One of the astounding moments when studying Torah is turning to the portion in which the Revelation at Mt Sinai occurs. (Parsha Yitro)
Why? Because it is named for Moses’ father-in-law Yitro (Jethro) who is a priest of Midian. A religious leader in his own right. Of a different religion. Most definitely not Jewish.
Why would the rabbis who divided the Torah into 54 sections choose to name the portion in which the Ten Commandments are given, when God-self is revealed to the Children of Israel, for someone who isn’t Jewish?
Yes, he gives Moses good advice. But that doesn’t warrant such an important section being named for him.
Rabbi Nathan Cardozo says that Yitro’s presence in this pivotal Torah portion teaches us that wisdom isn’t the purview of just one nation. We have something to teach the non-Jewish world and they have things to teach us.
He wrote: “Due to their experience in the land of their slavery, the [Children of Israel] had developed such animosity for anything gentile that they became utterly convinced that mankind at large was anti-Semitic. God immediately crushed that thought and sent them a righteous gentile by the name of Yitro, to impress upon them that the non-Jewish world includes remarkable people who… contribute to Jewish life…. By designating Yitro to be the father-in-law of the most holy Jew of all times, God made it crystal clear that He would not tolerate any racism and that even a righteous gentile could climb up to the highest ranks of saintliness.” (emphasis mine)
We know that anti-Semitism is still rampant in the world. But we also know that the entire world is not anti-Semitic. There are innumerable people – some who are our neighbors and co-workers, some our friends and family members, and many who are strangers – who are neither prejudiced not hateful. They delight in sharing their wisdom and learning from ours.
If God doesn’t tolerate racism and hatred, neither should we. We cannot let defensiveness or our own prejudices keep us from interacting with the larger world. Instead we must continue to seek out ways to open doors, begin conversations, and open our hearts to one another.