This week’s Torah portion is named after Yitro, Moshe Rabeynu’s father-in-law a former Midyanite priest. Our sages teach us that there was not any form of idol worship that Yitro did not dabble with. He was in a constant search for the truth, until finally when the nation of Israel left Egypt Yitro says “Now I know that Hashem is greater than any other god for what they planned to do to them” [Exodus 18:11]. (This verse is difficult to translate and the English translations do not do this verse justice. It means that what the Egyptians planned for the Nation of Israel ended up happening to them) The Toldot Yitzchak, famous 15th century Jewish commentator, writes on his commentary to this verse, that what convinced Yitro that Hashem is above all other gods is the fact that he punished the Egyptians measure for measure. Idolaters believed that the stars and heavenly bodies had a will of their own but they were only able to punish the evildoer according to their particular makeup. For example, if one sins to the moon through the fire of desire, he will, nevertheless, be punished through the power of coldness and wetness since the moon, according to idol worshipers, rules only over these elements. What amazed Yitro was the fact the G-D of Israel is able to punish using any of the basic four elements fire, wind, earth, and water. This proved that he was the G-D of all the forces of nature.
Although many years have passed since Yitro found his way to G-D, there are many others like Yitro that are in a constant search for the truth. Today most people don’t believe that stars have a mind of their own but in many instances they have only replaced old forms of idolatry for new ones. In order to reach out to those who are truly searching for Hashem, the Torah dedicates an entire Parasha to Yitro! What made him so special was that, although he achieved the highest degree in religious philosophy, Professor Yitro was able to put his modesty above his wisdom and not let arrogance blind him.
There are two opinions brought down by our sages regarding to the exact time Yitro joined the nation of Israel. One says that Yitro joined Am Yisrael after the splitting of the sea and the other says after the receiving of the Torah. In truth these opinions do not contradict one another. There are those who are brought close to Hashem by observing the miraculous miracles surrounding the nation of Israel. Others are memorized by the wisdom of the Torah. Both are vessels by which Hashem reveals Himself to mankind. In truth the more a person delves into the nation of Israel and the Torah he will come to a realization that in essence they are one! This is the deep meaning of the verse which is usually translated as “Yitro rejoiced over all the goodness which Hashem had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians.” Exodus 18:9 The Hebrew word for “rejoiced” is very unusual here instead of using the normal forms of the word like vi’samach” or vi’sas it uses the word – “Vayichad” which means literally to unify. Rabbi Yosef Caro, 15th century author of the Shulchan Aruch, writes in his cabbalistic work Magid Meyashaim that Yitro did a complete unification. Yitro realized that the Jewish nation is the vessel in revealing Hashem in this world and in essence there is complete unison between the nation of Israel G-D and the Torah.
Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith