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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Exodus/Shmot - Yitro (Yisro)
Contributed 2008 by Asher ben Shimon
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Yitro, Yisro

Sefer (Book)

Shmot (Exodus)

Beginning Perek (Chapter):

Yud-Chet (18)

Beginning Pasuk (Verse):

Aleph (1)

Concluding Perek:

Chav (20)

Concluding Pasuk:

Chav-Gimel (23)

Yitro Priest Of Midyan

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This week's torah portion is named after Yitro. "And Yitro, the priest of Midyan, father in law of Moshe, heard all that Hashem had done".

What was it that made him travel into the desert to join the Jewish people? Rashi tells us that it was hearing about the splitting of the sea and the miraculous victory in the war with Amalek that convinced him.

Why does the Torah have to tell us that Yitro used to be a priest in Midyan where he served idols? Yitro had just given up his high position and traveled into a desert without food and drink to receive the Torah. Obviously he had changed his old way of life. Why does the Torah have to mention his negative past?

In the same breath the Torah also reminds us that he was the father in law of Moshe, which brought him great honor. Since Moshe was obligated to honor his father in law he went out to greet him as soon as he got the message that Yitro was on his way. His brother Aharon with his children joined him as always. When the people saw their leaders going out to greet someone, they understood it must be a very special person. So they all came along to greet Yitro. This shows how Yitro was in a certain way more important than Moshe. How does that fit in with what it says right before that he used to be a priest in Midyan?

When Moshe and Yitro meet, Yitro says: "Blessed is Hashem for saving the people from the hands of the Egyptians. Now I know that Hashem is bigger than all the other "g-ds' (idols)." Yitro was a smart man. He had worshiped all idols existing in those days, understanding the reason why they were being worshiped. He had worshiped the river because he knew that its waters made the wheat grow etc. etc. It was only now that he had come to the conclusion that there is a creator of everything that is behind all the powers of nature.

We are told that only after Yitro made this statement it became possible for the Torah to be given. Why is that?

"The Torah preceded the world by 2000 years" the Midrash says. We know that Adam knew the Torah, Avraham Yitschak and Yakov knew the Torah, and even Moshe and the rest of the Jewish people had been studying Torah all along. What then took place at Mt. Sinai which only became possible after Yitro had been convinced of the existence of a creator?

We say in the morning prayer every day: `yotser or uborei choshech'. Light and darkness are both created by Hashem. Darkness is not only a lack of light. It is a CREATION. Sometimes darkness is a result of lack of light. That type of darkness is LOWER than light. There is however a level of darkness which is HIGHER than light. A light that is too bright to be received, and therefore remains dark.

The Torah is called a light. Torah Or. That level of Torah the way it illuminates our lives existed in this world before the revelation on Mt. Sinai. The essence of the Torah however remained in heaven. For that reason it was not possible to connect physical objects with holiness the way we know it today. After the Torah was given it became possible to connect the spiritual with the physical. Tefillin and mezuzot become parchments and leather that have to be respected and cannot be thrown out. On a different level our own bodies become holy when we use them to run after every opportunity to do a mitzvah. The same applies to all physical objects when used for a good purpose. This connection became possible after Hashem came down with his entire `being' when he said ANOCHI, I, me in my entirety, am your G-d.

King Shlomo says: I saw that there is an advantage in foolishness over (literally `from') wisdom like there is an advantage in light over (from) darkness.

When a candle is lit in a dark room it shines brighter than when it is lit in a light room. This is because the darkness (which is a creation as we said before) gets transformed to light as well. It is therefore not only the fuel that is giving the light but also the transformed darkness that adds to the light.

It doesn't take a king Shlomo, the wisest of all men, to tell us the advantage of wisdom over foolishness. What he is telling us is that there is an advantage in Torah wisdom over secular wisdom. Secular wisdom brings a person to feel haughty. Big professors feel very accomplished. It is therefore considered foolishness.

The Torah, on the other hand, when studied with the realization that it is G-d's wisdom, brings a person to humility. That is true wisdom.

Just like darkness adds to light, so does the foolishness (secular wisdom) add to the wisdom of Torah when transformed.

The light of Torah had been in this world all along. When Yitro, who represented all secular wisdom joined this light by proclaiming that even HE had come to the conclusion that there is a G-d, the darkness higher than light came into this world.

This, that Yitro became the added fuel to the light of the Torah, "the priest of midyan" was the cause for him being "choten Moshe". Literally it means of course father in law of Moshe, but it also tells us that it made a `chut darga', which means `going down a step' to Moshe. Moshe is the connecting link between Hashem and the Torah and the Jewish people. In essence he was on a very high spiritual level that kept him distanced from the physical in the world. Since his task was to bring down the Torah to this world he had to be forced to go down a level. Yitro had been the cause of this and with that made it possible that the Torah be given later. We know that Moshe had gotten his father in law to stop worshipping idols already in the days he still lived with him in Midyan. Since Yitro at that time represented the lowest of the negative, Moshe was forced to lower himself in order to deal with it. This is what it says `kohen midyan' and THEREFORE `choten Moshe.' Because he was representing the negative, priest of midyan, Moshe had to lower himself `choten Moshe'.

Why did the splitting of the sea bring Yitro to the realization there is only one G-d?

At the time of the splitting of the sea all waters in the world split.

Nothing exists besides for G-d. We perceive this world and ourselves as existing because we were created with spiritual sunglasses. When the sea split all these `tinted screens' also split. The result was that even the lowest spiritual level, represented by its priest, Yitro, saw an open revelation of G-dliness.

The torah is being given every day as new as we say every day: `notain hatorah', who GIVES the torah, present tense. The revelations that took place then we don't see with our eyes though. Soon when Moshiach comes we will be able to see it again with our own eyes.

Then we heard ANOCHI once. When Moshiach comes we will hear it twice when Hashem will comfort us for all the pain we suffer now in exile as he promised: ANOCHI ANOCHI hu menachemchem. I, I will comfort you. May it be right now!


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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