We frequently say that our sages equate hearing to understanding and seeing to knowing, in order to teach us two levels of perception. Hence we assimilate the material world through our senses and knowledge through our understanding. In this context, “Yitro heard…”, “and Yitro came…” (Exodus 18:1, 5) are two complementary stages that give sense to the fact that thought precedes action.
Yitro is a precondition for the revelation of the Divine Presence in the material world (as it happened in Sinai), and they mention several reasons that we will consider later. He personifies the process that the children of Israel have to engage in our relationship with the Creator, because by hearing about Him and understanding His ways and attributes we come to Him. This means we don’t need or have to see Him and know Him before we embrace Him.
Understanding is the first stage to assimilate knowledge, and in this sense our mystic sages define the process starting with intellect as the ability to acquire wisdom, followed by discernment as understanding which leads us to knowledge as a bonding experience.
This is a universal process pertaining human consciousness, which we also apply in our endeavors to know the Creator. Israel was chosen to experience Him through every sense and level of consciousness, during the plagues in Egypt and the split of the Red Sea. All these in order to tell their descendants about the events that changed forever our relation with the Creator. Hence, we first have to hear about their experience with Him, so we may come to Him as Yitro did.
This is why our sages consider Yitro as the epitome of the convert who comes to Judaism as the true way to return to God. By true we refer to the discerning process that precedes the knowledge of Him. In this process we Jews are all converts to the Torah as we were in Sinai, because we have to individually pursue this knowledge by first understanding its revealed and hidden messages by God.
Our oral tradition tells us that Yitro renounced idolatry by the time Moses came to Median fleeing from Egypt. As a former high priest of idol worship he knew the ways and means of the forces of nature, considered lesser gods by Pagan peoples. This knowledge made him an unequivocal example for other idolaters who want to abandon their cults and serve the will of the Creator.
We must understand idolatry as something rather concrete than abstract. Both the written Torah and the oral Torah refer to idol worship not as a delusional cult but as something real, because it is based on the belief that the forces of nature have power over life, as it indeed is.
The distinction the Torah makes very clear is that those forces are commanded by the Creator. They serve His will as it was magnificently proven with the Exodus from Egypt, and the miracles that followed. This Exodus had the two-fold purpose of freeing Israel from bondage and oppression, and to make the entire world aware of God’s ownership and control of His Creation.
Many of us think that sorcery, necromancy, divination, voodoo and other magic practices belong to the realm of fantasy and exist only in the minds of superstitious people, and that is a mistake. The Torah commands us Jews to reject such beliefs and practices not because they are not “real” but because we owe ourselves to the Creator who chose us to be above and beyond the laws of nature, the lesser gods that serve His will.
This is what has made us different, and still makes us distinct from other nations: our belief in one and only God, and our relationship also exclusive with Him. Our sages tell us that Yitro practiced and experienced all kinds of worship to the forces of nature, and coming to Sinai to recognize the sovereignty of the Creator was one of the conditions for Israel to receive the Torah.
In our times, primitive idolatry joins modern idolatry as ego’s materialistic fantasies and illusions named addiction to fashion trends, “pop” and “light” culture, drugs, vanity, and enslaving lifestyles bound to consumer’s society. Such idols seem to be harder to abandon than slavery in Egypt.
Ego, as the modern Pharaoh, appears as the absolute and unbeatable ruler of all levels of consciousness. Becoming the contemporary Yitro seems to be near to impossible as long as we don’t understand God’s love, and come to His ways and attributes as the redeeming forces that are the true rulers of our consciousness.
Our total freedom begins when we hear and understand the voice of God’s love as our true essence and identity. When we do it, our own love puts in motion the connection with its source, which is God’s love.
“And the Lord came down on Mount Sinai… and the Lord called to Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.” (19:20)
God comes down to call our understanding of His love, for us to come up to the highest level of our consciousness to meet Him. This level becomes our knowledge of His ways and attributes.
Yitro represents our awareness that no matter how “real” ego’s fantasies and illusions may be in what we believe, think or feel with what we possess or are addicted to, they are temporary vanity and futility that sooner or later will either change or end, if they don’t destroy us beforehand.
We have to be experienced practitioners of materialistic fantasies and illusions up to the point to become as experts as high priests of idolatry. Only in full awareness of their futility we can understand that only love works wonders and miracles capable to bring us back to the knowledge of God’s love as our one and only Creator and true source of life.
Let’s awaken to our discernment as understanding of God’s love to embrace Him as our Creator, Redeemer, and true freedom.