This week’s Torah portion is named Yitro. But the story of Yitro started before…
In the Gemara, the collection of rabbinical commentaries on the Mishnah which make up the text of the oral law in the Talmud, we hear about Pharaoh’s three advisors in the following order: Bilam, Iyov and Yitro. Bilam continues to advise Pharaoh and is killed, Iyov decides to stop advising, remains silent, and is tormented; and lastly, Yitro after seeing what happened to the other two advisors, decides that the best thing to do is to escape.
And so, he escaped to the land of Midian, the same place where Moses escaped to after he killed an Egyptian man. Both Yitro and Moses escape Pharaoh and his decree. We are first introduced to Yitro in the beginning of the book of Exodus right after Moses arrives in Midian. We know him as the priest of Midian who has 7 daughters. His daughters go to draw water for their flock, but the local shepherds drive them off. This is when Moses comes to their defense and waters their flock. When they return to their father, who at that time was known by the name of Reuel (friend of G-d), he tells them to invite Moses for a meal. It was because of the “misfortune” of events, that Yitro who escaped Egypt, escaped his life as a believer in other gods, (the stars and the moon etc.) who for that same reason was isolated in Midian just because of his beliefs, to eventually be granted by G-d the gift of becoming the father-in-law of the greatest leader in the history of the Jewish people while he wasn’t even Jewish. If it wasn’t for his daughters being discriminated against, Moses wouldn’t have had the opportunity to help them and therefore would never have been invited to Yitro’s house and marry his daughter Tzipora.
We never know how our misfortunes in life will eventually turn to be our fortunes. We should have the faith that anything that we do, as negative as it might be (as in Yitro’s story believing in other gods and advising a cruel leader), that once we decide to change our ways and escape the negative path, that we can and will be rewarded. There is an inspiring story as an example for tikkun (fix) and a reward.
This week’s Torah portion is named after Yitro even though the first word before Yitro is: Vaishma: he heard: “Yitro priest of Midian, Moses’ father in-law, heard all that G-d had done for Moses and for his People, the Israelites, how He brought them out of Egypt.”
The pause of events with the story of Yitro serves as an introduction to what is about to come. It is situated just after last week’s Torah portion Beshalach, which ended with the story of our war with the Amalek which, surprise, we didn’t start. The Amalek made a surprise rear attack on the famished and exhausted Israelites not long after they escaped from Egypt. They cut down the strugglers, the elderly, the weak, and the ill, and Israel was forced to fight its first war of survival. We were savagely attacked; sounds familiar?
Amalek is the Torah’s symbol of pure hate, attacking without cause. Attacking for the sheer joy of hurting others. Amalek is our eternal enemy. The war that continues from generation to generation with evil that revels its hate through cruel actions against us.
So, going back to Yitro who arrives right after that horrible attack. How come? what did Yitro hear? How did he hear all the way from Midian? was it through Facebook, Instagram or just a tweet? And why is it so important to pause the story after our escape walking through the Red Sea just before receiving the Ten commandments?
What is so important about the fact that Yitro came to visit Moses? He came all the way even though he couldn’t be part of the event of mahamad Sinai – the revelation at Mt. Sinai – the climax of human history when we are about to accept the greatest gift of all! Which for the kabbalists is: The opportunity to manifest everything we want in life!
The first word in this week’s story is Hear versus Listen. There is a reason for that. Hearing is clean of interpretations. Listening is more of a psychological process than a physical act. Physically, we hear words and take them in. From there, it’s all psychological. Because we must process and interpret the words we hear. Not just the words, but the non-verbal communication as well. Listening is more of a psychological process than a physical act. Listening is what we understand from what we hear.
That is why at times people hear what they want to, which deprives them of learning, expanding their horizons, and getting to know the truth. Sometimes the painful truth.
When we say the call of the Shema, we make sure to pronounce the Daled in the last word: Echad because if we don’t it might be confused with the word: Acher and that would make our call instead to our G-d the one (Echad) and only, to another G-d (Acher).
But going back again to our story as we try to understand the importance of Yitro at this point of the plot. Trying to understand the order of events and the choice of words. As we are preparing to stand together at Mount Sinai. We can analyze it by imagining how tired we were, physically and emotionally, after working so hard in Egypt, without time to rest, crossing the sea, walking in the dessert without enough food or water, being attacked without any notice by an evil power, and after all of it still trying to prepare ourselves, washing, getting dressed, trying to collect our strength to stand firm as we wait to hear the rules by which we are taking a vow to follow from forever on. I can only imagine how loud we yelled and cried through it all. After all even G-d from high above heard us.
And Yitro heard us too; the whole world heard us! But he was the only one who came to stand by us. To give Moses guidance on how to make sure he kept his strength through this by delegating. Yitro didn’t forget how Moses was there for him when he and his family were isolated in Midian and how Moses helped and stood up for them. It didn’t matter that Yitro wasn’t Jewish. He could still tell between right and wrong even when Pharoah asked him for advice on how to eliminate the Jewish people from his land.
He didn’t stay to help Pharaoh achieve the final solution like Bilam did, he didn’t keep quiet like Eyov did, he escaped, and took time to decide how to practice his free will.
We read that only on the third day G-d came down on Mt. Sinai. The third day in the creation was twice as good. Even G-d took 3 days to appear before us. Good things are worth waiting for.
The Torah sometimes mentions events not in the right chronological order to send a message. Some say This is the art of Storytelling – the importance of how to tell the order of events, what parts are important to bring up, which events to shine light on, etc. The way the story is told will affect the way people hear and understand it. I hope you didn’t feel lost as I tried to bring up a special point.
Yitro’s visit is said to have taken place after the revelation at Mount Sinai, but his visit was mentioned before since that was our revelation to see who was standing by us when we most needed it. The people we chose to come to visit us and stand by us might not have started as our friends and it might have taken them some time to realize who we are, but we should always be aware of who they are so we can acknowledge them.
Yitro was the first one to say: Baruch Adonai…” blessed be the Lord” yes, you heard it right. He understood who our G-d was and that we were his chosen people. He saw the events, heard us when we cried for help and came to show support. And that is why I would like to think that this Torah portion gives him the honor of being named after him, and us still saying Baruch Hashem when good things happen even after a war with the ones who chose to destroy us.
Blessed be the Lord for all the support and love we get from all around the world when we need it most.
Beth Moshe Congregation is filled with generations of South Florida families with roots and traditional values.