the Splitting of the Sea, and the war against Amalek, in which the Israelites miraculously came out on top.
While these two events were indeed wondrous by every measure, there is something bothersome about the notion that Chazal would couple them together as twin causes for Yisro’s big move. Does not the triumph of the underdog in the Israel-Amalek War, miraculous as it may have been, pale in comparison to the Splitting of the Sea, an event so earth-shatteringly miraculous that even the greatest of prophets could not dare attempt to comprehend? What more could have possibly been missing to motivate Yisro that would somehow come to be in the comparatively underwhelming victory over Amalek?
In his uniquely incisive way, the Kotzker Rebbe provides a fascinating interpretation of Chazal’s baffling words. Certainly, says the Kotzker, the Splitting of the Sea is what inspired Yisro to accept the yoke of Heaven, and not the subsequent Amalek War. Indeed, so inspired was he by that awesome miracle, that Yisro felt no need to physically join the Israelite camp at that point, for he was thoroughly convinced that he could forever maintain his newfound spirituality running on inspiration alone. Then, however, came the Amalek War, in which Yisro observed an entire Amalekite nation, no further detached from the Splitting of the Sea than himself, nonetheless capable of shrugging off the entire experience and attacking the very nation God had miraculously rescued mere weeks earlier. Only at that point, did Yisro make the reckoning that if it were possible for anyone to so quickly lose touch with the awe-inspiring event he had so recently encountered, then no one could ever be sure of being able to subsist on inspiration ad infinitum. Inspiration alone, he realized, could not possibly do the trick. One must instead grab the inspiration while it lasts, and concretize it by adapting lasting lifestyle changes which live out the inspiration’s message long after the inspiration itself fizzles out.
It is no wonder that the Torah imparts this message immediately prior to the all-time most-inspiring event the world would ever see; namely, the Revelation at Sinai. Even as the Jews prepared to encounter that other-worldly experience, God sought to remind them that if they wouldn’t make the move, so to speak, no moving event would ever move themselves for them.
Warm and fuzzy feelings are nice, but they are hardly a diet one can subsist upon. Unless one wants to forever be doomed to the viciously frustrating cycle of fuzzy highs and fizzly lows, he must take inspiration and translate it into self-transformation.