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- All 54 parashiot
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- New year of beauty
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Judaism, Torah and Talmud


Parasha No. 17
Yithro: “Jethro”

Shemot 18, 1-20, 23

A people confronted with the gift of the Torah

- Themes
- Surprises
- Listening, the key to Judaism
- The different uses of words
- The converted were at Sinai
- The reunion
- Yithro - the antithesis of Amalek
- Conversion and the divine plan
- Conversion and the destiny of the people
- Reunion of Creation
- Distribution of roles
- Over-valorization of the 10 commandments?
- History in the making
- To row or do nothing

1. Re-read the parasha with these concepts in mind.
2. Reflect on you stand within these dynamics
3. Discuss your ideas with those close to you.
4. Hebrew lesson (to be memorized).
5. Memorize these phrases
6. Consult the dictionary.

This study is dedicated
to all those who return to their roots
as the people of the Torah,
to those who are following the path
of conversion, and to those who have been chosen to follow these paths.



It is important, in order to understand the following commentary and the meaning of this parasha, to read first the parasha. The above plan helps define the different themes. In order to fully participate in the Jewish method of study, write below the numbers of the verses for each theme in brackets.

The parasha describes the following episodes:

Chapter 18
" Description of Yithro's receptivity and ability to listen (Shmot … );
" Yithro's move towards Moshe and his family and the expressions used at their meeting (Shmot…. );
" Yithro's declaration of allegiance (Shmot 18, 10-11); his sacrifice;
" The arrival of the Elders (Shmot… );
" Moshe legislates; Yithro's advice to Moshe (Shmot… );
" Moshe's answer to the converted (Shmot 18, 24);

Chapter 19
" The first ascent on Sinai, the first message and the people's reply (Shmot 19, 1- );
" The transmission of the reply, preparation (Shmot 19, 9-15);
" The revelation at Sinai, the warning not to approach (Shmot… );
Chapter 20

" The 10 commandments (Shmot… );
" The people, additional commandments (Shmot 20, 15-23).


The Sages often begin their study with a list of surprising questions (temua);
let us do likewise. Indeed we confront here a surprising and astonishing phenomenon:
" first, this parasha, which teaches us the Torah., bears the name of a non-Jew;
" then, the new convert gives advice … to Moshe himself on the organization of the holy people, which is based entirely on holiness, and Moshe is quick to follow in full his advice;
" finally, the name of this convert, Yithro, is chosen for the title of this highly important parasha, which recounts the revelation at Sinai and the 10 commandments:
" Even less logical is the fact that we are unable to reconcile all of this with the common notion that Judaism does not proselytize or encourage conversions.
We therefore need to understand the message contained here, particularly as this moment marks the central point of Jewish history.

Listening, the key to Judaism

The key to the parasha is found in the first word: "Vayishma, Yithro heard..all that Elokim had done for Moshe and for Yisrael his people." It is immediately clear that the word (Vayishma, He heard) will become the slogan for Judaism: for Yithro is the first to truly "hear."
The word does not simply involve the physical act of hearing; it also means "to hear" in the sense of "truly understanding."
For this reason Rabbenu Behaye opens his commentary on the parasha with verse 15, 4 of Proverbs (Mishle):
marpe lashon etz hayim, ve self ba shever be ruah
"A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness therein is a breach in the

Let us continue this Jewish method of posing questions in order to advance our understanding of the text:
what is the connection between this key word and the parasha which recounts the revelation at Sinai and what Yithro heard?
It must be that we are about to receive important messages but that they are only important if we truly listen and Yithro showed what it means to truly listen; this is something that is demanded of all Jews, even of the people who received the revelation at Sinai.
This is probably why Moshe, impressed by Yithro's sincerity, integrity and capacity to listen, trusted his advice.
The question remains: why is the man who is charged with teaching us all of this not a member of bnei Yisrael?

The different uses of words

Rabbenu Behaye begins with a question that appears to be a simple one of morality in order to reach the answers we are seeking.

He first describes the negative use of words:
--- he who humiliates someone in public has no part in the world to come (Baba Metzia 59 a);
--- the illness which causes malicious gossip is more powerful than any physical illness, it shatters the whole being, as says the verse from Proverbs.

