Parashah #17: Yitro (Jethro) Sh’mot (Exodus) 18:1-20:23

Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #17: Yitro (Jethro) Sh’mot (Exodus) 18:1-20:23
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 6:1-13
B’rit Chadashah: James 2:8-13
The first sentence in the parashah speaks of Yitro who was the father-in-law of Moses hearing about all that G-d had done for Moses and the Israelites. Who was this man that one of our parahshot should bear his name? The gematria of Yitro (616) is equal to that of “He was a priest to false gods” [in Hebrew, ‘Komer Haya La’avoda Zarah ‘], and is equal to that of HaTorah/the Torah. For first he was an idolatrous priest, but he later came to convert and to accept the Torah. The name
Yitro can be interpreted as “abundance” but can also be read as two words: Yetar + Vav —meaning “an extra Vav.” (gematria = 6), for Jethro had 7 names, 6 more than most people. He was called by seven names: Re’uel, Yeter, Jethro, Hobab, Heber, Keni, [and] Putiel. […He was called] Yeter because he [caused] a portion to be yetair [added] to the Torah [namely]: “But you shall choose.” (Ex. 18:17-26) [He was called] Yitro — “Yud Tav Reish Vav”– [to indicate that] when he converted and fulfilled the commandments, a letter [vav] was added to his name [Yeter, which is–Yud Tav Reish]. These were his two main names. He was also known as “Chovav” because he was beloved of God, “Re’u’el” because he was God’s friend, “Chever” because he was a close associate of the Almighty, “Puti’el” because he abandoned idolatry, and “Keni” because he was zealous for God. Alternatively, he is called Yitro –“Yud Tav Reish Vav”– because he came to the Israelites to accept the Yud (= 10 Commandments] and the 613 mitzvahs which are Tav+Reish+Vav = 606 mitzvahs more than the original 7 commanded to the children of Noah, all non-Jews.
Why did the Torah tell us that Jethro was a priest? It is hardly a merit. Perhaps the Torah wanted us to know the greatness of Jethro who converted to Judaism, although he occupied an exalted position in his country at the cost of his prominence and probably his wealth. Also, G d had revealed what He had done to Jethro. He did not add nor subtract anything that occurred. Only people who listen to the voice of G-d’s calling them out of apostasy are granted such a comprehensive insight, albeit according to G-d’s timetable, not the individual.
The fact is that the recitation of our receiving the Torah is found in the portion bearing Jethro’s name. This shows us how we can learn from other people, no matter who they are. Being chosen does not necessarily imply being better. Rather each nation has its role, its special part in the tapestry of the Master Weaver. Note too, the close relation between the name Jethro, spelled “Yod Tav Reish Vav,” and the name of another famous convert – Ruth, spelled ” Reish Vav Tav,” whose story we read lovingly on Shavuot, the Holiday of the Giving of the Torah; both concern converts.
Because we are all converts in a sense, whether biological Jew or Gentile, this parashah has special meaning for everyone who has an ear to hear as did Yitro. He was a priest of an idolatrous nation that was punished for seducing Israel into similar behavior. Midian’s history makes Yitro’s role in G-d’s plan even more profound. We can see in retrospect that he would play a very important role in furthering G-d’s mission for Moshe, a biological Jew. Incidentally, the Torah does not reveal the identity of Yitro’s parents. We may conclude their identity is not important; the concept of this narrative is G-d’s teaching objective. All we know is that Yitro was a Midianite priest and that the Midianites were descended from Midian who was a son of Abraham and Keturah, who was also a convert.
Every time someone who is in the process of answering the call of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) and leaves the comfort of the antinomian (anti-Torah) lifestyle, the power of holiness can be increased through the individual’s obedience to G-d and His laws, regulations, and statutes. The individual is in a sense establishing a spiritual residency in the heavens, promised to those who carry the testimony of Yahshua and guard the commands of G-d. G-d’s instructions only seem difficult at times because we are steeped in a world that is returning to gods our fathers have not known, all of whom promote a lifestyle against G-d’s Torah (Ex. 20:13;13);. Remember Matthew 11:28-30 “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The Torah’s illustrations and examples of the differences between physical and spiritual hearing and listening are found throughout the Bible. This concept took on a special meaning in our last parashah. In Exodus 15: 25-26 “There Adonai made laws and rules of life for them [Israelites], and there he tested them. He said, ‘If you will listen intently to the voice of Adonai your G-d, do what he considers right, pay attention to his mitzvot and observe his laws, I will not afflict you with any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians; because I am Adonai your healer.”
What did Yitro hear exactly? Did the rest of the world not hear of the parting of the sea and of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt? This is a question posed in the Zohar. Is it not written, “the nations heard and shuddered? The answer is that the whole world heard and was not humbled, while Yitro heard and was humbled and was drawn closer to G-d.”
