Parshat Yitro: He who seeks shall find

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 God.

Torah reading 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
Torah reading 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
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 Sinai.
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” (Exodus 18:1).
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 15:14-15).
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 their lives.
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 up close.
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 embark.
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 God.
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 sites.