What Did Jethro Hear?January 13, 2014 - 5:00 am
Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.—Exodus 18:1
The Torah portion for this week is Yitro, which means “Jethro,” from Exodus 18:1–20:23, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 6:1–13.
This week’s Torah reading begins: “Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard everything God had done for Moses and for His people Israel . . .” The Sages ask: What exactly did Jethro hear? What was so compelling that caused Jethro to leave his life in Midian, where he was a well-respected priest with considerable wealth, and join the children of Israel for a harsh desert life?
One Sage suggests that Jethro heard about the parting of the sea. Nothing like that had ever happened before, and it was proof positive of the God of Israel’s superiority. A second Sage suggests that Jethro heard about the war between Israel and Amalek, where Moses kept his hands held up toward heaven, bringing about God’s miraculous salvation and victory. A third Sage suggests that Jethro heard about both miracles, and together these made Jethro a believer in the God of Israel.
According to this third opinion, there were two very different messages in each of these miracles. The first lesson, from the parting of the sea, demonstrated that God controls the world and that He favors the righteous. This was impressive but, the Sages argue, not enough to compel Jethro to join Israel. Jethro was a well-educated priest and had encountered many other religions that preached about a force that created and controlled the world.
In considering the second miracle, where Moses’ actions contributed to God’s salvation for His people, Jethro had also studied religions that espoused the idea that humans could control God. These pagan religions practiced sacrifices and appeasement of many gods. The idea was that if humans did certain things, they could control the gods.
However, Jethro had never encountered a faith that put both ideas together. The parting of the sea proclaimed that there is a Creator who is the Master of the Universe. However, the battle of Amalek also proved that what people do matters to God. When Moses’ hands were raised, the people had faith in God, and their faith brought about God’s miraculous salvation.
Never before had Jethro heard of a two-way street between humans and God, a relationship where God is the sovereign ruler who also cares deeply for His children and takes their actions into account. This idea was so inspiring and so novel that Jethro just had to be a part of such a community.
Today, our shared Judeo-Christian beliefs have become so established that we sometimes take for granted the very foundations of our faith. The idea that the King in Heaven is also our Father who cares deeply about us was once revolutionary. Take time during the week to ponder this great privilege given to all who believe — to have a personal relationship with the Master of the Universe — and what this means to you.