This week’s Torah reading is “Yitro” (Exodus 18:1-20:23), named after Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro, commonly known as ‘Jethro’.
Yitro was not born Jewish. In fact, he was the priest of Midian.
Being the priest of Midian meant being a priest to idolatry. There is hardly a bigger sin in the entire Torah than idolatry. Indeed, although Judaism frowns strongly on proselytization, Judaism also strongly believes that the entire world must believe in the one God of Abraham. That’s right – although anyone who wants to join the Jewish people is welcome to join (caution: Judaism demands the consumption of many meals!), Judaism does not seek converts. Nope. Not a single one.
Yitro, however, became quite intrigued by the Torah, Jews, and Judaism. I guess we can’t really blame him. Can you imagine the type of emails he must have received, and what the on-line news outlets were reporting back then? Let’s image some of those headlines: “Plagues in Egypt: Bloody Waters Don’t Taste Good!”, “Frogs in the Beds: Pharaoh Can’t Sleep at Night!”, “Breaking News: All Firstborn in Egypt….DEAD!” These are the types of headlines that he was reading. And that’s not all. Soon afterwards, the news was reporting events such as: “Red Sea Split…Jews crossing on Dry Land” and “Egyptians Drown – Swimming Lessons Deemed Incompetent.” And finally, “Revelation at Sinai: God Speaks.” But unlike everyone else in the region, only Yitro decided to investigate further. To make a long story short: He was amazed, humbled and inspired. Yitro decided to join the Jewish people.
There is some discussion on whether Yitro actually joined the Jewish people or simply became a “Noahide” and accepted the authority of God and Morality upon himself. As mentioned, Judaism does not seek converts, but we do believe that the entire world must accept the authority of the God of Abraham and a basic code of morality. One who does so is called a Noahide, meaning “from among the descendants of Noah.” Indeed, Noah was one of the most righteous people of all time, and he, too, was not Jewish. He might even have been the first to preach Godliness and the abandonment of idolatry and immorality. For this reason, those who accept this code of morality are called Noahides. In fact, the unofficial symbol of the Noahide movement is the rainbow – the sign that God showed Noah after the flood.
This seven-part Noahide code of morality includes the following precepts:
1. The prohibition of idolatry
2. The prohibition of murder
3. The prohibition of theft.
4. The prohibition of sexual immorality
5. The prohibition of blasphemy.
6. The prohibition of eating the meat of a living animal.
7. The requirement to establish courts of law
The Druze people, mostly pro-Israel Arab citizens of northern Israel, are strict followers of Yitro. They call him “Nebi Schweib,” meaning “the prophet Yitro”. As such, they are strict monotheists who believe in the Torah’s code of morality in addition to their very mystical–and secretive–religion. In fact, Yitro’s tomb in Tiberias, northern Israel, is a Druze-administered holy site where all are welcome to visit and pray.
In January 2004, the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Mowfaf Tarif, signed a declaration calling on his community, along with all non-Jews in Israel, to observe the Noahide Laws of the Torah. This declaration was also signed by the Arab mayor of the Arab-Israeli city of Shfaram. Shfaram is a heavenly example of where Muslims, Christians and Druze live side by side interacting closely with Jews on a constant basis.
And you probably thought that this week’s Torah reading was only special due to the appearance of the Ten Commandments. Yeah, that’s certainly important too, and be sure to read them! But the message of Yitro, both the man and the Torah reading that carries his name, is: Everyone is welcome to share in our God, to worship Him, to follow His laws, and to join us in His land!
Author: Rabbi Ari Enkin,
UWI Rabbinic Director
Date: Jan. 15, 2014
Click below to read more of Rabbi Enkin’s Torah articles about this week’s fascinating Torah portion: