Halacha » The Eyes of the Nation

The Eyes of the Nation

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֗ה לְ֠חֹבָ֠ב בֶּן־רְעוּאֵ֣ל הַמִּדְיָנִי֮ חֹתֵ֣ן מֹשֶׁה֒ נֹסְעִ֣ים אֲנַ֗חְנוּ אֶל־הַמָּקוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָמַ֣ר יְהֹוָ֔ה אֹת֖וֹ אֶתֵּ֣ן לָכֶ֑ם לְכָ֤ה אִתָּ֙נוּ֙ וְהֵטַ֣בְנוּ לָ֔ךְ כִּֽי־יְהֹוָ֥ה דִּבֶּר־ט֖וֹב עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלָ֖יו לֹ֣א אֵלֵ֑ךְ כִּ֧י אִם־אֶל־אַרְצִ֛י וְאֶל־מוֹלַדְתִּ֖י אֵלֵֽךְ׃ וַיֹּ֕אמֶר אַל־נָ֖א תַּעֲזֹ֣ב אֹתָ֑נוּ כִּ֣י עַל־כֵּ֣ן יָדַ֗עְתָּ חֲנֹתֵ֙נוּ֙ בַּמִּדְבָּ֔ר וְהָיִ֥יתָ לָּ֖נוּ לְעֵינָֽיִם׃ וְהָיָ֖ה כִּי־תֵלֵ֣ךְ עִמָּ֑נוּ וְהָיָ֣ה הַטּ֣וֹב הַה֗וּא אֲשֶׁ֨ר יֵיטִ֧יב יְהֹוָ֛ה עִמָּ֖נוּ וְהֵטַ֥בְנוּ לָֽךְ׃

רש״יאל נא תעזוב. אין נא אלא לשון בקשה, שלא יאמרו לא נתגייר יתרו מחבה, סבור היה שיש לגרים חלק בארץ, עכשיו שראה שאין להם חלק הניחם והלך לו.

 In our Parsha, Moshe Rabenu invites his father-in-law, Yitro (named Chovav), to join the nation on their journey to the land of Israel. Yitro on the other hand, after visiting the nation in the desert, decides to go back to his own land. Moshe in return feels that this would cause people to view Yitro in a negative light, saying that Yitro didn’t convert because he loves Hashem and the Jewish nation; rather, he thought he would receive a piece of land in Israel. As such, upon revelation that a convert doesn’t get a piece of land he decided to leave. Thus, Moshe tells him that he should come with them and in return they will accord him honor, and he only stands to gain. Expounding on said gain, Rashi explains that he would receive a piece of land, and so eventually, Yitro’s children received a large territory from the best land of Yericho.

Upon reading this promise of Moshe to Yitro, several questions arise. First, if up to now people might wrongly think that Yitro converted only in order to receive a piece of land, now that they hear that he indeed received–unrightfully–a piece of land for staying with them, they surely would say that he converted only for the purpose of receiving a piece of land!

Next, when Moshe offers his father-in-law land, isn’t that an act of corruption חס ושלום? It’s widely known that a leader must not give anything to his family, as the land doesn’t belong to him; he is merely a manager of sorts, doing as he feels is in the best interest of his people.

Finally, Moshe tells Yitro that he will be to the nation “as eyes”. Why is this said in this context?

After Moshe sees that Yitro is ready to go back to his homeland, he teaches him how the Nation of Israel works. He tells him that our nation always rewards those who benefit them. He tells him that if he stays with them and becomes the advisor of the people, as explained by Rashi, then he will be similar to a person’s eyes. In return, the people would love and appreciate him dearly (just like they love their own eyes). The result would be that the people themselves would reward him with good. Moshe doesn’t tell Yitro that he will give him a land, but he says והטבנו לך, meaning the nation will reward and benefit you. Moshe doesn’t know when and how, but he knows that this is the nature of the nation; they appreciate those who do well for them. Indeed, only a generation later, the people of Israel gave the children of Yitro this great property at the best part of Yericho. 

This is not an act of perversion nor corruption; these are the words of a true leader who is intimately involved with the people of his nation, knowing full-well the nature of this kind-hearted people.