In contrast, the positive use of words was demonstrated to us by Avraham Avinu:
--- it is this "pearl" which we are told Avraham wore around his neck, and which healed all the sick people who saw it: it is the science of how to put words to good use.
--- Avraham made God known through words and sustained people in this path (Sotah 10b).
Rabbenu Behaye speaks of a "therapy of words" (refuat halashon) to describe Avraham's relationship with his people; it made many of them "come under the wings of the shekhina" (converted) and this was their tree of life.
In parenthesis, and on a very modest level, this also represents the meaning and significance of the name of this site (modia, I inform) which tries to "make known" to the reader that the Torah is his heritage and belongs to him. Rabbenu Behaye describes explicitly Moshe's approach: "I make known" (vehodati, Shmot 18, 16). Indeed, He who makes known is Hashem who made us know His Torah: the rest is simply a necessary chain of transmission.

The converted were at Sinai

Rabbenu Behaye explains the first 5 verses of the parasha which describe Yithro revealing his discovery to the members of his clan and bringing them back to conversion, then joining all the people on Mount Sinai. His presence explains the verse which talks of the presence of all the converted to come on Sinai, through this symbolic representation, through this neshama, and which says: "we and all who are with us." The precise term used by Rabbi Behaye is legayer (to convert).

The reunion

The term indicates that it involves more than just a personal process (which does not great collective value), but represents a process of reunion within creation as much as within God's own internal project. This is why, says Rabbi Behaye, it is written (verse 18, 9): vayihad Yitro, "and Yithro united for all the goodness that Hashem had done to Yisrael;" the traditional English translation, which distorts the Hebrew text ("and Yithro rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel..") camouflages the real meaning.

The antithesis of Amalek
This is the reason why Yithro's conduct is the antithesis of that of Amalek who attacks the very throne of Hashem, as we saw in the last verse of the preceding parasha (Shmot 17, 16). This is why the two themes follow each other closely and we speak of semikhut parashiyot (the joining of two parashiot), which involves here two verses (17, 16 and 18, 1).

Conversion and the divine destiny

This juxtaposition aims to illustrate a clear antithesis: the reconstruction of the divine plan (Yithro arrives to put this plan in process) or a willful and perfidious destruction (Amalek).
If we truly understand what is involved here, then ipso facto we understand the important and essential role of converts such as Ruth who became the mother of the house of David and the Messiah, such as Ribbi Akiva and Onkelos, etc.

Note: It is clear that this refers solely to those who engage in true conversions and commit themselves totally to the people of the Torah, in the image of Yithro who, with the rest of the people, received the entire Torah; this excludes therefore the possibility of conversions that do not accept all the mitzvot and try to "reform" Judaism. Jews can define themselves and group themselves as they choose, this does not alter their membership of the Jewish people, within diversity; in contrast, those who wish to enter the religion can only do so through the Torah which constitutes a complete, living work that cannot be divided into sections. A partial conversion is therefore, ipso facto, invalid, from the beginning and even a posteriori, which is not the case for those who are born Jewish.

Conversion and the destiny of the people

Conversion does not mean "spiritual" participation in the Jewish destiny; it means concrete participation ; this is why, in view of the peril faced by Jewish messengers among foreign nations, the beginning of the Book of Ruth shows us Naomi rejecting 3 times, affectionately but firmly, Ruth's request to convert. If Ruth perseveres, she will be welcomed with open arms, but she will have been warned, for her own good. This is the halakhic basis for the rabbis'three, provisional, refusals of requests for conversion. It goes without saying that this must be done with care and respect, but it is a duty.

Reunion of Creation

Very often, and almost always, conversions involve a return to religion after several generations; or they involve "authentic Jewish souls who lost their way" in creation for a particular reason, and whose struggle to return is part of the global plan. Rabbenu Behaye demonstrates this through Yithro:
" Yithro is the 10th generation from Mitzrayim, son of Ham, son of Noah. (The name Mitzrayim will later be attributed to Egypt);
" Noah's son was Shem, from whom Avraham is descended, also in the 10th generation!;
" There were also 10 generations from Ham to Midian, Yithro's birthplace. Midian was the son of Avraham and Ketura, the woman he married after the death of Sarah.

