The greatest moment in world history is discussed in this week’s parsha. The giving of the Torah is the entire reason for creation. If so, why is the parsha named after Yitro? Even though he was a ger tzedek and a tzaddik it’s hard to understand why he was zoche to have the parsha of Matan Torah named for him. A similar question can be asked about the topic preceding the giving of the Torah – Yitro convincing Moshe to add more levels of judges so that it would be more efficient to judge the Jewish people. What lesson are we to learn from these two issues being close together.
Both questions revolve around Yitro; therefore, before we can answer either question we need to fully understand who Yitro was and what made him so special.
The first Rashi in this week’s parsha explains why Yitro joined the Jewish people. The Torah says “Vayishma Yitro” and Yitro heard about the miracles of kriyat Yam Suf and the defeat of Amalek. It’s interesting that we say “Vayishma Yitro” in the same parsha where we say na’aseh v’nishma. The Ba’alei Mussar explains that the true translation of vayishma isn’t “and he heard,” rather it is “and he understood.” Yitro wasn’t the only one to hear about Hashem’s great miracles. Chazal say that when the waters of the Yam Suf split, all the waters in the world did so as well. Yet Yitro was the only one to understand that these miracles were more than a world-wide message; they were personal as well.
“If there is a great Creator performing these awesome miracles then I, Yitro, must serve Him and devote my life to that service.” This is what made Yitro so special. When something was clear, he didn’t ignore it, he obligated himself to follow that truth.
Yitro’s love of truth can be seen in many places. The midrash tells us that Yitro fled rather then get involved in Paroah’s decree against the Jewish People. Even though he knew it would happen whether he was there or not, he refused to involve himself in something that was wrong. In Midyan he examined and discarded every possible god in his search for the One True G-d.
In this week’s parsha as well, we see Yitro acting for the sake of emet. He saw that Moshe was overwhelmed and stepped in to give him constructive criticism. When Yitro saw that something wasn’t right he had to correct it. His ahavat haemet demanded this.
This is the connection between the first two topics in this week’s parsha. In order to accept the Torah, the Jewish people had to say na’aseh v’nishma, we will do and we will understand. The nishma is like Yitro’s hearing. We will accept the Torah’s truth and that will obligate us. In order to learn the Torah, you must value emet. When we learn a daf of Gemara we investigate many questions and answers before we reach a final decision. There is a reason why the Gemara includes all these possibilities and then removes them. When we learn Torah, we are searching for the truth. No matter how clever or novel an idea is, if it’s not correct we disregard it. Only a true lover of emet can grow in Torah. That is why the parsha is named after Yitro who excelled in this middah.
At the end of the 19th century Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason and sent to Devil’s Island to serve a life sentence. Despite many inconsistencies in the prosecution and a lack of evidence, Dreyfus was found guilty. Emile Zola, one of the most popular writers in France was bothered by the miscarriage of justice. He accused the government and military of falsely convicting Dreyfus. His action played a large role in Dreyfus being freed. However, Zola’s life was never the same. He was forced to escape France to avoid going to jail for libel and lived in fear for the rest of his life. When asked why he did what he did, he answered, “The truth is on the march and nothing shall stop it.”