For an explanation of the methodology of this series, see the introduction.

"Now Moses' father in law, Yitro [Jethro], the chieftain of Midian, heard all that G‑d had done for Moses and for Israel, His people; that G‑d had taken Israel out of Egypt." (Exodus 18:1)

Peshat (basic meaning):

Rashi: Now…Jethro…heard - What news did he hear that [made such an impression that] he came? The splitting of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek.
Jethro - 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 ]. …
Moses' father-in-law: - Here Jethro prides himself on [his relationship to] Moses, [saying,] "I am the king's father-in-law." In the past, Moses attributed the greatness to his father-in-law, as it is said: "Moses went and returned to Jeter, his father-in-law." (Ex. 4:18)

Siftei Chachamim: When the Torah here introduces Jethro, it describes him as "the father in law of Moses." This implies that Moses was the better known of the two. We identify Jethro through his relationship with Moses. This shows that it was an honor for Jethro that Moses was his son in law. When this relationship is stated in the context of a verse in which Moses is the subject, it has the opposite implication. Moses is identified in terms of his relationship with Jethro, to show that it was an honor for him that Jethro was his father in law.

"for Moses and for Israel" - Moses was equal to all of Israel.

...Moses was as important as all of Israel.

Siftei Chochamim: Although Moses is already included in the category of Israel, the verse mentions him specifically because Moses was as important as all of Israel.

all that…had done: for them with the descent of the manna, with the well, and with Amalek.
"that the L-rd had taken Israel out…" - This was the greatest of them all.

Remez (hinted meaning):

Targum Onkelos : Jethro chief of midian.
kohen, is usually translated as "priest" or "minister;" the Targum translates it here as "chief."
This word is first applied to an Israelite in Ex. 19:6, where the entire nation is called upon by G‑d to become a "kingdom of priests" who will minister to the world. Ultimately, Moses is told to bring Aaron and his sons to "minister to" G‑d. (Ex. 28:1) Aaron's descendants became the kohanim, charged with specific responsibilities in the service of G‑d and the Jewish people.
In Genesis 14:18, Malkitzedek is described as a "kohen of G‑d, the Most High;" Onkelos there translates kohen as a verb - "ministering before God, the Most High," rather than as a noun. Yet, Potiphera is referred to as "kohen of On" (Genesis 41:45) and Onkelos translates it, as here - "chief."

Baal HaTurim: 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. I heard this from my master, my father, the Rash of blessed memory.
Yitro : This name can be read as two words: Yetar + Vav —meaning "an extra Vav." (gematria = 6), for Jethro had 7 names, 6 more than most people [see Rashi above, Jethro].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.

Derash (interpretive meaning):

Ramban differs with Rashi concerning the chronological order in the Torah, and he says the Torah order is correct: Jethro came before the Giving of the Torah when Israel were in Rephidim... Jethro left Midian with his daughter and the children and came to Mt. Sinai.

Maggid Mesharim: "And Jethro heard" - What did Jethro hear? Mar said that Jethro heard about the war against Amalek, that through that war it became known to Jethro that the Congregation of Israel ruled over all the Sitra Achara, whose strength had left them. He therefore came to shelter himself under its wings. Another Sage said that Jethro heard about the splitting of the Reed Sea. That is, beforehand Jethro thought that there were two gods: one who does evil and one who does good. But when he grasped that in the splitting of the Reed Sea G‑d both drowned the Egyptians and saved the Children of Israel, he realized that the same One performs evil and good. That is the meaning of "now I know that G‑d is greater than all the gods". (Ibid. 18:11)

Also, as Jethro said, "because in the very things they sinned " they were punished. This indicates that the Egyptians were given a measure-for-measure punishment while Israel was saved by the same G‑d. That made it clear to Jethro that there is one G‑d and He has many paths to carry out His wishes.

Ohr HaChayim: Jethro the priest of Midian heard - 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 occupy prominent positions of authority are granted such a comprehensive insight by G‑d.

...anyone who converts to Judaism is like Jethro, adding wholeness to the Torah...

R. Tzvi Hirsch: we learn from Jethro (1) that anyone who converts to Judaism is like Jethro, adding wholeness to the Torah and (2) when anyone of us undergoes an inspirational experience, one that affects him or her all the way to the behavioral level, it is as if he gets a new name. It may not be a spectacular change, but even a small change to the old name occurs. (Peninei HaChassidut)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe: The Zohar (Volume II 67b,68a) says that Jethro's arrival and conversion was a crucial preparation for the giving of the Torah, penetrating deeper into the spiritual realms of the accomplishments of the Jewish people. The revelations that had occurred at the splitting of the Reed Sea had all been lofty Divine revelations. In order that the Torah be able to also sanctify the realm of the mundane, it was crucial that an event occur that would "hand over" the forces of impurity and evil to the side of holiness. This was the conversion of Jethro, whose history of expertise in idol-worship was elevated to holiness when he converted, making it possible for the Torah to penetrate even the profane. (Likutei Sichot XI)

Sod (esoteric, mystical meaning):

Zohar Jethro 67:
Rabbi Elazar opened the discussion with the following verse: "Let the peoples praise You, G‑d, let all the peoples give thanks to You". (Psalms 67:3)

The hour when the other nations yielded came and they acknowledged G‑d. Once they yielded and acknowledged Him, His glory became complete above and below. In the hour that Moses came to Pharaoh and said to him, "the G‑d of the Hebrews had met with us," Pharaoh replied, "I know not 'G‑d'..."

When G‑d desired that His name be glorified on earth as it is above, after He struck him [Pharaoh] and his nation, he [Pharaoh] came and acknowledged G‑d, as it is written: "G‑d is righteous". (Ex. 9:27) The instant he, who was the most important king in the world, acknowledged Him, all the other kings acknowledged, as it is written: "then the chiefs of Edom shall be amazed". (Ex. 15:15)

Jethro, the great and supreme priest, appointed ruler over the whole pagan world, came and acknowledged G‑d, saying: "I now know that G‑d is supreme over all gods." Then G‑d was exalted in His glory from above and below, and afterwards He gave the Torah in the completeness of His dominion.

Rabbi Shimon said to his son, Rabbi Elazar: Regarding this it is written, "Let all peoples praise You, G‑d; let all the peoples give thanks to You."

…"When Jethro..." - Only Jethro heard, while the rest of the world did not hear? Is it not written: "The people shall hear, and be afraid"? (Ex. 15:14) Indeed, the whole world did hear, but they were not broken. But he heard, and was broken and yielded before G‑d, and was brought near to fear Him.

BeRahamim LeHayyim:
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 nations in a win-win fashion. Being chosen does not necessarily imply being better. Rather each nation has its role, its special part in the play called Reality, authored by the Master Composer Himself. 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, as at the Giving of the Torah our spiritual DNA was forever changed by the letter Alef in the word Anochi, the first letter of the 10 Commandments we will read this week.

Every time a convert recognizes his or her inner Jewish soul spark and returns to Judaism, the power of holiness is increased in this world. The convert is returning home. This is why the traditional rules are so stringent, in order to perfect the vessel that then gets imbued with the full power of a Jewish Neshama, the son or daughter of Abraham and Sarah.

"Who is a Jew" is a major league controversy between different levels of observance among Jews. That is unfortunate. But it could be that there are also some very important mystical reasons as to why strict halachic observance is a prerequisite for conversion. To teleport someone back to Sinai and to imprint on them the DNA of all those who stood there—something that flows automatically for the naturally born Jew—maybe requires some intense preparation and physical action.

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