This genealogy (where the number 10 recurs repeatedly in this parasha) may seem at times complicated and strangely precise; but it demonstrates to us that our "history" involves a grand plan that spans many generations. It is in this context that authentic cases of conversion need to be understood and it is this which concerns most the rabbis who rule over conversions: they do not examine a convert's enthusiasm for Jews or for Judaism's spirituality, but rather how he or she participates concretely in all the mitzvot. Modestly, they do not assume themselves judges of anything else. (See the attached paper on conversion).

Distribution of roles

We have just seen the role of conversions such as that of Yithro in the realization of the divine plan. It is this which allows us to understand why Moshe listens to the advice given to him by Yithro and sees in it the elements needed for the fulfillment of the divine plan.

--- simultaneously, the roles of Moshe and Joshua, who were born Jewish, are part of the same plan;
---- and we see how the parashiot Amalek-Moshe-Yithro are linked.

We will also see how this linkage will continue to figure in the long term:
" Moshe and Joshua also fight Amalek; the fight will last (says Rabbenu Behaye) till the time of the Messiah and the coming of the prophet Elijah.
" It should be noted that the Messiah ben Yosef will come from the tribe of Ephraim to whom Joshua belongs, while the prophet Elijah will come from the tribe of Levy to whom Moshe belongs.
" Thus this long process of creation involves simultaneously these different elements: 1) all the nations who were part of the initial story, 2) Amalek the troublemaker and destroyer, 3) conversions which represent the return of the "sparks" to the light of the Torah, 4) the river and beacon of the Torah represented by the Jewish people.
" This process continues from generation to generation and lasts till the great day of judgment and the resurrection (tehiya), and this is why the following parasha is called "judgments" (mishpatim). All of this is taken from Rabbenu Behaye's precise commentary, except for the supplementary explanations I provided relating to the halakhic view on conversion.
" An additional point which is often made by the Shla and the Sages: Yithro also carries out a reparation (see the word tikkun in the dictionary) for the sin of Cain who killed his brother Abel. When Yithro comes to Moshe (Shmot 18, 6) he says to him: Ani Hoteneka Yitro ba elekha (I, thy father-in-law, I come unto thee); Moshe understands the message here for he knows the rules and codes of the text and he sees that the initials of the first three words form the word ahi (my brother), so he understands that this represents a reconciliation between murderer and victim represented by Yithro and Moshe, in what tradition calls the "gilgul."

This then involves a fantastic reconstruction following the many destructive events which we read about in the book of Bereshit. The science behind this reconstruction, which is highly complex, is the science of the Torah which was given to the Jewish people; its story is extremely rich, complex, spiritual and concrete. It is played out against the tragedies and joys of life: it is the history of many Jews, who have seen clearly and suffered greatly. Andre Neher spoke of the "painful joy of being Jewish."
At Sinai, the whole nation saw clearly and, yet, very quickly they ceded to protest, revolt, and sought to flee from their mission. Who cannot understand this?

We have before us the pieces of this story, to guide us, sustain us and bring us joy. One thing is out of the question: we must not forget to study; this would be like a pilot who refuses to check his cargo list before taking off. This is also the story of humanity.

Over-valorization of the 10 commandments?

Moreover, though hidden, someone is present in this story and acts; according to the codes which He reveals to us in each parasha.
Thus He revealed to us the essential codes of the 10 commandments. Entire nations adopted them and they are inscribed above the courts of justice of numerous countries. They represent for many nations the basis of human morality, the prototype for a universal declaration of morality, adherence to which is "recommended." In contrast the commandment to keep the Sabbath, constitutes the very definition of the Jewish people. How many other universal precepts have been prized from the Jewish treasure house ("love thy neighbor like thyself") and been, in ignorance or willfully, attributed to the founders of other religions as though they represented new revelations.

