As we’re coming up to Shavuot (and will read part of Yitro again), I thought I’d do a post that covers this Torah reading.
In the previous parasha we learn that the Israelite’s leave Egypt. Yitro seems genuinely happy over their good fortune. One of his interesting characteristics is revealed to us when Moshe first meets him: Moshe rescues his daughter’s from harassment from local shepherds whilst they’re collecting water from a well. Moshe chooses the well as his dwelling place and finds that it’s a place where the strong oppress the weak. This incident is not the first time that Moshe has fought against this imbalance. In Egypt, he killed an Egyptian attacking a fellow Hebrew and buried his body in the sand and subsequently fled to Midian when Pharoad heard what he had done.
The Torah portion itself opens with a statement that tells us the following: “Yitro, the minister of Midian, the father-in-law of Moses, heard everything that G-d did to Moshe and to Israel….”. It goes on to further state that Yitro had heard that G-d had taken the Hebrews out of Egypt. The first thing that arises is that Yitro is a minister of Midian, indicating that he might have some other type of faith other than Judaism. The second interesting point is that Yitro heard all that HaShem did for Israel, giving rise to the question; what did he hear about Israel and how did he eventually enter the Israel camp; before or after Sinai?
Moses takes one of Yitro’s daughter’s (Tzipporah) to be his wife and becomes Yitro’s son-in-law. Whereas Moses was a homeless wanderer when he encountered Yitro and his family, the roles reversed and Yitro chose instead to wander with Moshe. Rashi say’s that Yitro turned his back on idol worship and this is why the local people were harassing his daughters when Moshe came to the rescue. When the Torah say’s that Moshe heard all that Yitro heard everything that G-d did to Moshe, I wonder whether he’s referring to Sinai itself and the giving of the Torah. Did he stand there and hear the giving of the Torah? Is that what HaShem told Moshe and is that what Yitro heard? Parasha Yitro say’s that all the people at Sinai “heard the sounds” leading me to consider that the Parasha alludes to Yitro actually being present for the giving of the Torah at Sinai.
Another interesting point is that the presence of the nation of Israel at Sinai tells us that this event was witnessed, unlike, say, Islam whose prophecy was witnessed by nobody.
Also, how was the Torah “forced” at Sinai and how did Yitro become Jewish? Is it not considered that all of Israel was at Sinai and part of the event of the giving of the Torah included all future converts? How is this the case if Yitro joined the Jewish people before Sinai? There is a question about the sequence of events in Torah here. There is a Talmudic debate about whether he entered the camp before the Torah because he heard the news of the Splitting of the Sea and the Amelakite attack on the weak of travelling Israelite’s. There is a differing opinion in Zevachim (116a) that gives us the opinion that he came after the giving of Torah and hearing that the Ten Commandments had been given.
There is a Midrash that say’s the Jewish people died at Har Sinai, that their souls had to revived within them and the great fire they would see would force them not to accept the Torah at Sinai as they would see the grandeur of HaShem, retract their agreement of Torah and go back on their word and therefore they were forced to accept it (Tosefot). We don’t here about the giving of the Torah until the next parasha. Ibn Ezra gives the following opinion, that Jethro came after the Torah was given, but the Torah wanted to draw parallels between Jethro and Amalek; Jethro was an outsider who was of major benefit to Israel, and Amalek was an outsider whose who launched an unprovoked attack on Israel.
One interesting piece of Halacha I recently read regarding a Jewish convert, is that of Dayan Toledano, a Sephardi Rabbi who is currently Chief Rabbi of Holland, who states in his compendium of Jewish law that in the morning blessings, a convert to Judaism must omit the blessing “thank G-d, that he did not make me a goy”, which is interesting in that, although a convert to Judaism was not physically born Jewish, it’s considered his soul was and was at Sinai. Chacham Chaim David HaLevi of blessed memory and former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, say’s something different in Mekor Chaim, his volume of Jewish law and states that these blessings should not be changed. It is likely that Toledano took his approach as there is a doubt about about a blessing, then it’s best to admit it, but I also wonder whether the doubt is whether Yitro was at Sinai or not?