Yitro: Leaving Already?

Yitro Returned to His Land

Torah portion Yitro is named for the Midianite priest who became Moses’ father-in-law. After hearing of the great miracles performed in Egypt by the God of Israel, Yitro questioned his own belief system and worship of multiple gods. Thirsty to learn more about the true God, Yitro traveled to the Israelites’ camp in the desert. He sat in his son-in-law’s tent for hours while Moses told him about the wonders and triumphs God performed for the Children of Israel. Moses converted Yitro into a member of the tribe, and this former high priest of idolatry became the Jewish prophet’s wise consigliere.

Living in the wilderness with his adopted tribe, Yitro’s situation was heavenly. Protected by Clouds of Glory, learning Torah with Moses himself, eating delicious manna that appeared every day. So why did Yitro leave?? “Moses saw his father-in-law off, and [Yitro] went away to his land.” (Ex. 18:27) Now that Yitro knew God, why return to a place of idolatry? Rabbi Hanoch Leibowitz (1918-2008) explains that Yitro was so excited about the Holy One, the Torah, and the Jews, that he felt an obligation to share his newfound faith with the family and friends he’d left behind. He was willing to sacrifice the spiritual bliss of dwelling with his tribe in their holy encampment for the chance to bring others closer to God.

May we all be like Yitro: humble enough to admit when we’re wrong, brave enough to choose a different path, and kind enough to sacrifice everything to help others.

Image: “Jethro Advising Moses” (detail) by Jan van Bronchorst, 1659

Dedicated by Jonathan Hops

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