Last week, Parasha Beshalach began with the splitting and crossing of the Red Sea and concluded with the unprovoked attack of the Amalekites on the children of Israel. In both incidents, Moses raised the rod God had given him with hands of faith.
This week, in Parasha Yitro, the children of Israel are encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, where they receive both a revelation of God and the Torah.
The Torah portion begins with Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro), coming from Midian with Moses’ wife and two sons after hearing of the great miracles that God performed for His people.
When Moses found himself in the desert, fleeing for his life after killing an Egyptian slave driver, Jethro was the first one to offer him hospitality, safety, and friendship. Moses eventually married Jethro’s daughter, Tzipora (Zipporah).
After Jethro, who was actually the priest of Midian, visits Moses, he sees the burden Moses carries in governing and administering justice to the people.
Jethro advises him to appoint a hierarchy of magistrates and judges to assist him.
“What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you.” (Exodus 18:17–19)
Although Jethro was a heathen priest, he had good advice for Moses, which he did well to heed.
Trying to handle all the people’s complaints and issues was too much for Moses to manage by himself. He needed to delegate—a skill that many of us also need to learn.
Moses respected his father-in-law’s counsel and found wisdom in it.
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.” (Proverbs 12:15)
As a Midianite, Jethro was in alliance with Amalek, a sworn enemy of Israel. So why would a Torah portion be named after this man?
Hayyim Ben Alter, an 18th century Jewish rabbi, offered an interesting answer: naming this Parasha after a Gentile high priest reveals that we need to consider the wisdom of other people in our lives, even when those people are very different from ourselves.
Although Moses’ father-in-law Jethro was a heathen high priest, his advice to his son-in-law was sound. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should be listening to anyone who gives advice. The Bible makes it clear that we should not listen to the counsel of those who are wicked or those who are scorners and mockers of the truth. (Psalm 1:1)
Ever since God forbade intermarriage with the Gentile nations, Judaism has been somewhat of a closed community.
“Do not intermarry with them…. for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods.” (Deuteronomy 7:3–4)
Of course, God’s purpose in preventing intermarriage was clear: it was to keep His people from adopting pagan practices in their homes and lives.
That is why many centuries later, Peter, who understood the prohibition against mixing with the Gentiles, was shocked when the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) instructed him to visit a God-fearing Gentile named Cornelius.
He said to Cornelius and his guests, “You are well aware that for a man who is a Jew to have close association with someone who belongs to another people, or to come and visit him, is something that just isn’t done, and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.” (Acts 10:28)
The Holy Spirit spoke to Peter through a vision in which he was shown animals that were unclean for food. (Acts 10:9–16)
Yet Peter understood that the vision was not about food, but about people becoming clean through Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah).
God had shown Peter something so radical that it would forever change the nature of the commonwealth of Israel—that is, Israel would now include the followers of the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua.
Peter said, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” (Acts 10:34–35)
Yeshua also spoke of bringing others into the sheepfold:
“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16)
We are now a family—Jew and Gentile—one flock under One Shepherd—Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah). (Ephesians 2:14–18)
A Treasured Possession and Kingdom of Priests
“Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all nations you will be My treasured possession [segulah].” (Exodus 19:5)
In this Parasha, God gives Israel a promise that if she keeps His covenant, she will be His own special treasure from among all the nations.
The Hebrew word used here is segulah (סגולה). It indicates precious object, special possession or instrument chosen for a peculiar purpose.
This word is related to the Hebrew word for the color purple, sagol (סגול), which symbolizes royalty.
Israel is also given the calling to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation:
“Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5–6)
In 1 Peter 2, this promise of the royal priesthood was extended to everyone who follows the Jewish Messiah:
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. His own special people (segulah), that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
Each one of us is to function as a priest (cohen), whose purpose is to live in God’s service. Aside from living a holy life in close relationship with God, our primary duty is to bring man closer to Him, showing those around us how to live a life of holiness.
A Holy Life
“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast.” (Exodus 19:16)
God did not leave the Jewish People wondering how to satisfy His requirement to live a holy life.
They did not have to figure out what that entailed. God outlined it plainly at Mount Sinai.