When we start seeing God as One, we’ll replace the notion of “coincidences” with an understanding of the messages we receive from Him.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
Moses doesn’t have a Torah portion named after him. Nor does Joseph. So why did Moses’s father-in-law, Yitro (also known as Jethro), receive such an honor?
The Zohar, the primary work on Kabbalah, provides a response, informing us that the Torah could not be given to the nation of Israel until Yitro, the former leading priest of every known form of paganism, declared:
“Now I know that God is greater than all deities.”
Indeed, the revelation at Mount Sinai takes place just after Yitro’s arrival and his declaration of monotheism, at the camping site of the Jewish nation at the foot of the mountain.
But didn’t Abraham come to the same conclusion in his youth, declaring his faith in God, which went against everyone else, even without the benefit of first hearing about any miraculous plagues and sea-splitting? Still, no Torah portion in his name.
So, what was so special about the verse quoted by the Zohar? The answer lies in the continuation of the verse: “for with the same thing that the Egyptians plotted against the Jews, [God came] upon them.”
As the famous commentator Rashi elaborates, “With water the Egyptians planned to destroy the Jewish people, and they [themselves] were destroyed with water.”
This refers to Pharaoh’s decree that all Jewish baby boys be drowned in the waters of the Nile. In the end, it was Pharoah and his army that drowned — at the bottom of the Sea of Reeds, when its waters returned to their natural state after having split to allow the Israelites to pass through.
Yitro had already given up idol worship based on his own research and reasoning and, likely, as a result of conversations with his son-in-law, Moses. But now, according to the Midrash (rabbinic literature), Yitro recognized God “even more.” For Yitro was quite familiar with all the other deities, and now he saw God controlling the very forces of nature, which the pagans had wrongly credited with being powers independent of God.
Yitro came to understand that nothing is independent of God, not even the rules of nature that He created. They must be renewed at every moment or they themselves will cease to exist.
In essence, Yitro, who until now had not considered converting to Judaism, believing it to be sufficient to simply renounce idolatry and relate to God as an individual, was suddenly capable of declaring:
“Shema Yisrael…Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is “One.”
Not “one” just in the sense of being greater than any other being, but being the One Force determining all events in the world at all times, including how the waves of the sea will move and whether gravity will affect them or suddenly not affect them, allowing the sea to split.
Arriving at this understanding, Yitro felt compelled to come full circle from his pagan past and join the Jewish people in spreading the idea of God’s Oneness to all humanity.
According to many of our sages, Yitro thus converted, Moses ascended Mount Sinai, and the entire Jewish nation became, for a moment, prophets, hearing the word of the One God with their own ears.
While we haven’t heard of such extraordinary revelations of God’s control of events in our generation, we can build off Yitro’s reaction to the events of his time and find the hand of God in the events of our own lives — avoiding the temptation to say, “if only,” about the past, or to see “coincidences” in the present.
According to Psalms (25:8), “God shows sinners the way.”
The Talmud expounds on this verse, telling us that if God guides sinners, surely He is at least as kind to those trying to be loyal to Him, sending us personal messages throughout our lives. When we start seeing God as One, as Yitro did, we’ll replace the notion of “coincidences” with an understanding of those messages.
That understanding is certainly worthy of a Torah portion named after the father of such an idea.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin, click on the links below.
CELEBRATE THE NEW YEAR - PLANT ISRAEL'S FIRST FRUITS!
The Sabbatical Year (Shmita) is over! Israeli farmers did not plant for an entire year - now they'll plant DOUBLE! Order trees now and yours will be planted first.
SHARE IN THE BLESSING OF ISRAEL'S FIRST FRUITS!
“…I will ordain My blessing for you…” (Leviticus 25:4,21)