Seize the Torah

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Parsha, Yitro, contains the account of the Revelation at Mt. Sinai and Hashem’s proclamation of the Aseret Hadibrot (Ten Statements). Yet the name of this Parsha has, seemingly, nothing to do with that great event. Yitro was the father-in-law of Moshe, who, upon hearing the news of the Exodus, took his daughter, Tzipporah and her two sons and headed out to meet Moshe in the wilderness. Why is this story so important that it warrants so much space and having the Parsha named after its protagonist?

According to the Rabbis, Yitro was a unique individual. He was a religious leader who was searching for the truth (apparently not content to just rely on “simple faith”). At a certain point in his searches, he renounced idol worship and paid a heavy price for it. According to Rashi, he was thereupon excommunicated, and this is why the shepherds drove his daughters away from the well after they had drawn the water for their sheep.

Yitro was very impressed by Moshe’s rescue of his children, and he arranged for him to marry Tzipporah. He implored Moshe not to leave Midian without his permission, which he readily granted when Moshe requested to return to Egypt and check on the condition of his brothers.

And now he (along with the rest of mankind) heard about the great event of Yetziat Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt). He was not content to just hear the general story. He knew that the events that had transpired could reveal a great deal about the nature of Hashem’s interaction with the world. Yitro wanted to learn as much as he could about the workings of Divine Providence.

The desire for knowledge, and one’s openness toward attaining it, is a key feature of the genuine religious personality. Moshe exhorted (Devarim 10:16) the Jews; “You shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart and your necks shall no longer be hardened.” Commenting on this, Nachmanides says, “That your hearts should be open to knowing the truth…” Not only was Yitro’s heart open to accepting the truth, he was motivated to pursue knowledge whenever and wherever it was to be found.

And that, in my opinion, is why this Parsha is named after Yitro. His example is very relevant to the giving of the Aseret Hadibrot. This is because Hashem doesn’t impose His Will on people. It is, rather, His “desire” that man should choose the good, freely and from his own accord.

From the standpoint of free-will, Yitro might have been in a better position than Am Yisrael. The Rabbis famously say that at Sinai, Hashem held the mountain over them and threatened to kill them if they rejected the Torah. Even though this statement is not meant in the literal sense, it does indicate that the Jews were under a lot of pressure to receive the Torah.

But Yitro belonged to an entirely different category of people. He wasn’t commanded to keep the Jewish religion (except for the seven Noachide Mitzvot–which all mankind must observe)–it was left entirely to him. It was Yitro’s perfected nature, which impelled him to reject falsehood and seek knowledge, that prompted him to embark on the journey to study with Moshe, so he could obtain a fuller understanding of Hashem’s intervention in Mitzrayim. He is the type of person for whom the Torah was given. This means that the Jews were not the only intended recipients of G-d’s Revelation.

The gathering at Sinai was a great and singular moment of communication between the Creator and the Jews. But, we may ask, who was the Torah addressed to? Let us consider the words of the Rambam; (Shoftim 8:10) “Moshe Rabbenu only bequeathed Torah and Mitzvot to Israel as it says, ‘An inheritance for the congregation of Jacob’ and to all who desire to convert from the other nations as it says ‘the stranger like you’.”

The Torah is G-d’s greatest gift to mankind, eternally. Whoever wants to grab hold of the “Tree of Life” may come and do so. Eternity belongs to those, who, like Yitro, come forth and seize the opportunity. May the heart which seeks the truth merit to find it.

Shabbat Shalom