There are differing opinions as to when exactly Yitro appeared in the camp of the Israelites in the desert. There are those who follow the rabbinic dictum that one cannot infer chronological order from the juxtaposition of narratives as they appear in the Torah. Rashi definitely adheres to this view in many instances. However Ramban and others maintain that a general chronology of events can correctly be deduced from the order of the narrative portions of the Torah.
According to this latter view, Yitro appears to join the Jewish people before the revelation at Sinai and before the construction of the Mishkan/Tabernacle. This makes his appearance and newly found commitment to Jewish life and Torah values even more remarkable. Yitro is the epitome of the restless, wandering, curious, seeking soul of humans.
According to Midrash, Yitro experimented with all forms and types of worldly faiths and religions before arriving at Moshe’s doorstep in the wilderness of Sinai. And, he exclaims that “only now do I know” what I am searching for and where eternal truth and soulful serenity lie.
All humans embark on the same journey as did Yitro. All of us are looking for the ultimate meaning of our lives and what our purpose on earth truly is. Some of us, like Yitro of old, are forced to take many detours and encounter many dead-end paths before finding our road to fulfillment. Unfortunately, there are many who never find their way clear of the maze of society, mores and the distractions that are the roadblocks to our search for our true selves and purpose. But many of us, again like Yitro, are able to fight our way through our previous errors of direction and reach the sanctuary of a Torah life and a moral existence. Yitro stands as a living and eternal example of this great spiritual accomplishment.
For the Jewish people and, in fact, for all humankind, the Lord simplified the matter with the revelation at Sinai of the Ten Commandments, an event that is described in detail in this week’s parsha. These Torah rules address all of the challenges of life – material gain and acquisitions, paganism, falsehoods, generational interaction and respect, sexual probity and family loyalty, a day of rest and spirit and not 24/7 living, honesty and ego-centered jealousy, to name the main categories. In effect the Torah provides for us a shortcut to reach the high road of accomplishment and satisfying purpose in life.
But there are those of us in life that feel themselves smarter and create their own shortcuts in life, avoiding the lessons of the Ten Commandments. The world’s prisons are full of such people. The Torah purposefully placed the Ten Commandments in the parsha of the story of Yitro to illustrate to us that the long road that Yitro was forced to travel in life and God’s shortcut lead to the same place – to Moshe’s tent and to Mount Sinai.
As always the final choice of belief and behavior is left to each one of us individually. Fortunate are those that adhere to Sinai first and foremost without having to initially traverse the entire world of ideas and beliefs to eventually arrive at Sinai where their soul will be satisfied and their life purpose delineated clearly.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com