Many people physically hear but take little notice and usually do not act upon that which they hear. The Midrash (Sh’mot Rabbah 27:9) offers the following allegory on the verse, “Incline your ear and come to Me, hear and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3). So precious are humans to G-d that He entices them. According to an allegory found in the Midrash Sh’mot Rabbah 27:9 “He said to them, ‘if one falls from a roof and his whole body is injured, and the doctor visits him and puts a bandage on his head, arms and legs, and all his body, he becomes totally enveloped in bandages. I am not like that. Man has 248 organs and one of them is the ear. If the whole body is sullied with sin, but the ear hears and listens, then the whole body receives life.” Notice there is a distinction between hearing and listening. Fast forward to Yahshua’s arrest, could Peter have at least partially understood this concept when he cut the ear off one of the centurions when the cohort came to arrest Yahshua? This possibility and correlation between hearing and listening in this context is interesting to ponder.
To understand the meaning of “And G-d spoke,” we must learn what it means to listen. Do you say the answer is obvious? If this is the case, why does G-d take up so much of the Torah addressing this concept? Why do so many physically hear but not listen to G-d’s commands uttered by his voice? Why does Yahshua repeatedly say “those who have ears let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Messianic communities” in the first four chapters of Revelation? Unless there is an ear to hear, even the most powerful message from the mouth of G-d himself is lost. For that reason, “Yitro heard,” precedes the giving of the Torah. This represents not only the presence of a converted Gentile at Sinai from the high ranks of an idolatrous nation in addition to Y’hoshua who was also a convert, but it emphasizes the responsibility to obey G-d’s commands, regulations, and statutes by Jew and Gentile. There are NOT two sets of rules and none of G-d’s laws were abrogated with Yahshua’s execution.
Exodus 20:15 reads, “All the people experienced the thunder, the lightening, the sound of the shofar, and the mountain smoking.” As expected, the people were afraid of what they were experiencing. Moshe was quick to explain that there was no need for fear of being killed when G-d spoke to them, but that “G -d has come only to test you and make you fear him, so that you won’t commit sins” (Ex. 20:17-19). Note the difference between the fear of dying experienced by the people and a respectful and awesome fear of G-d. The healthy, respectful, awesome fear of G-d is defined in Torah “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is G-d who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
Sound is received by the ear from all directions without the need to focus or turn. Could this be why HaSatan uses white noise to distract us from what is really important? White noise can be in the form of a lack of concentration, visual, or audible distractions. Just think of how people are led away from what is important in a house of supposed worship and learning by repetitive, monotonous rhythmic music disguised as praise to the L-rd. If you have an ear, may you hear the truth of G-d’s Torah. However, you must quiet yourself, silence your personal agenda, take off the MP3 player, turn off your ego and prayerfully search the Word of G-d.
Vision, on the other hand, is dependent on opening one’s eyes and focusing on that which one wants to see. G-d’s words had to be heard with the same intense focus employed in sight. We can see the close connection between hearing and seeing in our biblical narrative this week. G-d intentionally presented both an audio and visual experience when giving His commands. This dual sensory experience may be symbolic of the spiritual and physical requirements that occur in the human heart and mind necessary for salvation. That is internalizing His Words through hearing and the physical behavioral changes response to hearing His commands. Hearing the thunder, lightning, and the sound of the shofar reinforced by actually seeing the smoking mountain (Ex. 20:15-16) established the validity of G-d’s authority and His mercy demonstrated through His restraint of power.
G-d placed a large exclamation point on his commands using thunder, lightning, and smoke that got the people’s attention. He will use these visual and audio aides again as described in the book of Revelation. Many sounds and sights reach our ears and eyes, but only one who is attuned to the Ruach haKodesh (Holy Spirit) can focus on and absorb the message. The Gemara relates that the turning point in the life of Rabbi Akiva was when he witnessed the erosion of a stone by water. Many observed the same thing, but only he derived the message; if water can erode stone, then Torah can change the heart. The whole world summons one with an attuned and attentive ear to the service of G-d. Psalms 19:2 reads “The heavens declare the glory of G-d.” Look at the sky, listen to the ocean, hear the breath of the manatee and the dolphin as they exhale and breathe in life giving oxygen. Listen to the leaves on a Silver Maple tree as they applaud Adonai in the breeze. Listen to the snow as it hits the leaves that cover the ground and protect it from the winter cold. Listen to the birds as they share their songs with the world. Although they are all different, they are in complete harmony with their environment and others of their species. Although you physically hear these things, can you really hear their messages? Be aware that G-d can manifest himself in many forms. Listen intently for his voice. Remember, although He came to the Israelites in thunder, lightning, and a cloud when He gave them the commands, He was not found in the wind, the earthquake, or in the fire witnessed by Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13). This time G-d was in a quiet, subdued voice that reassured Elijah nowhere at the same time. Let he who has ears hear G-d’s voice in everything as the Ruach walks beside us to guide our every thought and deed.
The Sages tell us that the outer ear serves as a funnel to collect sound waves and direct them to the inner ear. This is in fact the case. The problem of the servant who chose to stay with his master rather than accept his freedom on the Sh’mittah years was that although he physically heard the command that we not have any gods before Adonai (Ex. 20:3), he did not spiritually hear and internalize the mitzvah. He failed to internalize the command personally. It was for others but did not apply to him personally.
