We honor Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, with an extra portion in the Torah named for him, for his decision to join the Children of Israel and convert. It isn’t just ‘a’ portion; it is the portion of Revelation. All of the Children of Israel went through a process of conversion to prepare for Revelation. They went to the Mikvah. They accepted the yoke of Mitzvot. The males were circumcised in Egypt three days before Pesach.
One convert is all that is mentioned. Only one of the countless people who heard of the Exodus, the Splitting of the Sea, the Manna, and the great victory over Amalek, was sufficiently moved to convert. It does not seem an auspicious beginning for the nation that was destined to spread through the world and collect the Holy Sparks of all the people of the earth.
This one convert, described by the Torah, set extraordinarily high standards for potential converts: “Now I know that God is greater than all other powers!” Yitro studied, participated, and reach the pinnacle of success and achievement in numerous religions, one after the other, until he recognized its failings and weaknesses. This extraordinary man was a dedicated searcher for truth and God. He, the most celebrated convert in the Bible, had already achieved towering spiritual heights before joining his son-in-law and the Children of Israel.
He actually seems to have been better prepared for Sinai than the Children of Israel!
And yet, this incredible human being did not stay with his new nation. He rejected Moshe’s invitation to join the people, as they would enter Israel.
This spiritual giant also introduced distance between teacher and student as he suggested that Moshe appoint judges so that the people would not have to wait for a private audience with the busy Moshe. The idea of distance was planted, and Revelation ends with the people requesting distance between God and them.
The celebrated and honored lone convert, who, at first, seems to set high standards for those interested in following him, becomes the father of a nation, B’nei Chovav, the Rechabites, that lives just that little bit away from the Children of Israel. They are people of great principle and commitment. (See Jeremiah, Chapter 35) Yitro left a powerful mark on the Jewish people, for good and for bad.
Only one convert, and yet he is celebrated and honored, for each convert is as precious as the first.
Yitro’s high standards were not a guarantee of success. The former slaves, unsophisticated and immature, fared much better. We do not examine a potential convert to determine whether he or she is a super-hero. We recall that all of us went through the conversion process before Sinai and simply ask whether they too want to experience the astounding heights of Revelation.
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