This portion of the Torah opens with the story of how Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, came to meet the Jewish people in the desert:

Jethro, the priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moses, heard all that G‑d had done for Moses and Israel, His people, that G‑d took Israel out of Egypt…. Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, came together with [Moses'] sons and wife, to Moses, to the desert where he was encamped, at the mountain of G‑d. And he said to Moses, "I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons." (Ex. 18:1, 5-6)

Let us understand: If [Jethro] was talking to [Moses] personally, how could he say [in the present], "I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you"?

Notice, however, that the initials of these words spell the word for "my brother".

The initials of the words for "I, your father-in-law Jethro" [in Hebrew, "ani chotencha Yitro"] are alef-chet-yud, which spell the word for "my brother" [in Hebrew, "achi"].

Jethro was a reincarnation of Cain, while Moses was the principle of Abel….

This is because Jethro was a reincarnation of Cain, while Moses was the principle of Abel. He therefore hinted to him that he was [in a sense] his brother.

Because [when] Cain [slew Abel he] repudiated the principle of justice, saying "there is no justice and no judge" (Bereishit Rabba 26:6). He now [as Jethro] said he was coming [to Abel's reincarnation, Moses] in order to rectify this. And indeed, he is responsible for innovating the institution of the judicial system, as we have explained elsewhere.

The rest of this chapter describes how Jethro, seeing how overburdened Moses was with judging all the disputes the Jewish people brought to him, suggested that - subject to G‑d's approval - Moses appoint a hierarchy of courts and judges to handle the simpler cases.

Jethro was also called "the priest of Midian", because he was the first contender in history, when he was Cain, as it is written, "and Cain rose up against his brother, Abel." (Gen. 4:8)

The word "Midian" comes from the root meaning "to argue, to contend" [spelled mem-dalet-nun].

He was returned [again] in Korach, who "took a bad portion for himself", meaning that the soul of Cain became vested in him.

The story of Korach begins with the words "And Korach took…" (Num. 16:1), but it is not stated explicitly what he took. Mystically, this is interpreted to mean that he "took" the evil of Cain into him in order to contend with Moses.

It is therefore stated, "[Korach and his associates] arose before Moses," just as "Cain arose against Abel." (Num. 16:2)

And just as [when Cain slew Abel (see Gen. 4:10), G‑d said to him,]"The voice of your brother's blood is calling out to Me from the ground," [when G‑d punished Korach and his associates, (Num. 16:33)]they and all they possessed descended alive into the pit…screaming, "Moses is true and his Torah is true, and we are imposters." (Ref. is to Baba Batra 74a.)

This also rectified [the fact that Cain] had said, "There is no judgment and there is no judge."

Furthermore, we must understand why Jethro did not come to Moses by himself [but instead announced his arrival so Moses would come out to greet him].

The explanation is based on what we have said, that Jethro was a reincarnation of Cain and was now coming to [Abel's reincarnation, Moses] to rectify [what he had damaged].

Our sages disagreed (tractate Zevachim 116a) over whether Jethro came to Moses before the giving of the Torah or after it. They all agree that man's chief rectification is through the Torah, as it is written, All the sayings of G‑d are pure, (Proverbs 30:5) meaning that [the Torah] purifies and refines us. Their argument is that according to those who maintain that Jethro came before the Torah was given, he came in order to be rectified by the Torah. According to those who maintain that he came after the Torah was given, he was only able to come because the Torah had been given.

According to the latter opinion, it was the spirituality of the Torah in the world that inspired Jethro to come, or that gave him the spiritual power to overcome his evil side and join the Jewish people.

This accords with our sages' statement that when the Jewish people stood around Mt. Sinai [and received the Torah], their defilement was removed, for the Torah purifies everything. (Tractate Shabbat 146a)

By accepting the Torah, the Jewish people were cured of this primordial psychospiritual disability…

The defilement referred to here is the defilement of subjective ego that was introduced into the human psyche when the primordial snake raped Eve. By accepting the Torah, the Jewish people were cured of this primordial psychospiritual disability, and remained in this condition until the sin of the golden calf.

Evidently, the Jewish People's acceptance of the Torah affected the world at large as well, enabling Jethro, the arch-idolator (our sages state that he had worshipped every type of idol), to join the Jewish people.

…Jethro, who, as we said, was an aspect of Cain, now came to join [the forces of] holiness. Cain damaged Abel in three ways: he killed him, he took his twin, and shed the blood of his descendants.

Twin sisters were born with Cain and Abel and were intended to be their wives. When Cain killed Abel, he took Abel's twin sister and married her. By killing Abel, Cain also "killed" all his future possible descendants.

He therefore now sought to rectify all three. This is alluded to in the initials of the words for "I, your father-in-law Jethro", which spell the word for "my brother", as mentioned above. [Jethro] meant to hint [to Moses] : "You should have mercy on me like a brother, even though I sinned against you, because I am coming to you and wish to repent. As for how I sinned by taking your twin sister, here I am now bringing you your wife." This is why he called [Zipporah] "your wife" and not "my daughter", as if to say, "This is your original, intended wife." When he said, "…and her two sons," he meant: "Here are the descendants I deprived you of, returned to you. Please accept them."

This is the 1st section of this teaching; click here to continue to Part 2

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim, parashat Yitro; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.