“What did Yisro hear that impelled him to come and visit Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar? He heard about krias Yam Suf and the war with Amalek” (Rashi, beginning of Parashas Yisro).
Since the Torah explicitly states in the passuk what it was that Yisro heard — “all that Hashem did for His people when He took them out of Mitzrayim” — many Meforshim wonder what Rashi means to teach us.
One fascinating and very pertinent approach is that Yisro was eager to under geirus and become a member of the bnei Yisrael but considered himself unworthy. Before discovering the truth, he had experimented with every type of idol worship then known to man. Yisro felt that after sinning so grievously, he couldn’t possibly become close to Hashem.
Yisro however then took note of the fact that in the hours prior to the splitting of the sea, as the Bnei Yisrael were entrapped between the raging Yam Suf and the Egyptian army, there was a great kitrug (complaint) in Shamayim against them. The accusing malachim claimed “Eilu v’eilu ovdei avodah zarah — these [Bnei Yisrael] as well as these [the Egyptians] worshipped avodah zarah,” and therefore Bnei Yisrael were not worthy of a miracle.
Nonetheless, in the end, not only did the Bnei Yisrael merit the astonishing miracle of the splitting of the sea, but they were elevated to such an incredibly lofty level that a maidservant witnessed revelations that were greater than the prophecies seen by Yechezkel Hanavi.
From this fact Yisro learned that in a short moment one can ascend from the lowest depths to the highest levels. He realized that even despite all the wrong he had committed, he still could merit to join the Bnei Yisrael.
At the same time, he also took notice of the fact that that Amalek — which symbolizes the evil inclination — was able to wage a battle against the Bnei Yisrael so soon after they had reached such lofty levels of spirituality. This taught Yisro that even after attaining great heights one must constantly be on guard in the endless battle against the Yetzer Hora.
These are the twin lessons that Yisro drew as he decided to undergo geirus, and these important lessons are pertinent to everyone of us.
Firstly, that no matter how far one may have fallen, no matter how grievously one may have sinned, he can always do teshuvah and reach exceptionally high levels of cleaving to Hashem. We also must never feel secure with our avodas Hashem, and realize that the war against the yetzer hora on always ongoing and we must be prepared to defend every bit of ground that we have already achieved. (Adapted from the sefer Nachlas Yehoshua.)
Another approach is that while the passuk informs us what Yisro heard; Rashi is teaching us why he came.
After Mattan Torah, Yisro could have remained at home and arranged for Moshe Rabbeinu to send a messenger to be megayer him and teach him Torah. But then he heard about krias Yam Suf and the war with Amalek.
What was Amalek’s motivation in attacking them? While there was of course a physical component to the war, the primary intention of Amalek was to “cool down” the flame of avodas Hashem burning in Bnei Yisrael. How did Amalek expect to succeed in doing so just after the Bnei Yisrael had witnessed such a revelation and reached such lofty madreigos?
It was because, as the Torah states, “asher korcha baderech” — it happened on the way. Amalek reasoned that despite all the madreigos Bnei Yisrael had attained, when they were not yet “at home,” while they were away and traveling in a midbar with all its tirdos, they were, chas v’shalom, vulnerable.
Yet that was not the case. They were as resolute as ever they would be, withstanding the nisyonos of the midbar and becoming stronger for it.
Yisro saw this and realized that it would not suffice to stay in Midyan and be taught the Torah in the comfort of his own home. He had to go out to be taught the Torah in the midbar, and then he would also be able to be a steadfast Yid at home.
As we recite each day in Krias Shema, we are commanded to serve Hashem “with all your heart.” Chazal explain that “your heart should not be divided ‘al haMakom,’ ‘about the Omnipresent’” — that one should never question the ways of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, even when it seems that evildoers are being rewarded and the righteous punished.
But the Rebbe of Karlin, zy”a, in Beis Aharon homiletically explains “al hamakom” to mean “a place.” One should not claim that he can only serve Hashem in a certain place, and is unable to serve Hashem in a different place. We are obligated to serve Hashem everywhere, and under all circumstances.
If Bnei Yisrael would have received the Torah in Eretz Yisrael, they would have thought that only “at home,” in their regular place of residence, was it possible to observe all the mitzvos, but not in exile.
Therefore, Hashem gave them the Torah while they were traveling in the wilderness: so they should be aware that they can — and must — observe the Torah everywhere.
(Based on a teaching by the Pieczesna Rebbe, Hy”d.)