Parashat Yitro: Miracles, Big and Small

Our parasha opens as follows:
Now Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel His people, how the Lrd had brought Israel out of Egypt. (Shemot 18:1)
Rashi comments on this verse:
Now…Yitro…heard: What news did he hear that [made such an impression that] he came? The splitting of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek. — [from Zev. 116a, and Mechilta, combining the views of Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Eliezer] 
Some of you who know me or have been following the blog may know that I have been listening to "The Shmuz" with Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier while I drive via podcast.  This week, Rabbi Shafier points out that this is a very difficult Rashi to understand.  While it makes sense that kriyat yam suf  (the splitting of the sea) was the biggest miracle that Hashem ever revealed to the entire world at the time, why did the war with Amalek make such an impression on Yitro?  After all, there were 10 other makot (plagues) that were so supernatural, that the war with Amalek pales in comparison in terms of its "unusual" nature.  While Moshe did need to hold his hands up to the sky to help b'nai yisrael win the war, showing divine intervention, this doesn't compare to Gd turning blood to water, or filling Egypt with frogs, for example.

Rabbi Shafier suggests that the reason Yitro was so impressed by the victory against Amalek has to do with human nature.  We are normally unable to comprehend and hold extremely large concepts in our minds in comparison to smaller ones.  He gives the example of it being easier to relate to the horrors of the Shoah through reading one personal account than trying to relate to the concept of 6 million Jews perishing.  He gives a second example of the slichot liturgy, which compares Hashem to a King who is more powerful than all kings. While this is an understatement (i.e. Gd's power is so great that it can't really be compared to a human king's) it is easier for us to understand Hashem's grandiosity by comparing Him to something we can relate to, rather than, for example, recalling that Hashem created billions of galaxies and rules over them all.  In this way, perhaps, Yitro was able to relate to the nes (miracle) of Amalek, and be overwhelmed by it, because he could comprehend it, making it more emotionally and intellectually resonant than some of the other miracles that were even greater.

I agree with Rabbi Shafier's observations on human nature.  It is, indeed, easier to understand, relate to, and appreciate, the suffering of an individual as opposed to a group, or the creation of one world, as opposed to galaxies.  My only trouble with this interpretation is that Yitro's human experience was not like our human experience. He lived through the greatest miracle Hashem ever revealed to the world, along with witnessing many other miracles.  While most people chose not to "see" them, he did see them.  I think that the argument about being able to better appreciate the micro rather than the macro only works if we haven't ever experienced the macro.  We have never lived at the time of the creation of galaxies, so we cannot easily comprehend them.  We have never heard first hand about  the plagues, so we also cannot easily comprehend them.  Yitro, on the other hand, did live at the time of the plagues.  His human condition and human experience would have made him receptive to larger miracles than we are today, leaving me with the same difficulty with the Rashi as before.

I would like to suggest another interpretation of this difficult Rashi.  Perhaps when Gd placed into Yitro the appreciation of the miracle of the victory over Amalek, Gd was making an example for future generations; making the point that we too, should appreciate the larger miracles with the same level of emotional resonance as the smaller ones.  The smaller miracles-- the ones that don't even seem supernatural or out of the ordinary, are just as important to remember as the big ones.

One of my favorite parts of Rabbi Shafier's lessons are his frequent teachings about the amazing beauty of creation--the fact that if we look at an orange for example, with its tiny little juice packets making up its segments, it is clear that there is a Creator--our world is not an accident of nature.  It is easy for us, however, to forget Gd in the everyday moments of waking, eating, drinking, working, etc.  Most people, when asked to describe the times that they have felt Gd working in their lives, might describe the moment their child was born, or the experience of falling in love with one's bashert, or, the healing of a family member that "beat the odds" that the doctor had given.  These life cycle moments and life milestones, are natural places that we encounter the divine, but in reality, Gd is with us equally at all times, whether we realize it or not.

My sense of this Rashi, is that he is telling us about Yitro's appreciation of Gd working in his world in order to impress upon us the importance of recognizing Gd's work in our own lives, not only in the magical moments, but in the mundane ones as well.