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Parashat Yitro: Yitro and Matan Torah

Rashi, in his commentary to Parashat Yitro, tells us that Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, was given this name because a paragraph in the Torah was added in his merit. The name "Yitro" stems from the word "Yeter," which means "additional," or "extra," and Yitro received this name because he advised Moshe to appoint a team of judges, and this story was included in the Torah. He was given the great privilege of adding content to the Torah, and so he was given the name "Yitro."

Why did Yitro earn this special privilege? Many people did exceptional things without receiving this reward. Why was Yitro given this specific reward – of having a section added in the Torah in his merit?

The Zohar teaches that before Hashem could give the Torah to Beneh Yisrael, two evil forces needed to be eliminated from the world. These forces were the evil kingship, and the evil priesthood. The Zohar explains that in the heavens, there is a King – G-d – and there is also a Kohen Gadol. The angel Michael serves as the Kohen Gadol in the heavens, and he brings as offerings on the heavenly altar the pure souls of the righteous Sadikim, which bring atonement for the Jewish People. (In our daily Amida prayer, we pray that Hashem accept "Isheh Yisrael" – "the fire offerings of Israel." Even though we do not have the Bet Ha’mikdash, and thus we do not offer sacrifices, we nevertheless pray that our sacrifices should be accepted. Some commentators explain that this refers to the sacrifices offered in the heavens, the offerings of the righteous Sadikim who have departed. We ask Hashem to mercifully accept these sacrifices and atone for our sins in this merit.) Conversely, the Zohar adds, here in our world, the forces of impurity had a king and a Kohen Gadol. The king was Pharaoh, who arrogantly denied the existence of G-d, and regarded himself as the most powerful being in the world. And the Kohen Gadol of impurity, the Zohar teaches, was Yitro. As our Sages teach, Yitro had been a pagan priest, who worshipped every form of idolatry that existed. Just as Pharaoh, the evil king, represented the polar opposite of G-d, the true King, likewise, Yitro represented the polar opposite of Michael, the Kohen Gadol in the heavens. Whereas Michael embodied the loyal service of G-d, Yitro embodied the loyal service of every power other than G-d.

Before the Torah could be given, both these forces needed to be defeated. Pharaoh’s kingship was defeated through the process of the Ten Plagues and the Exodus from Egypt, as a result of which Pharaoh acknowledged G-d as King over the universe. Yitro, too, underwent a transformation, as described in our Parasha. Upon hearing about the great miracles Hashem performed, he abandoned his pagan practices and beliefs, and came to join Beneh Yisrael at Mount Sinai. Yitro’s transformation paved the way for Matan Torah, as it marked the elimination of the forces of impurity, which was necessary so that the Torah could be given. After Pharaoh was humbled and subdued, and acknowledged G-d’s Kingship, the next step was Yitro, the high priest of the forces of impurity, abandoning his pagan beliefs and lifestyle.

This explains why Yitro’s reward was an additional section in the Torah. His courageous decision to transform himself is what facilitated Matan Torah. He is credited with enabling the Torah to be given, and so it was only fitting that he would be rewarded by having an extra section of Torah added in his merit.

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961 Parashot found