An additional parashah

Jethro well deserved a parashah being named for him, not just for his advice but for what his behavior exemplified.

Daniel Pinner ,

הכנרת הבוקר לאחר גשמי הברכה בסוף השבוע
הכנרת הבוקר לאחר גשמי הברכה בסוף השבוע
צילום: איבון לוין, רשות הכינרת

It is noted by several Midrashim that Yitro (Jethro) has seven names : Yeter (Exodus 4:18); Yitro; Hovav (Numbers 10:29, Judges 4:11); Re’u’el (Exodus 4:18); Hever (Judges 4:11); Puti’el (Exodus 6:25); and the Kenite (Judges 1:16, 4:11, 1 Samuel 15:6 et al.).

(See Shemot Rabbah 27:8; Sifrei Bamidbar, Beha’alot’cha 78; Mechilta de-Rabbi Yishma’el, Yitro, Massechta de-Amalek 1; Mechilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochay 18:1 and others)

And these Midrashim explain the inference of each of these names in different ways:

יֶתֶר (Yeter) – when he was still an idolater, because an extra parashah was יִתֵּר (yitter means added) to the Torah because of him;

יִתְרוֹ (Yitro) – because G-d added an extra letter to his name when he became Jewish. Just as He added the extra letter ה from His own Name to Abram’s name, making him Abraham, when he became Jewish, so too He added a ו from His own Name to Yeter’s name, making him Yitro, when he became Jewish. The name יִתְרוֹ, Yitro, also alludes to the fact that he יִתֵּר (yitter, increased) his good deeds;

חֹבָב (Hovav) – because he was חָבִיב (haviv, beloved) by G-d and he חִבֵּב (hibbev, loved) the Torah;

רְעוּאֵל (Re’u’el) – because he was a רֵעַ לָאֵל (rei’a la-E-l, a friend to G-d);

חֶבֶר (Hever) – because he became as a חָבֵר (haver, friend) to G-d;

פּוּטִיאֵל (Puti’el) – because he פִּטֶּם (pittem, fattened) sheep for idolatrous sacrifices in his earlier life, and eventually נִפְטַּר (niftar, abandoned) idolatry;

קֵינִי (Kenite) – because he was קַנָּא (kanna, zealous) for Heaven and קָנָה (kanah, acquired) the Torah for himself.

Now the first of these inferences, that he was called יֶתֶר (Yeter) because an extra parashah was יִתֵּר (yitter, added) to the Torah because of him, demands some analysis; because the Torah was divided up into the 54 parashot with which we are so familiar today only in the late Second Temple period.

Until then, the Torah-readings from Shabbat to Shabbat were not standardised from Synagogue to Synagogue: in any given congregation, a minimum of seven men would read a minimum of three verses each, for a minimum of 21 verses on a Shabbat morning, with no maximum; then the next Shabbat, they would continue from wherever they had left off the previous week.

And each Synagogue would then celebrate their Simchat Torah on whichever Shabbat they completed the Torah.

So when the Midrash says that an extra parashah was added to the Torah, it clearly does not mean Parashat Yitro. It must rather use the word “parashah” in its original meaning – a section of the Torah.

Presumably, then, it refers to what eventually became the first three aliyot of Parashat Yitro, the 27 verses of Exodus 18.

This section, which relates Yitro’s joining the Jewish nation and his subsequent influence on it, is a complete section (parashah) which stands by itself; and if it were removed from the Torah, the remaining narrative would still be complete. It would continue very naturally from Amalek’s confronting and attacking us in the desert (17:8-16) to “In the third month of the Children of Israel’s Exodus from the land of Egypt, on that very day they came to the Sinai Desert” (19:1).

By saying that G-d added a letter from His own Name to Yeter’s name to rename him Yitro, the Midrash testifies very powerfully to his character: it veritably equates Yitro with Abraham our father himself!

As the Midrash says: “‘Yitro heard’ – he was called by seven names: Yeter when he was still an idolater…and from when he converted He added an additional letter to his name, just as He had done to Abraham, and he was subsequently called Yitro” (Shemot Rabbah 27:8).

Indeed Abraham was the first-ever convert to Judaism, and all subsequent converts are identified as “son of Abraham” or “daughter of Abraham” (or “son of Sarah” or “daughter of Sarah”); and after Abraham, Yitro was maybe the most influential convert ever to Judaism.

And only two people in the entire Tanach are specified has having circumcised their own sons: Abraham, who circumcised Ishmael (Genesis 18:23) and Isaac (21:4), and Yitro’s daughter Tziporah, Moshe’s wife, who circumcised her son (Exodus 4:25).

The Ba’al ha-Turim (Rabbi Ya’akov ben Asher, Germany and Spain, c.1275-1343) comments on Genesis 14:19 that “there are seven verses in the Torah in which there is a blessing to the Holy One, blessed be He”.

These seven verses are:

-“And he [Noah] said: Blessed be Hashem, G-d of Shem, and may Canaan be their slave” (Genesis 9:26);

-“And blessed be G-d the Supreme, Who has delivered your persecutors into your hand – then he [Abram] gave him [the king of Sodom] a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:20);

-“And he [Abraham’s servant Eliezer] said: Blessed be Hashem, G-d of my master Abraham, Who has not withheld His loving-kindness and truth from my master – as I was on my way, Hashem guided me to the house of my master’s brothers” (Genesis 24:27);

-"Then I bowed and prostrated to Hashem, and I blessed Hashem, G-d of my master Abraham, Who guided me along the way of truth to take the daughter of my master’s brother for his son” (ibid. v. 48);

-"And Yitro said: Blessed be Hashem Who saved you from the hand of Egypt and from the hand of Pharaoh, Who saved the nation from under the hand of Egypt” (Exodus 18:10);

-“You will eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless Hashem your G-d for the good Land which He has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:10);

-"And to Gad he [Moshe] said: Blessed be He Who enlarges Gad; he dwells like a young lion, tearing off arm and even the crown of the head” (Deuteronomy 33:20).

