It is in this week’s parsha Yitro that the Children of Israel 7 weeks after the exodus from Egypt, gather at the base of Har Sinai and receive the Torah from G-d. Why then is the parsha entitled Yitro and not the 10 commandments?
Yitro, the father in law of Moshe and the Priest of Midian, worshipped every idolatrous practice that existed. But when Yitro heard of the great miracles performed by G-d specifically, according to Rashi, the miracles of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds and the war with Amalek, he left Midian and traveled to the Israelite camp with Moshe’s wife Tzippora and their 2 sons Gershom and Eliezer.
The parsha opens with the words “Vayishma Yitro”(Jethro heard). In Hebrew, the word for hears “shema” also means to understand. Yitro just didn’t hear. He understood and acted. Amalek heard the same things as Yitro but was so obsessed with his hatred for the Jews and was filled with such horrible prejudices that his true sense of reality was distorted. The nation of Amalek rebelled against G-d. The Hebrew word Amalek has a numerical value of 240, which is the same as the word safek meaning doubt. Yitro had no doubt of G-d’s supremacy.
The events of the exodus proved to Yitro that G-d absolutely controlled everything and punished “measure for measure”. Yitro was the 1st gair tzeddek, performed mila on himself and acknowledged Hashem as the only ruler.
Yitro showed selfless gratitude to G-d after hearing of the great miracles by saying “Baruch Hashem”(Blessed is Hashem), which is the ultimate phrase in showing appreciation and thankfulness to G-d. Rabbi Yochanan says the phrase “Baruch Hashem” should be attributed to Yitro because Yitro was the one who taught us to express thankfulness to G-d for miracles not given to His own people but to the Children of Israel. Moshe also thanked G-d after the crossing of the Sea of Reeds when he praised G-d for the miracles he performed for his own people, the Children of Israel. The difference though is that Yitro personified loving kindness when he thanked G-d for the blessings he placed on others. Also, from the respectful manner in which Moshe treated his father-in-law (And he prostrated himself and kissed him…) we learn of the importance for a person to honor their in-laws.
Yitro advised Moshe to appoint a hierarchy of magistrates and judges to help him in governing and administering justice to the Children of Israel. He advised Moshe to choose (”men of accomplishment, G-d fearing people, men of truth, people who despise money…”). This system proposed by Yitro was to assure that the system of courts would be set up efficiently and quickly. The difficult cases were to be brought to Moshe and the leaders would judge the minor ones. Next, the Torah says, “Moshe sent off his father-in-law and he went to his land”. Yitro was willing to change his life for Judaism. He felt that he had to go back home to Midian to try to convert his family and friends and spread the light of Torah there.
Parsha Yitro teaches us many lessons, which were crucial before the Jews received the Torah from Hashem. The 10 Commandments are the foundation of our faith since they represent the entirety of the Torah. According to Rabbi Yochanan Zweig, the purpose of the miracles was to bring the Children of Israel and G-d closer together. Yitro heard of the great miracles, reacted and immediately converted.
How often do we ignore G-d’s warnings and even blessings? We are all so busy in our pursuit of our materialistic “good life” we often don’t hear G-d’s messages. We typically only stop to listen when tragedy unfortunately occurs. Most of us today “listen” to what we want to hear and see only what we choose to see.
This week we celebrate TuB’Shevat, the New Year for the trees. According to the Talmud it is this date when the trees begin to draw nourishment from their sap. During the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, the 15th of Shevat was used to calculate the tithes from the fruit of the trees. For us it is a time of appreciation for all Hashem has given us!
Shabbat Shalom! Have a fruitful day!
This d’var torah is dedicated in honor of the memory of the 1st yahrzeit of my wonderful mother, Sasha Fagel bat Yosef. May her neshama have an aliyah.