Parashat Yitro is one of the few Parshiot that is named after somebody. But who is this Yitro after whom the Parasha is named? Why did he merit to have the Parasha, which includes Matan Torah, named after him?
The Gemara (Sotah 11a) states that Paroh had three main advisors: Bilam, Iyov, and Yitro. Whenever Paroh wanted to do anything, he would consult with his advisors. When Paroh wanted to harm the Jews in some way, he asked for his advisors’ suggestions. Yitro had compassion, and said that he didn't think that Paroh should harm the Jews. As a result of his outspokenness, he had to give up his high position and flee from Paroh.
At the beginning of Parashat Yitro, the Pasuk states, “VaYishma Yitro Chohein Midyan Chotein Moshe Eit Kol Asheir Asah Elokim LeMoshe UlYisrael Amo,” “Yitro, the priest of Midyan, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard everything that Hashem did for Moshe and for Yisrael, His nation” (18:1). Rashi poses a question on this Pasuk: What did Yitro hear? Rashi explains that Yitro heard about the miraculous splitting of the sea and the war with Amalek, which led him to convert to Judaism.
This raises another question. Does someone who relinquished his high-ranking position in order to save the Jews really need to see the splitting of the sea and the war with Amalek in order to decide to which nation he should really belong? After all, we should have Emunah Peshutah, “simple faith,” in Hashem. It is therefore hardly a great or noteworthy accomplishment for one to “jump on the bandwagon” and join a nation for which miracles have just been performed (as the Eirev Rav did). Why did Yitro come to the Jews now and not earlier?
An answer emerges from the theme of the war with Amalek. Previously, Yitro was the one who had had the compassion to try to protect the Jews. When he saw that Hashem was also clearly assisting the Jews by helping them defeat Amalek, he was drawn to the nation because he saw that Hashem also had compassion for it.
When Yitro encountered Bnei Yisrael, he continued to have compassion for the Jews. He saw that Moshe was overworked with judging the nation, so he said, “VeAtah Techeze MiKol HaAm Anshei Chayil Yirei Elokim Anshei Emet Sone’ei Vatza,” “You shall take from among the entire nation men of accomplishment, God-fearing people, men of truth, who despise corruption” (18:21). Yitro told Moshe to get help by appointing a very noble set of people to assist him in making judgments for the Jews. Later, the Pasuk states, “VaYishma Moshe LeKol Choteno VaYaas Kol Asher Amar,” “Moshe heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did everything that he had said” (18:24). Moshe seems to have had no problem fulfilling the request of Yitro. But in describing Moshe’s course of action, the Torah records, “VaYivchar Moshe Anshei Chayil MiKol Yisrael,” “Moshe chose men of accomplishment from among all Yisrael” (18:25). First it says that Moshe listened to exactly what his father-in-law said, but then Moshe implemented only part of what he was told. Yitro said that he should find people who have accomplishment, fear God, are truthful, and despise corruption, but when Moshe actually carried it out, he seemingly chose only men of accomplishment. Was there nobody in Bnei Yisrael that met Yitro’s higher criteria? The Jews were at their highest level ever, and they were about to receive the Torah!
In reality, Yitro was actually referring to people like himself, people that, when they sense that something isn't right, aren't afraid to speak up and offer their suggestions. Though nobody perfectly fit Yitro’s description, Moshe understood his general idea and did everything that Yitro had wanted, choosing people who would follow in Yitro’s footsteps.
Once Bnei Yisrael understood that they must all be like Yitro and stand up for what is right, they merited receiving the Torah. Because of this, the Parasha in which we receive the Torah is named after Yitro, who taught us this all-important tenet of faith.