The fifth of these seven verses is Yitro’s blessing “Blessed be Hashem Who saved you from the hand of Egypt…”

The Ba’al ha-Turim notes that these seven verses between them contain exactly 100 words, which correspond to the 100 Blessings which every Jew is required to recite every day.

It was the great 4th-generation (2nd century) Tanna, Rabbi Meir, disciple of Rabbi Akiva, who formulated the principle that “A Jew is obligated to recite [a minimum of] one hundred blessings every day, as it says ‘And now, O Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you?’ (Deuteronomy 10:12)” (Menachot 43b).

This relies on homiletically rendering the word מָה (“what”) as מֵאָה (“a hundred”): that is to say, the rhetorical question “And now, O Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you?” homiletically becomes the injunction “And now, O Israel, a hundred does Hashem your G-d ask of you”.

The Rambam (Laws of Prayer 7:14), the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 46:3), the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (6:7), and others cite this as halackhah in practice.

The Ba’al ha-Turim continues by saying that these seven verses which contain blessings correspond to the seven Blessings in the Amidah-prayers on Shabbat and the Festivals.

(En passant, maybe this explains why the Ben Ish Chai [Rabbi Yosef Chayim, Baghdad, 1832-1909], in his book “Halakhot”, brings the laws of prayer in the context of Parashat Yitro Year 1, and of Shabbat in Parashat Yitro Year 2.)

And then the Ba’al ha-Turim notes than in five of these verses of blessing, the Name of Hashem follows directly after the word “bless”: the first, third, and fifth of these contain the phrase בָּרוּךְ ה' (“blessed be Hashem”); the fourth contains the phase וָאֲבָרֵךְ אֶת ה' (“I blessed Hashem”); and the sixth contains the phrase וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת ה' (“you shall bless Hashem”). This corresponds to the Five Books of the Torah, over which we pronounce a Blessing before studying or reading them.

And, concludes the Ba’al ha-Turim, if we include the second of these verses, וּבָרוּךְ אֵל עֶלְיוֹן, (“And blessed be G-d the Supreme”), then there are six verses in which a name of G-d follows directly after the word “bless”, corresponding to the Six Orders of the Mishnah.

Near the beginning of Parashat Yitro, the Torah informs us that “Yitro rejoiced over all the good that Hashem had done to Israel, that He had saved him from the hand of Egypt” (Exodus 18:9).

The Hebrew word וַיִּחַדְּ (which we have translated here as “rejoiced”) is unusual: this is the only time it ever appears in the Tanach. Our translation “rejoiced” follows Targum Yonatan, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, the Radak (commentary to Psalms 21:7 and Sefer ha-Shorashim, entry חדה), and others.

The Midrash sees an additional allusion in this word, seeing the word יִחַדְּ as a cognate of יחד, related to אֶחָד, “one”: that Yitro יִחַד, declared the Oneness of Hashem; alternatively, that he became Jewish (Yalkut Shimoni, Yitro 268).

The Torah records Yitro’s ecstatic blessing, “Blessed be Hashem Who saved you from the hand of Egypt and from the hand of Pharaoh, Who saved the nation from under the hand of Egypt” for a reason:

A Tanna [a Talmudic master from before the redaction of the Mishnah] cited Rabbi Pappias as saying that it was a reproach to Moshe and all the six-hundred-thousand [Children of Israel] that they did not say בָּרוּךְ (blessed) until Yitro came and said בָּרוּךְ ה', blessed be Hashem” (Sanhedrin 94a).

That is to say – the Children of Israel, and even Moshe Rabbeinu (“our Master”) himself were amiss in not blessing Hashem for His wondrous salvation, and it took Yitro, coming from the outside, to set them right.

The Torah records directly how Yitro advised Moshe on delegating responsibility for adjudicating justice in the nation, so that Moshe would be worn out with judging all the nation’s disputes alone (Exodus 18:13-26).

It only hints at how Yitro gave other, equally crucial, spiritual guidance to the nation, teaching them by his own personal example of their obligation to bless Hashem, thanking Him for His miraculous salvation from Egypt.

And then, having absorbed these two invaluable lessons from Yitro, the nation was ready to stand around Mount Sinai and receive the Ten Commandments directly from G-d (Exodus 20), in the single most momentous Revelation in the history of Humanity.

Indeed, Yitro richly earned for himself the extra letter that Hashem added to his name, and equally richly earned for himself the accolades חָבִיב (haviv, beloved) by G-d, רֵעַ לָאֵל (rei’a la-E-l, a friend to G-d), חָבֵר (haver, friend) to G-d, and קַנָּא (kanna, zealous) for Heaven, and recognition that he קָנָה (kanah, acquired) the Torah for himself.

And he was equally worthy not only of having an extra parashah added to the Torah because of him, but also of having the parashah (in the more recent sense of the word, the weekly Torah-portion) in which the Giving of the Torah is recorded named for him.