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Parashat Yitro (Exodus 18:1-2:23)

“You saw what I did to Egypt; and how I carried you on wings of eagles,
and brought you to me.” (Exodus 19:4)

Parashat Yitro is named for Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro, a Midianite priest. It contains two well-known events: the creation of the Israelite judicial system and the revelation at Mt. Sinai. It also provides a source for the Jewish system of bracha, or blessing.

When Moses tells Yitro of the miracle of the Exodus and the crossing of the sea, Yitro rejoices and says, “…Baruch Adonai, blessed is Adonai, who saved you from the hand of Egypt and from the hand of Pharaoh… “ (Ex. 18:10) The rabbis praise Yitro for his piety: even though Yitro (a Midianite) only hears about the miracles from Moses (compared to the Israelites who experience the miracles personally) he, not the Israelites, recite a bracha (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 94a). The Ketav Sofer (Rabbi Abraham Sofer, 1815–1871; a leading rabbi of Hungarian Jewry) adds: because Yitro rejoices at the Israelites’ good fortune, he fulfills the commandment to “…love your neighbor as yourself…” (Lev. 19:18) Another interpretation reads vayechad Yitro (and Yitro rejoiced) as vayehad Yitro (and Yitro became Jewish) inferring Yitro is so overwhelmed by God’s greatness he converts to Judaism (Midrash Tanchuma, Yitro 7).

Yitro is not the first person to bless God, but he is the first to offer a bracha in response to a miracle performed for a group (rather than an individual). So Exodus 18:10 becomes the prooftext for reciting a bracha for miracles such as Chanukkah and Purim (Babylonian Talmud B’rachot 54b). The Jewish system of bracha, is designed to foster an “attitude of gratitude” and to nurture the mindful acknowledgement that even the smallest, mundane event is, in fact, a miracle.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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