Yitro: The Necessary Change
This week’s portion is named Yitro, after the man himself. This is surprising, as there isn’t a portion named after Moses, who was the spiritual leader for the entire world. However, we soon realize that the lesson of Yitro’s example makes him more than worthy of his own dedicated portion. He teaches us the importance of hearing the message when it arrives and, even more importantly, acting on this message. He represents the absolute opposite of apathy. He shows us what is possible when we embrace humility, abandon our attachments, and commit ourselves to the pursuit of truth.
Who was Yitro before he met Moses? Well, he was a respected and successful man. He was a priest, and he was known as the leader of idol-worshipping at that time. This meant he enjoyed a high status in his community. He had followers who were hooked on his every word, which meant he had responsibility and status. When the story of Moses traveled to him and it contradicted his teachings, Yitro didn’t just listen to it. He heard it deeply within his soul. He suddenly understood that all he had committed his life to was false, that he had been living a lie. What a distressing revelation!
So how did Yitro react to this troubling news? After all, he could have just ignored it and continued as he was, with his head in the sand. He could also have tried to deny it; he could even have preached his idol-worshiping message more fervently, defending it against what he secretly knew to be right. The final option was the most revolutionary: he could completely change his life, detach from his position, and live in alignment with his newly-discovered truth. Amazingly, this was the option he chose. And the spiritual power of this decision is why there is a portion in his name.
Let’s relate this story to our own lives. Let’s think of Yitro in modern terms. It’s 2021, Yitro has a great job, and thanks to this he has many admirers and A-list friends. He has a beautiful wife and they live together in luxury. However, one day he discovers serious corruption in his office. He realizes that he has unknowingly been causing harm through his work, the same work that has brought him such a comfortable and pleasant life. What does he do? Does he keep the information to himself? Does he go public with the news? Does he leave his position or stay there? It’s a real dilemma.
To leave necessitates a significant loss, and not just a financial one. He will also lose the prestige that he enjoyed in his position. He will have to admit his shortcomings and humble himself, admitting that what he had believed to be right was in fact very wrong. This will surely hurt his pride. There’s also the risk that his wife disagrees with his decision to leave. Will she stay with him through this hardship? He doesn’t know. Then, after all the turbulence of change, he will have to start from scratch. After all the time and effort he has invested in his current life, he will be forced to rebuild it.
So what would you do, in his position? Would you be brave enough to live in alignment with what you know is true? Or would you stick to the false security of the familiar? Could you leave a fake past to pursue a real future? Yitro abandoned his position as a priest to join Moses in the desert because he instinctively knew it was the right thing to do. However, we don’t always follow suit. We often repress our inner truths, because to acknowledge them would force us into uncomfortable change. In this way, our resistance to change overpowers our desire to live authentic lives.
We can see this in the stale relationships we stay in rather than ending them to find true soulmates. We can see this in the unfulfilling jobs we stagnate in rather than leaving to pursue our passions. We can see this in the inadequate philosophies we embrace rather than admit that our lives are somewhat lacking. Isn’t it funny how we deny ourselves greatness? Instead, we should try to be more like Yitro, who was willing when the moment came to hear the call and respond to it, even if doing so required significant personal sacrifice.
It’s a hard fact: doing the right thing doesn’t always yield instantly positive results. Sometimes there is a period of difficulty to endure first. Yotri, for example, saw how his family suffered and his daughter became unmarriageable because of his decision to leave his post. However, in the end, his daughter was wed with Moses — the spiritual leader of the world. When you do what is good, it will always pay you back in the end. But first, you must commit to doing good, no matter what the negative effects may be. It’s not a shallow commitment to keep. It’s a promise you must make with your whole soul.
Ask yourself: What truths are you hiding to protect yourself from necessary change? It’s time to accept them. Are you preaching a message that you no longer believe in? This will only make you feel empty. Are you settling for safety rather than pushing yourself to your full potential? Life has so much more to offer. Have you surrendered to second best and convinced yourself it’s enough? Admit to yourself that it’s not anymore.
You have been sleeping! Let Yitro shake you awake. Leave what must be left. Go to the desert of the unknown. Don’t just seek the truth; actually find it. This is the lesson that Yitro’s example imparts.