It is not true that Judaism values the 10 commandments more than the rest of the Torah; indeed many communities do not stand during the reading of the commandments. The great valorization of these 10 precepts is an historic artifice aimed at lessening the importance of the rest of the Torah. The fact is that every word of the Torah is important, as we see in every single parasha.
The Shla makes an important point in his commentary on this parasha: every word in the Torah is a revelation of the names of G-d. This is not the place to demonstrate this but it is enough that those who wish to follow the path of He who desired to make himself known to man through His Torah should be aware of this.

History in the making

History is by no means at a close, as is evident from the present state of the world, and from the dispersion of the Jewish people who are torn, on the one hand, between the centrifugal force of assimilation to which hundreds of thousands or millions of Jews are lost in every generation and, on the other hand, between the centrifugal force of Jerusalem, with its centrality as the bearer of the Torah. Every family or individual history is exposed to these pressures. Fortunately, a stable and serene torch illuminates this entire stage -- the written and oral Torah which enables us to analyze, understand, hope, love, fight and transmit.

To row or do nothing
What is demanded of us is not simply to find the most comfortable cabin on board ship where we can pleasantly engage in Torah studies, living the adventure of life like carefree pensioners. We have the twin duty of studying and of transmitting (lilmod ulelamed).
The generation that was at Sinai was weak on this point: it preferred to stay in the desert with its Torah, it manna, its miracle and it died there. Only two men (Joshua and Caleb -- hardly a lot for an entire generation, especially the one that received the Torah!) opted for the dynamic challenge of transmitting and advancing and only they entered the land of Israel. All the women too entered the land of Israel for they had saved the people in Egypt and had not sinned before the golden calf. Let us not forget this.

Today, a minority of the Jewish people know the Torah, which is an even greater reason why those who know it, even partially, should transmit it. The Torah is not an individual journey - it is a collective one, and this is repeated many times in the parasha: "all the people" (kol haam). Everyone can transmit what he knows, on condition he provides sources and distinguishes his personal ideas from what has been transmitted.



1. Now, re-read the parasha with these concepts in mind.
2. Take the time to place yourself in the relationships, issues and typologies of this parasha.
3. Discuss your ideas with those close to you.
4. Hebrew lesson (to be memorized):
he converted, nitgayer
he converts, mitgayer
to convert, legayer
converted, ger
conversion, giyur
juxtaposition of two parashiot, semikhut parashiot
resurrection, tehiya
judgments, mishpatim
reparation, tikkun
word therapy, refuat hallashon
study and transmit, lilmot ulelamed

5. memorize these phrases:
marpe lashon etz hayim, ve selef ba shever be ruah
"a wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit"
(Proverbs 15, 4).

ani hotenekna Yitro ba elekha
"I, thy father-in-law Yithro, am come unto thee" (Shmot 18, 6).

6. Consult the dictionary
Hebrew name

Important Note:
Study the subject of conversion in Jewish sources.


- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15

Part 16

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
for, through our union with the song of nature, the plan of Creation will be fulfilled

Poem: to be moon

In french

Avec Modia, vivez
vos vacances en Israël,
Texte et photos

- Par Modia, arrivez au Kotel
- La vie du Kotel
- Prières au Kotel
- Fête au Kotel
- La destruction du Temple
- Photos rares et émouvantes des abords du Temple
- Synagogues de Jérusalem
- Maisons de Jérusalem
- Les fleurs de Jérusalem
- Ici, tout sur Jérusalem
- "Le" texte sur Jérusalem
- Voir et visiter Israël
- Voyage dans le Nord d'Israël
- Belle carte d'Israël
- Jérusalem et les nations

- Vacances en Israël sur Modia
- Le Kotel en film direct
- et ici aussi, autre caméra

- Trahison historique:
L'antique synagogue de Jéricho


Part 17

- Love towards all people
- Light in war
- Before the hanukiah
- Land of Israel
- Jerusalem excavations 2007
  Proof of the lies propagated
  by the media

In french - Hope in Israel

Part 20
"Encounters with God
in the real"

- You are planning a tour in Israel - Photos
- My photos and judaism
- New year of beauty
- Flowers
Gallery photos

Part 21

- My english songs


Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

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