When we read in this week’s Torah portion, Yitro (Jethro), about the biggest
event of all time – receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, where G-d revealed
Himself to the Nation of Israel and gave them the Ten Commandments, we notice a
seemingly minor detail, but one that raises questions.
This fateful and
significant parsha should have been named after Mount Sinai since this was an
unprecedented event for any nation in the world, one in which the entire nation
experienced a rare and one-time revelation and took upon itself to obey the
commandments of God.
If we had been asked what this parsha should be
called, we would have suggested the name “Parashat Har Sinai,” or maybe “The Ten
Commandments” or “Parashat Luhot Ha’brit“ (The Tablets of the Covenant). But to
our surprise, the parsha is named after someone who is not at all connected to
this special historical event.
Who was Jethro, who was privileged to have
our parsha named for him? Jethro was Moshe’s father-in-law. The Torah tells us
at the beginning of the parsha that he came from his country – Midian – to the
place where the Nation of Israel was camped at the foot of Mount
The Torah begins the story of Jethro’s arrival in the desert with
the following words: “Now Jethro... heard of all that God had done for
Moshe, and for Israel His people, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt”
But Jethro was not the only person to have heard about the
exodus from Egypt. The story of the nation of slaves being freed excited the
entire ancient world, as we read in the previous parsha – Beshalah: The peoples
have heard... the inhabitants of Philistia; Then were the chiefs of Edom
frightened; the mighty men of Moab... all the inhabitants of Canaan...” (Shmot
The entire world was stirred up by the surprising rumor. An
entire nation of slaves is liberated while super-natural phenomena like the 10
plagues and the parting of the Red Sea occur on their behalf. We can understand
the excitement in the ancient world as a result of the exodus from Egypt. Even
in our day, a news event like this would have captured the front pages of the
newspapers and all the media headlines.
Everyone heard and went on with
Only one person heard and came. Only one man did not listen
and go on, but took the news to heart.
Jethro was the man who heard and
internalized that something big was happening, something worth checking out from
What really caused Jethro to take this fateful step, to leave
his home and his land in order to experience the events himself? The sages of
the Talmud say that before Jethro came to the Nation of Israel in the desert, he
was busy seeking truth. Jethro studied all the religions that were familiar to
him; he worshiped every kind of idolatry popular in his time. He was a man in
search of truth who wished and yearned to find the right way of life. And to do
that, he tried all the ways known to him. Due to this wonderful trait, he
sharpened his senses to hear and pay attention to the fact that the exodus from
Egypt was an event worthy of seeing from up close.
This week’s parsha,
which deals with the tremendous historical event of the Revelation at Mount
Sinai, is named for the same special man who dedicated his life to searching and
examining the right path. This is to teach us that in order to merit the correct
way of life offered to us by the Torah, we must not despair. We must examine,
probe and search incessantly for the right path on which we should
If we follow the footsteps of this special man, Jethro, we will
be able to find the best way of life and the beauty concealed in the words of
Only if we search, and do not despair, will we also be worthy of
receiving the Torah.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy