Torah Portion: Yitro (Jethro)(Sh’mot) Exodus 18:1-20:23
Haftorah Reading: Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6
This week we read the Torah portion Yitro. It is one of only two Torah portions named for a non-Jew and for a further point this portion contains the Ten Commandments and the ceremony where Israel agrees to submit to G-d. So why, with all of this, would this section carry the name of a non-Jew? In some ways the answer is part of the correct response to my question of the week.
First let us look at the question and then look at Yitro more closely to see what we can learn from this man. My question was which is the most important of the Ten Commandments? As we look at these commandments it is hard to pick one above the rest but scripture gives us our answer. In D’Varim 6:4 we see it as part of what is called the Shema. Also in Matthew 22:37-38 Yeshua, in His answer to a question, also gives us our answer, “You shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart with all your soul and all your might.” In our portion today we read in verse 20:1, “The Almighty spoke all these things, saying.” What does G-d say? In the next verse He says, “I am the L-rd your G-d.”
The point being that our belief in G-d must precede what we do. Lacking belief and faith in G-d the word commandment becomes an oxymoron. Without faith our actions, while they may be good, accomplishes nothing in the spiritual realm. Good moral behavior in the end does not get us where we should be spiritually. Therefore the first commandment stresses the L-rd is G-d.
So like Israel, when we come to that meeting with G-d, which we all have or will have, the first thing we must settle is – “He is the L-rd our G-d.” Here Israel settled the question with their response in Exodus 19:8. Given their response and ours to this question what is then required of us? Our lives must be lived for Him – not for our own desires. His will His direction is our guiding light.
This is played out in the life of Yitro in our portion this week. First just a few words about the man, his name has at its root the meaning of “to add on.” Some commentators make the point that at the beginning of chapter 18 we see Yitro advise Moshe on how to order the life of Israel and his own life by adding judges to help him carry the load of the people. Moses takes Yitro’s advice and sets up a system of judges over Israel. This situation does beg the question of why would the people need someone to answer their questions? As we shall see all the people saw and heard G-d for themselves while at the foot of the mountain. We also see there comes a time in verse 20:18-19 where the people ask Moses to hear for them because they are overwhelmed by the voice of G-d. Their understanding was not at the same level as Moses so they had issues that they did not have the tools or spiritual depth to find G-d’s answers. I think we all can identify with this situation. We are sometimes beset by things to which we lack the spiritual might or knowledge to deal with. Maybe we might even have the knowledge but just choose not to deal with it. For us the promises of the Holy Spirit can lead us to the answers we seek if we are ready to follow. Ecclesiastes 2:13 says, “I have seen the advantage of wisdom over folly and light over darkness.” However, a more accurate translation is, “wisdom from folly and light from darkness.” What does this mean to us and what did it mean to Yitro? Remember Yitro was a prince of Midiam, a spiritual leader of a pagan nation. But here in our section we see him come to the place of saying in Exodus 18:11, “Now I know that the L-rd is greater than all gods.” Yitro saw the light so to speak. Light was brought FROM the darkness of his situation through faith in the one true G-d. When he came to this place he was able to return to his home to bring light from darkness, wisdom from folly.
I think of myself and I expect all of us are or have been at that place where, with G-d’s help, our past has come from darkness to light. Things that were dark in our lives are now illuminated by the light of our faith and can be redeemed and used to bring the light of G-d into them. Yitro and us have that opportunity, maybe even duty, to allow G-d to redeem our past. Sin brings conflict. To resolve that conflict the light of G-d is required. It requires the “judge” or Holy Spirit to help us apply G-d’s word to those sins/conflicts and transform them to light.
So as we have looked at this section we can have a clearer understanding of Yitro and his example for us in begin able to say that now we know G-d is above all and able to bring wisdom and light from folly and darkness.