We must also acknowledge the fact that Moshe listened to his father-in-law about delegating some of his authority to other wise men of the community under G-d’s guidance. Yitro was humble as he reminded Moshe that if he delegated G-d-fearing, incorruptible men to assist him “and G-d is directing you to do it- you will be able to endure; and all these people will arrive at their destination peacefully” (Ex. 18:23). Yitro gave credit for the idea to G-d and encouraged Moshe to seek G-d’s guidance in the process of choosing judges. Yitro’s humility and harmony with G-d’s agenda marked him as a man of G-d even as a Midianite priest.
Chapter 19 emphasizes the importance of listening to G-d again; this time in the context of being set apart as G-d’s unique treasure. One would think that this would not require any hesitation. However, we learn all too soon of the rebellious nature, the Esau, that lies deep within us all. G-d tells Moshe to tell the house of Jacob, to tell the people of Israel: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will pay careful attention to what I say and keep my covenant, then you will be my own treasure from among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you will be a Kohanim for me, a nation set apart” Ex. 19:9 reads, “See I am coming to you in a thick cloud, so that the people will be able to hear when I speak with you and also to trust in you forever.” G-d made sure everyone had the same opportunity to hear what He would tell Moshe.
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 6:1-13
This week’s haftarah discusses Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly Chariot (the Merkavah), a revelation that all the Israelites experienced when G-d spoke the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Isaiah perceived sitting on a throne surrounded by angels. Isaiah described the angels and their behavior in terms we can understand. During the course of his vision, Isaiah volunteered to be G-d’s emissary to transmit His message to the Israelites. He was immediately given a depressing prophecy regarding the exile the nation would suffer as punishment for their many sins- and the Land of Israel would be left empty and desolate. An interesting comparison can be made between the scenario at Sinai and the vision of G-d’s throne Isaiah describes in Is. 6:1. The house was “filled with smoke,” the s’rafim (guardian angels) are singing “Holy, holy, holy!”, and the doorposts shook “at the sound of their shouting” (Is. 6:2-4) Yahshua heard the voice of G-d and said, “Send me!” On Mount Sinai G-d surrounded the mountain with a thick cloud (Ex. 19:9). The mountain was smoking (Ex. 20:15). The thunder (Ex. 20:15) may be likened to the shouting of the s’rafim. Moshe may be compared to Yahshua in his willingness to be used by G-d.
Another interesting verse pertaining to the future is found in Isaiah 9:7 “to the increase of His rulership and to completeness, there will be no end.” The Hebrew for increase begins with a mem soffit (final mem). This alludes to the whole peace of G-d yet to come.
B’rit Chadashah: James 2:8-13
“If you truly attain the goal of Kingdom Torah, in conformity with the passage that says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, your actions constitute sin, since you are convicted under the Torah as transgressors. 10 For a person who keeps the whole Torah, yet stumbles at one point, has become guilty of breaking them all. For the one who said, ‘Don’t commit adultery,’ also said ‘Don’t murder.’ Now if you don’t commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the Torah. Keep speaking and acting like people who will be judged by a Torah which gives freedom. 13 For judgment will be without mercy toward one who doesn’t show mercy; but mercy wins out over judgment.”
James was the brother of Yahshua, and he was well-grounded in the Old Testament. His teachings paralleled those of his brother and L-rd as we read the above passages. James reminds us that we need take great care in judging others until we look closely at ourselves. This parallels Yahshua’s teaching those who wanted to stone the adulteress. Those without sin were invited to cast the first stone. We see examples of people judging others on a daily basis, even those who call themselves true believers. In other words, none of us are righteous. Yet, YHVH/Yahshua reserves the right to show mercy to whomever He will (Ex. 33:19; Rom. 9:15-18; Acts 17:11). As people who profess the Messianic faith, we are to show mercy whenever we can, allow and encourage people to grow into the faith. We will be judged as we judge. Our purpose is to glorify G-d through our lifestyle witness/observance to G-d’s commands. Remember, nice people go to hell too! We must give others an example to follow through obedience to and love for G-d’s instructions. That is a big order, but it is achievable (Deut. 30:11-13). Are we setting a good example as a representative of the Messianic faith? Are we glorifying Yahshua in our thoughts, speech, and actions? “Don’t deceive yourselves by only hearing what the Word says but do it! Whoever hears the Word but doesn’t do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in the mirror, who looks at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But if a person looks closely into the perfect Torah, which gives freedom and continues, becoming not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work it requires, then he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25).
“So everyone who hears these words of mine and act on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on bedrock. The rain fell, the rivers flooded, the winds blew and beat against that house, but it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does NOT act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the rivers flooded, the wind blew and beat against that house, and it collapsed- and its collapse was horrendous!” (Matthew 7:24-27). Listen closely!
Shabbat Shalom,
R. Tamah Davis-Hart