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Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black- Parshat Yitro



In this week’s parsha, Yitro, we read one of the most well-known accounts written in the Torah: God’s giving the 10 commandments to the Jewish people. This momentous occasion occurs with great fanfare–with the sounds of lightning and thunder and the call of the shofar in the background, the people stand trembling ready to accept the Torah as one.

It seems strange that the name of the parsha would be named after Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, who was a former priest that served the idolatrous Midianite people.

The question becomes more stark when you consider the central event that takes place in this parsha—the giving of the 10 commandments. One would think that given the significance of this event, the import it had on the development of the Jewish nation, and the people’s singular unity as they stood at Mt. Sinai in complete assent to what was to occur, the parsha’s name would have been linked to this profound moment in history.

Rashi explains that Yitro’s name gives us a clue as to why he is given such prominence. Because Yitro gave advice to Moshe about how to better delegate his time in adjudicating the issues brought before him, he is given this special recognition. Until Yitro’s groundbreaking advice, Moshe was consumed all day long resolving the thousands of issues, while the people, for their part, lined up all day long to have their cases heard. Yitro’s advice to Moshe was to set up a system whereby the elders of the community would assist him.  In the merit of his advice that Moshe acted upon, the parsha is named for him.

But is there a deeper, everlasting lesson that we can learn from Yitro that explains the prominence he is given in this parsha? However innovative and helpful Yitro’s suggestion, does it trump the giving of the Torah in assigning a name to the parsha?

Let’s look at the words of the parsha to get a clue as to the true significance of Yitro: The parsha begins, “And Yitro, priest of Midian, father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that G-d did to Moshe and to Israel, His people—for Hashem took Israel out of Egypt.”

What did Yitro hear exactly?

Rashi explains that Yitro heard about the splitting of the sea and the war with Amalek. He was intrigued about the miracles that happened to the Jewish people and, even more so, impressed and amazed about the compassion of G-d who redeemed the Jewish people from slavery. Yitro decided he needed to be a part of this amazing nation and decided to convert and join the Jewish people.

If the entire world heard about the amazing miracles of G-d, why did this impact Yitro alone? The Torah tells us how the nations of the world trembled in fear when hearing of G-d’s power. However, they continued to live their lives as if nothing happened. They did not internalize the moment; they allowed the moment to pass them by.

Yitro heard what happened and internalized the events. As Rabbi Yissachar Frand states, “Yitro was a person who connected the dots. He saw the pattern. He saw an event and he saw another event and another event. He noticed something dramatic was happening.”

Yitro’s name was originally Yeter. The difference between Yeter and Yitro amounts to the latter having an extra letter, the “vav,” at the end of the name. The letter “vav” means “and,” indicating Yitro’s proclivity to connect things together, much in the same way the word “and” does.

Yitro was a person who did not look at events as stand-alone occurrences; he recognized and internalized that they were all interconnected. Yitro understood how everything was related and put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

It was because of this quality that Yitro merited having his name attached to the parsha. How can we adopt this quality of connecting the dots? And what do we hope to gain by adopting this approach?

Often we take in experiences as disjointed events. We hear something or experience something, and the impact of its meaning is fleeting. At times we take things in one ear and it goes out the other. We may hear things, but are we really listening?  

Do we tap into the frequency of the bigger picture, or do we see it all as noise/interruption and then continue on with our lives? Yitro teaches us the value and wisdom in putting the pieces together and allowing this bigger picture to influence our lives.  

Yitro inspires us to “add the letter vav” in our lives, to ask the question “and what now?” when we experience our own amazing moment. What are we going to do about it now? What is the AND that we will add to the inspiration we just experienced? To the learning we just heard?

Let us be inspired to add our own AND—to try more, be more, do more.  Let us not allow the inspiration and those unique moments pass us by. Let us ensure that our “ands” leave their mark and legacy, much in the same way that Yitro’s “and” left him his.

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