Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt. — Exodus 18:1
The Torah portion for this week is Yitro, which means “Jethro,” from Exodus 18:1–20:23, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 6:1–13.
This week’s Torah portion is named for Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, in Hebrew, Yitro. Jethro was a priest of Midian who had heard all about God’s miracles and decided to leave idolatry behind and join the children of Israel. But as wonderful as Jethro was, the Jewish sages wonder why the entire Torah portion is named after him. The main event of this selection is the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Torah through Moses. If this portion was to be named after any one person, surely Moses would have been the better choice?
Let’s take a closer look at Jethro.
The sages give us background information that is not included in the Bible. Jewish tradition teaches that Pharaoh of Egypt had three close advisers: Bilaam, Job, and Jethro. When Pharaoh was considering a law requiring every Israelite baby boy to be thrown into the sea, he consulted with his trusted three. Bilaam was excited about the idea. Job disapproved, but was silent knowing that Pharaoh only wanted confirmation and validation. Jethro disapproved and voiced his opinion, which resulted in an angry Pharaoh, and Jethro had to run for his life. That’s how he ended up in Midian.
In Midian, Jethro remained an important leader in society. He was a high priest who was proficient in all kinds of idolatry. He was wealthy, well-respected, and powerful. Yet, when he heard about the events in Egypt, he understood that the God of Israel was the only true God. He was intellectually honest and spiritually sincere, so he left everything behind for a life in the harsh desert with God’s people.
Jethro was the quintessential spiritual seeker. His name means “extra,” and indeed, Jethro was always looking for something extra. He knew there was more to life than what he had found. He was also a man of action. When he discovered that something extra, he wasn’t afraid to pursue it wholeheartedly. In short, Jethro was the ideal student of life. He asked questions, found answers, and integrated the lessons into his life.
The Torah portion wasn’t named for the teacher of the Bible – Moses. It was name for the students, represented by Jethro. God gave the Torah to humanity for the benefit of people like Jethro – people of honor and integrity, people who seek out God and who aren’t afraid to follow Him. The Torah portion was named after Jethro, and for you and me, and anyone else who seeks the truth. Because more important than giving the Bible, is receiving it.
This week, let us follow the lead of Jethro. Ask meaningful questions, and look for answers. Most importantly, let us be willing to apply the lessons that we have learned to our lives.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President