This week’s Sedra, Yitro, is one of the few named after an individual person. Interestingly Yitro, Moshe’s father in law, was a non-Jewish preacher, a Midianite Priest and idol worshipper. Ironically Moses himself, our greatest leader does not merit his own Sedra, yet Yitro is granted this special and eternal privilege.
We therefore have to delve into the character of Yitro and find what message there is for us.
The Sedra begins with a description of Yitro’s journey to meet Moshe and the Jewish People after they left Egypt and crossed the sea. The verse states that Yitro “heard all that God had done for Moshe and for Israel”.
Rashi in his commentary explains that Yitro ‘heard’ two specific things. The first is the great miracle of the splitting of the sea, and the other is the nation’s battle and triumphant victory over Amalek. Rashi explains that these two things were Yitro’s motivations to leave his home and join the wandering nation.
It is these two things together that teach us about our faith and our commitment to our heritage. We spend two evenings a year (or just one for those lucky few in Israel) during our Seder, learning, understanding and reliving that awe inspiring time. Yitro heard of the miracle of the sea – can you imagine hearing about this just after it happened how awe inspiring that would be? The magnitude of what had occurred, how nature’s rules had been turned upside down, almost re-written for those precious few moments, would have been enough to turn anyone to faith, but this alone Rashi teaches us ,was not enough for Yitro.
For him, it was hearing about the mighty battle against Amalek. The battle that the Jewish People had to fight to take their freedom and hold on tight. They had shown that their own efforts were of value and not just of the divine intervention in God’s hand at work. This was the second motivating factor which led to come, to see the people rise up and claim their freedom.
We see just how much there is to learn from Yitro’s example. He was a truth seeker, he had sampled some of the world’s greatest forms of idol worship yet he still found his way to Torah and the way of God. He looked and saw miracles, things that moved beyond nature and comprehension, but yet what also inspired him was it was their efforts and actions that have a hand in our internal fight for understanding and freedom.
Truth, inspiration and action. This is what we learn – how we live our Jewish life, and this is why Yitro merited such a high status in our most precious of books!