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Hashem’s ultimate justice

  • ParshaRabbiSamThurgood
One of the heroes of the Torah is Moshe’s father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro). Even without the additional biography taught to us by our sages – he was an advisor to Pharaoh, who dared to challenge his wishes to persecute the Jewish people, and a seeker of truth, who tried every religion in the world before finding Hashem in Judaism – Yitro was a man of justice and goodness.
by Rabbi Sam Thurgood, Beit Midrash Morasha | Feb 13, 2020

He recognised the moral debt he owed a stranger who assisted his daughters (namely Moshe, after he defended the seven sisters at the well against the shepherds); allowed the departure of his daughter and her family to save a nation that wasn’t his own; and came on a personal pilgrimage to give thanks to Hashem after the miracle of Exodus.

But within his gratitude is hidden a great principle of our faith. Rabbi Chanan Porat points out that his words are the first time in the Torah that the principle of midda k’negged midda (measure for measure) is discussed. The Jewish people had previously given thanks to Hashem and recognised His salvation, but Yitro added a sentence, “for in the very matter that they had plotted against them!”

The Egyptians attempted to destroy the Jewish people through water, and water was their downfall. This principle, that not only does Hashem extract payment for wicked deeds, but the recompense itself resembles what was done wrong, contains a great number of lessons. First and foremost, of course, we see that Hashem is a G-d of ultimate justice.

One of the greatest causes of pain in our lifetime is a sense that things aren’t fair, that it isn’t right. My Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Azriel Goldfein ztz”l, pointed out that we have a sense of – and need for – justice from a very young age, and warned teachers that they must be fair at all times since students wouldn’t trust them if they perceived them to be unjust. But within this is a kindness too, for during the times in life when we experience midda k’negged midda (and I don’t suggest, G-d forbid, that everything difficult in our lives comes for such a reason) we see that we are thus being guided on the path back to goodness. Hashem’s goal isn’t to destroy the wicked, but to destroy wickedness through a return to the path of goodness.

This theme is expressed elsewhere in the story of the Exodus. Shadal (Rabbi Shmuel David Luzatto) says that the lesson the Jewish people learned (or need to learn) from the Exodus is not the parochial, “Hashem is on our side, and will destroy our enemies” but that “Hashem is bringing justice to those who have been mistreated against the callous and the cruel.” This is both cause for celebration, and a warning that we must take care always to be good, kind, and just, for Hashem does justice to all. Shabbat Shalom!


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