Rabbi Goldschmidt

Parshat Yitro

At one of the most important points in the narrative of our Torah so far – the Children of Israel prepare to receive the Torah at Sinai, it is at precisely this moment that Yitro returns with Moshe’s wife and children:

Jethro was called by 7 names in the Tanach.
Rashi summarizes them as follows[1]:

שֶׁבַע שֵׁמוֹת נִקְרְאוּ לוֹ: רְעוּאֵל, יֶתֶר, יִתְרוֹ, חוֹבָב, חֶבֶר, קֵינִי, פּוּטִיאֵל

Reuel, Jether, Jethro, Chovav, Cheber, Keni and Putiel.

The Sources elaborate:

He was called יֶתֶר Yeter (from יִתֵּר, “to add”) because he caused the addition of a Torah portion[2], Yitro and he was he was “abundant” (Yiter) in good deeds.

Jethro, because when he converted to Judaism a letter (vav) was added to his name: יִתְרוֹ.

Chovav חוֹבָב, because he “loved” (חִבֵּב) Hashem and the Torah[3].

Reuel רְעוּאֵל: Torah says Reuel was Chovav’s father, but sometimes[4] children call their grandfather “father”.

Keni קֵינִי [5] because he was “zealous”(Kinei) for God and “acquired” (Kanah) the Torah[6].

Chever חֶבֶר, because he was the “associate” of God[7].

Putiel פּוּטִיאֵל [8], because he had renounced idolatry, another interpretation: “he fattened calves” (pittem) for idolatrous sacrifice.

One of the other reasons given for this abundance of names is that Yitro was not only a “priest” in a Monotheistic sense, but from our sources[9] we know that he had excelled in the study of many other religions:

Not only gaining knowledge and familiarity but also status and priesthood, yet in his quest for the truth he found Monotheism and for this was banished to desert and forbidden to dwell amongst the Midianites[10].

Now Yitro arrives after hearing the wonders that have occurred to the people with their exodus[11] and is ready to join the Jewish people.

A classical question arises, aside from the miracles that he heard about and his own logical journey towards Monotheism – his own family was Moshe, the greatest Prophet ever who will arise in Israel.
Wasn’t this family connection enough?

When it comes to converts to Judaism, we ask them[12]:
כשבא להתגייר אומרים לו מה ראית שבאת להתגייר אי אתה יודע שישראל בזמן הזה דחופים סחופים (פי’ אבודים וסחופים מן מדוע נסחף אביריך) ומטורפים ויסורים באים עליהם

“When a person comes to convert, say to him, “What did you see that motivated you to come to convert? If you know that Israel, in this time, that the Jewish people are oppressed, eroded, (The words are from[13] “Why is your strong one overthrown?”) insane, and suffering…”

Seemingly an intrinsic element of the Conversion process is not simply a feeling of connection with the people of Israel (which is of course also a prerequisite) but also that the candidate has an intellectual reason for their decision – whilst the Children of Israel are born into a specific family, custom, lifestyle and context – the Ger is not, for them to decide to live a life which is entirely different from their current or previous life takes a tremendous amount of faith, resilience and hard work.

Yitro did not see the miracles that happened with the destruction of Amalek or the splitting of the sea, he too only “heard” about them:
But what was the proof of these miracles? The fact that the Children of Israel were alive, that they had done the impossible – breaking free of slavery and surviving impossible odds.

It is not unique to Yitro, over the centuries sensitive individuals have been able to understand that children of Israel continue to exist because Hashem wills it to be so and that He has promised that our relationship with him is eternal, that the history of our people is not a “normal “ one, we have found ourselves to be the enemies of every regime, religion, empire and ideology that has risen and sought to dominate the world – despite terrible losses and bitter tears our people has remained and will persevere, this is a reality that every convert understands on both an intellectual and emotional level.

Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2024 ©


[1] Rashi on Shemot/Exodus: 18:1
[2] Shemot/Exodus. 18:1-20:23
[3] Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael 18:1:2
[4] Sifrei Bamidbar 79: on Numbers 10:29
[5] Judges 1:16
[6] Mekhilta Yitro: 1
[7] Judges: 4:11
[8] Bava Batra 109b
[9] Sifsei Chachamim on Shemot 2:16 & Talmud Bavli: Sotah 11a
[10] Shemot Rabbah: 1:32
[11] Zecachim 116a – (See also the Maharsha there).
[12] Shulchan Aurech: Yoreh De’ah: 268:2
[13] Jeremiah: 46:15