Biha’aloscha – Anything Short of Proselytizing

It is well known that Judaism does not proselytize . We do not go door-to-door convincing others to convert, and we certainly do not proclaim ‘convert or die.’ A non-Jew is perfectly accepted by G-D and can even reach the level of a righteous gentile simply by practicing the seven Noahide laws and being a kind person.
However, we do find in this week’s Torah portion of Biha’aloscha a concept of doing everything short of proselytizing; to set everyone in the world onto the right path towards the Guide Book for Life. Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law,was ready to go back to Midian and his family. Moshe tries to persuade him to stay. “Then Moshe said to Chovev the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moshe’s father-in-law: ‘We are traveling to the place about which Hashem said I will give to you. Come with us and we will be good to you, for Hashem has spoken of good fortune for Israel.’ He said to him, ‘I won’t go, for I will go to my land and my birthplace.’ He said, ‘Please don’t leave us, for because you are familiar with our encampments in the desert and you will be our guide. And if you go with us, then we will bestow on you the good which G-D grants us’” (Bamidbar 10:29-32).
The Ralbag learns a lesson from Moshe’s confrontation with his father-in-law:  “It is befitting for every complete person to direct everyone towards the good as much as he can. For this reason we find that it was not enough for Moshe that he knew his father-in-law’s good heart and that he believed in Hashem, for he (Moshe) was afraid that if he (Yisro) would return to his land his family would stay in a state of faith which is lacking. For this reason Moshe wanted Yisro, his father-in-law to stay with them in order so that his family will join them and all of them will run their lives according to the laws of the Torah. And in order to appease him more, he promised him they will receive the same good that Hashem showers on the Jews. Yisro only did not listen to his advice because he relied on the fact the he would be able to influence his family onto the true faith.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Moshe Rabbeinu, with all his responsibility as the leader of the Jewish people, around 3 million men, women, and children, who had just freed the Jewish people from slavery, who was charged with teaching  the entire Torah for the first time –   still understood that it was his own, personal responsibility to take extra measures  to bring Yisro’s family into the camp, even if it  added more responsibility on his part, in order  that they will join the straight path.

It was worth Moshe’s self-sacrifice, even though Yisro was known to be a very influential person. The Medrish says that Yisro was one of Pharaoh’s advisors with Iyov and Bilaam. He ran away to Midian after Pharaoh proposed to enslave the Jews. Bilaam agreed and was punished with death by the sword many years later at the hands of Pinchas. Iyov, who stayed silent, was stricken with much suffering in his lifetime and Yisro was rewarded with Moshe as a son-in-law for making a statement by running away. Once he was in Midian he became a priest for an idolatrous temple. He was no doubt a great orator and attractive to his people, or else he would not have been able to become advisor to Pharaoh or a priest in Midian. When he did see the “light” and decided to convert to the Torah way of life, Moshe had no doubt about Yisro’s deep belief and strong connection to Hashem and to following His Torah. The conviction and passion were fully there. But for some reason, even though Yisro might have had the ability to be the greatest kiruv expert around (because of popularity and charisma and his passion for Hashem and His Torah), still in all, Moshe did not think it was a wise decision to go back to his homeland because the impact on his brethren would not have made as deep of an impression as if they would come to him. Yisro didn’t think so; he thought he could use his talents to inspire them to embrace the true faith, without any lacking. And after all of Moshe’s persuasion, Yisro decided to leave anyways.

This is clear proof that we do not proselytize. The Ralbag says a complete person should do everything within his means to bring every single person on the straight path; yet Moshe did not force Yisro to stay. He left Yisro with a choice; he did present a very attractive, one-sided argument, but he still left Yisro with a choice, and Yisro decided he could influence  his people on his own.

It would seem from here that the reason why we are not into proselytizing and do not have an attitude of “convert or die,” is because in order for a person to have true faith in Hashem and want to follow his Torah and mitzvos, he has to come to that decision on his own. Granted, we can set up situations for them to want to choose this path of life, but they must ultimately make their own, guiltless, decision. We as Jews already made that authentic decision at Mount Sinai; it is now everyone else’s turn to follow suit if they truly want.

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