Yitro … heard everything that G-d did to Moshe and Yisrael … Yitro came to Moshe with his sons and wife … Aharon and all the elders of Yisrael came to eat … The father-in-law of Moshe said to him, “The thing you do is not good” … Moshe heeded the voice of his father-in-law … The Children of Yisrael arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai … (Shemot 18)
The Jewish people suffered unbearable bondage in Egypt but were able to withstand the attempt to subjugate their spirit because of the hope and dream that eventually the promise made to our Patriarch Abraham would be fulfilled. The great fortune they dreamed of was not only the material wealth of their Egyptian masters but also the greatest treasure of all — our holy Torah.
At the Burning Bush, Moshe was promised that the Exodus would reach its culmination at Har Sinai with the gifting of the Torah to our People. The story line, however, was interrupted by the crossing of the sea, the description of the miraculous food and water Hashem provided and the unavoidable battle with Amalek. One would expect that the next event would be the climax of the exodus — the gifting of the Torah!
Instead, the Torah tells of the trip made by Yitro into the desert, the fanfare and honor with which he was greeted and then a lengthy explanation of his advice regarding a better judicial system. Important? Yes! — but at this point of our journey?
Imagine a family traveling in their mini-van to greet their rich uncle at the airport. He hadn’t been to their home to visit his dear brother for quite a while and the family, who were past beneficiaries of the wealthy relative’s generosity, were excited to see what this visit would bring. Each one dreamed of his or her personal wish in hopes that the uncle would be the one to fulfill it. Is it fathomable that they would stop along the way and visit an acquaintance and spend an inordinate amount of time there drinking, eating and singing songs as if there was no rich uncle to greet? Certainly not!
The Children of Israel did benefit from Yitro’s advice and there were also other important ramifications explained by our commentators that happened as a result of Yitro’s advice. But is anything important enough to interrupt the telling of our journey towards our long-anticipated goal? In fact, there is a dispute among the commentators whether Yitro’s arrival actually took place before the giving of the Torah or afterwards.
In truth, the Torah is offering a great lesson to all. In order to accept the Torah, one must first learn how to listen to others. When the passuk says, “Torah was commanded to us by Moshe” (Devarim 33:4), it suggests that to receive Torah we must first learn from the way Moshe listened. Moshe not only heard the words his father-in-law spoke; he also was humble enough to accept correction and instruction on how to judge the people in a way that was better for them and for him as well.
Yitro taught his lesson, too. Rashi asks: “What did he hear and come?” Everyone heard all that Yitro heard but Yitro was the one prompted to action — he came while all others did not. It is hard to listen and act on another’s advice. It is somewhat an admission of personal error or shortcomings. A truly humble person like Yitro, who gave up his high position when he admitted his idols were false and came to acknowledge the true G-d, is considered a listener.
His son-in-law Moshe was the humblest of all men and that allowed him to listen and act on the advice he heard. Humility is the greatest aid to hearing. It allows sounds and ideas to get past the ego and make a positive impact.
If this is what’s needed by great people like Moshe and Yitro, how much more so must we learn humility and practice it in our daily lives. If we do, we will hear and understand. We will accept the truth of Torah! Amen.