Yitro: Royal Treatment

Standing with Israel
What’s so special about Yitro?

Table for Five: Yitro

In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed low and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent.

– Ex. 18:7


Rabbi Elchanan Shoff, Rabbi, Beis Knesses of Los Angeles

How did Moses know that his father-in-law was coming? The Torah actually tells us this detail. Yitro, coming to greet Moses, sent word ahead “I, your father-in-law Yitro am coming to you, along with your wife and her two children.”

Rashi cites the Midrashic interpretation – Yitro was telling Moses “come out; greet me! If my arrival isn’t sufficient, I’m bringing your wife! If that’s not enough, your two sons are coming.” Yitro was asking for Moses to come and offer him respect. Moses obliged.

Our tradition teaches that Yitro was a great spiritual seeker, a man of character and faith, a noble person. Why is a role model like Yitro asking for honor? This could almost be taken as arrogance! Maharal explains that Rashi was using Yitro’s actions to teach us a very important lesson. Knowing one’s emotional needs and asking for them is all right! We all need a certain amount of respect – dignity is a basic human need. If a father-in-law feels that coming to greet him is important to him, he should express it. If someone were accidentally bumping into you – causing you discomfort – one should have no problem kindly mentioning that “I’m sure it was unintentional, but you are accidentally bumping my chair when you pass by.” We ought to be just as comfortable saying that about emotional things. “Please don’t hurt my feelings” is not a display of weakness. It’s an act of kindness to be able to know and communicate one’s emotional needs.


Dini Coopersmith, Director, Women’s Reconnection Trips

The Torah goes out of its way to describe the social niceties in which Moses and his father-in-law engaged, as the latter arrived in the desert with his daughter and grandchildren. Rashi brings a wonderful midrash portraying the immense honor shown to Yitro, as Moses leaves the busyness of his life and “walks out” to greet his family- “since Moses went out, so did Aaron and his sons and the elders go out, and who would see all these go out and not join?” Yitro, Tziporah and her sons are getting the royal treatment, as the entire nation walks out to greet them. Rav Noach Weinberg ztz”l says (in Exodus) that Moses took the time to ask Yitro’s permission, even after God Himself commanded him to go to Egypt and redeem the Jewish people. His tremendous gratitude for his father-in-law, who took him in when he was homeless and stateless, gave him a home and allowed him to marry his daughter, precluded his committing to God’s request without Yitro’s consent.

Louise Hay, a non-Jewish “positive-affirmations-self-help-guru”, says: “the universe seems to love gratitude. If you show gratitude for your circumstances, your resources, the things in your life, the universe will shower you with abundance and blessing.”

It seems to me, that when Moses shows respect and appreciation toward Yitro, he is giving over a crucial message to the Jewish People: the Torah (which of course, IS the Universe) loves gratitude. And appreciation. And respect. And being a mensch. Now, let’s go to Mount Sinai and receive the Torah.


Miriam Mill, President, Tzaddik Foundation

On a very basic human level, Moses coming out to greet his father-in-law was a show of respect and love. Very nice but not worth mentioning. According to Rashi, not just Moses went but Aaron and his sons went and so all of Am Yisrael followed and went with them. Now that is a totally different level of show of respect.

It’s not a coincidence that the 10 commandments were given in the same parsha named after Yitro. It’s been said that if Yitro did not accept Hashem as the one and only God, the Torah could not have been given.

What is so special about this Yitro that his appearance in the desert was the precursor to getting the Torah? Yitro was already famous. He was well known for having practiced every single idolatry and had denounced each one. He was the “priest” of all the nations, their representative. Before this event, Amalek had attacked the yidden and had cooled off the world view that the Jews were indestructible. Yitro came to “Stand with Israel”, to let the world know that the Jew’s G-d is the one and only god. Not only did his arrival and show of comfort take courage, it solidified the world’s perception of what the Jews represented. Now the Torah could be given. Because even though the Torah would be given to the Jews, it was to perfect the entire world. Now we know why all the yidden came out to honour Yitro.


Ben Elterman, Screenwriter, Essayist, Speech Writer at MitzvahSpeeches.com

What does “into the tent” refer to? According to the Midrash, Moses brought Yitro into the Beis HaMidrash where he detailed all the miracles Hashem had done: splitting the sea, the victory against Amalek, the manna, the well of Miriam, etc. He even told his father-in-law about the prophecies of Moshiach, Techiyas Hameisim, and Olam Habah.

Yitro responded with his intent to convert to Judaism saying, “I have studied every religion in the world and rejected them all as being false, and I reached the understanding that Hashem is the true G-d.”

What did Yitro find in his studies that convinced him? “His greatness is evident from the fact that He boiled the Egyptians in the very pot they used to boil others. Since they attempted to destroy Jewish babies by drowning them, He drowned the Egyptians in turn.”

Notice it wasn’t Moses’ list of miracles that convinced Yitro, but Hashem’s exact justice. What other religions might call karma, Judaism has the concept of middah-k’neged-middah, measure for measure. What we put out into the world comes back to us. This was Yitro’s proof that not only is Hashem supremely powerful, but intimately involved in our lives, letting us go along whatever path we choose. But we must always be aware that our choices have consequences. Those consequences are often designed to help us see where we have strayed.

We can hear miraculous stories all day long, but what really changes us is seeing Hashem’s perfectly tailored hand in our lives.


Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz, Valley Beth Shalom

In the previous verse, Yitro sent a message that he will arrive with Moses’s wife and children. Then, in our verse, Moses only greets his father-in-law. Why didn’t Moses greet his wife and children?

The 11th Century Torah commentator Ibn Ezra explained, “It is not customary for a respected person to go out to meet his wife or children.” How could Moses not greet his family out of love? Most people go out of their way to behave with courtesy and manners with others in public. Then, with people with whom we are most familiar in private, such as family and friends, we often don’t prioritize showing a pleasant demeanor.

Reflected in popular culture, the 1970 film “Love Story” features the famous line “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” For Rav Kook, this is not the case for Judaism. While Rav Kook sees God’s presence in everything, the proof of true Godliness is the outcome of love.

Imagine a world in which we all offer care and compassion, greeting and warm embrace for everyone we meet. Parents and children, bosses and employees, all partners might stand and present a kind smile for one another. In that world, the Torah need not mention that Moses lovingly greeted his family. It would be assumed. Let’s endeavor to become such a worthy people.


With thanks to Rabbi Elchanan Shoff, Dini Coopersmith, Miriam Mill, Ben Elterman, and Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz.

Image: “Jethro and Moses” by James Jacques Joseph Tissot, 1896

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