Jerusalem Report

The quintessential convert

Why did Jethro need to embrace even more responsibility?

YOU HAVE to hand it to Jethro (Yitro) – he is a very good listener. He hears his daughters’ rushed report about a strange savior at the well and manages to get Moses to be part of his household; he listens to Moses speaking of his need to return to Egypt to free his brethren and allows Moses to take his daughter and grandchildren to that furnace of slavery; Jethro listens carefully to Moses’ inside story of the Exodus, senses his tiredness and overhears the complaints of petitioners seeking justice at Moses’ overcrowded door; and then goes about (re)forming the Hebrew judicial system.

And more. “Jethro the priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moses, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, and that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt… [and] Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, came.” The Talmud teaches that he “came” – that he arrived and converted to Judaism (Midrash Shmuel). What did Jethro hear in addition to the Exodus itself (“all that”), which inspired him to convert? Rabbi Elazar the Modite said: [It was] “the giving of the Torah he heard about, and he came…” (Mekhilta Exodus 18). But we still need to determine what was crucial in his hearing about Sinai – the event that either was about to happen or, if we follow the rabbis’ frequent disregard for chronology, had just taken place.

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