Jan 21, 2011

Parshah Yitro

This week's parshah is one that always brings me back to the same question. I can't even consider the rest of the parshah, because my mind is always floating on one man: Yitro, Moshe's father in law.

Did Yitro Convert?

If you google yitro convert, you'll notice that (beyond my blog) a lot of things come up, citing Yitro as the first convert and as being, plainly and without explanation, simply a convert. But was he? What language dictates this? Why do we count him among the converts like Ruth? And how do we define, in the Tanakh makes a convert a convert? A ger in the Tanakh is simply a stranger, someone sort of floating along with the Israelites. The Rabbis later used and understood the term ger as convert, which is how we understand it today. But the great converts of the Tanakh, like Rahab and Yitro and Ruth, what made them converts?

I know what I think -- what do you think?

Shabbat shalom!


Batya said...

Isn't it that Yitro saw what G-d had done for the People of Israel and wanted to join the winning team?

David Tzohar said...

In my mind Yitro was the first, and indeed the ultimate convert. He was a former pagan high priest who knew intimately all forms of paganism, but when he heard of the miracles of the parting of the Red Sea and the victory over the Amalekites he left his exalted position to come to the desert to recieve the Torah. He had already linked his life to that of Moses by giving him his daughter , Tzipporah, in marriage. He knew intuitively that Moshe was special and accepted Moshe's mission which he recieved at the relevation of the burning bush. The Torah could not have been given before the coming of Yitro. He is the proof that while the Torah was to be recieved first by the Chosen people, it was meant not only for those in whose veins flowed the blood of Jacob, but for all of Hashems children. Indeed Hashem gave no choice to the children of Israel, He suspended Mt. Sinai over their heads and told them that either they would accept the Torah or be buried under the mountain. Yitro, on the other hand was under no such compulsion. He accepted the Torah out of the conviction that Hashem is was and forever will be the master of the universe.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Batya That's the understanding by the rabbis. But the degrees of that "seeing" what HaShem did that vary among the various supposed converts in the Torah, with Rahab's declaration truly sounding a little bit more like Ruth's serious statement of joining the Israelites. Yitro's is a little more ... vague. Statement or proclamation?

@David I vote Rahab as the ultimate convert -- after all, she saved the spies, joined the Israelites, and birthed some of the greatest prophets (or so our rabbis say).

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