I find it mind boggling whichever way I look at it. Yitro is a key parsha, it contains Har Sinai and the momentous giving of the Torah, it lists the famous Ten Commandments. These were, and still are life changing events for us, the Jewish people. They formed us as a nation, deepen our relationship with the Divine and provide us with a framework to guide our lives. What could be more fundamental and important?
And yet the parsha is named after an individual, rather than any of the pivotal events included within it. Who was he? Yitro was the Midyanite father-in-law of Moshe. He was in Midyan whilst the Israelites struggled in Egypt, when they experienced miracles and the exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the sea and the wandering journey to reach Sinai. Having heard of these incredible events he reunites with Moshe, bringing with him Moshe’s wife Tzippora and their two sons.
That this person, specifically an outsider and non-Jew, is given so much reverence, begs the question- why?
I struggled finding an answer that truly resonated with me. One thing that does strike me as a possibility, is the lesson of humility. We are familiar with the famous midrash that Sinai was chosen as the mountain to host the giving of the Torah because it was the most humble of all the mountains. Each mountain boasted that the Torah should be given on them since they were the most beautiful or tallest mountain. The one that was chosen was in fact the humble mountain Sinai, which didn’t partake in this bragging competition. So too, we have so many incredible and awe-inspiring events in this parsha and yet we focus on Yitro, a man who didn’t try to grab the headlines, just a moral person who searched for the truth.
Humility continues to shine through once Yitro has greeted Moshe. Realizing that there were improvements to be made, he offered Moshe advice, criticism even, and a model for restructuring the judicial system.
Maybe we would have expected Moshe to nod politely to Yitro, then dismiss his advice. After all what could he possibly know, his father-in-law, an outsider. He hadn’t been a part of their journey, he didn’t know this people like Moshe did, he certainly wasn’t privy to the intimate relationship Moshe had with God. How humbling it is, that Moshe even after reaching the great, lofty heights of engaging face-to-face with God, was ready and able to learn from Yitro.
Dr Shefali Tsabary addresses this in The Conscious Parent. So much of parenting involves our ego. By the very fact that we say, “this is my child,” we enter into ego.” We see our children as an extension of our selves. For a large number of us, “the reason for wanting children was infused with ego.” “Many of us become a parent, at least in part, to fulfil our own longing.”
“To parent children from ego is to live with the unconscious mandate that your way is the right way,” writes Dr Shefali. In contrast, living authentically, suspending our ego, allows us to learn from everyone, including and especially our children.
She recommends viewing our children as “fellow travelers on the journey, changing us as much as we are changing them.” How beautiful is that reframe, and indeed so similar to what Moshe, with his lack of ego, could do with his fellow traveler Yitro. For not only are our children our teachers but our parents and parents-in-law as well.