וישמע יתרו כהן מדין חותן משה
And Yisro the Priest of Midian the father-in-law of Moshe heard
Rashi’s question on this pasuk seems to be what it was that Yisro heard since Rashi’s comment is that he heard about the splitting of the seas and about the war with Amalek that the Jewish people had won. The Chasam Sofer asks why this would be Rashi’s question as the pasuk states exactly what he heard: את כל אשר עשה …כי הוציא ד’ את ישראל ממצרים – everything that Hashem had done…that Hashem had taken the Jewish people out of Egypt. If the pasuk tells us explicitly what Yisro heard, what question is Rashi trying to answer?
The Chasam Sofer explains that when Yisro heard the news of the splitting of the sea and the war with Amalek, he recognized something very profound. As the advisor of Pharaoh, he knew about Pharoah’s plans. The Gemara tells us that the reason Pharaoh mandated throwing the male children into the sea, rather than any other form of killing them, was because he thought that Hashem would not punish the Egyptians through water since He promised not to bring another flood. When Yisro heard that even with all of Pharaoh’s scheming, they were still punished by water, he understood the power of Hashem’s punishing measure for measure. Yisro then felt that he needed to repent for what he had done wrong. As an advisor to Pharaoh, when he heard the idea of throwing the Jewish babies into the sea, he ran away to avoid being associated with this decree. After hearing what had happened to the Jews, he felt that perhaps leaving had been a mistake. Would it have been better to have stayed and tried to influence Pharaoh to change his ways and, perhaps, even to have released the Jewish people much earlier? Now that he recognized the extent of measure for measure punishment, he realized that he needed to give the Jewish people good advice to atone for his “sin” of not giving advice to Pharaoh.
Even with this understanding, Yisro still felt that he could remain in Midian and, if the Jewish people would come to him, he would give them good advice. He reasoned that since his “sin” was passive, his atonement could also be done in a passive manner. When he saw that the nation of Amalek traveled 400 parsas just to fight against the Jewish people, he realized the great lengths people go in order to sin. He recognized that a person needs to go to even greater lengths to do a positive action. Yisro understood from this that he couldn’t just remain in his house; to attain his atonement, he needed to travel to the Jewish people to give them advice.
Explains the Chasam Sofer, Rashi wasn’t bothered by the question of what Yisro heard; his question was what caused him to travel to the Jewish people.
We should remember what Yisro learned from the extent to which someone will go to commit a negative act. How much harder and farther should we go to perform a positive act – even If doing a mitzvah seems difficult.