Ex. 18:1 – 20:23
Rabbi Gary Pokras
Parashat Yitro culminates with the dramatic revelation at Mount Sinai, where God spoke to Israel from the top of the Mount to give us the Ten Commandments. It begins, however, with a family reunion. Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro [“Yitro” in Hebrew], is a great leader of his tribe, and he arrives at the camp of the Israelites with Moses’ family:
And Jethro priest of Midian, Moses’s father-in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people, that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. And Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moses’s wife, after her being sent away, and her two sons … [Ex. 18:1-3]
And Moses recounted to his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharoah and to Egypt for the sake of Israel, all the hardship that had come upon them on the way, and the Lord had rescued them. [Ex. 18:8]
Rabbi Jeffrey Ballon notes that although Jethro had far more experience with leadership than Moses, and much wisdom to share, he listened first, before offering any advice.1 Listening is key to this parasha. Jethro listens to Moses. Then Moses listens to Jethro. Then Moses listens to God. Israel listens to Moses, and finally, all of Israel listens to God. Torah could not be clearer. If we want to cultivate a life of wisdom: we should listen before we act. If we want to cultivate a life that is meaningful: we should listen before we act. Listening before we act, with the honest intent to learn, is in the highest tradition of Torah, and therefore, a habit worth cultivating.