Jethro: Not Your Average Beverly Hillbilly


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Sadly, or perhaps humorously, one of the most famous Jethros in history may be Jethro Bodine. That is, the famed, half-witted Jethro of the Beverly Hillbillies. Though Jethro Bodine may have shared the name of the Jethro in our portion, that is the extent to which the two had anything more in common.

Indeed, Hollywood has its share of classic “dummies,” movie characters both good and bad, who always miss the point. Throughout all ages characters from Curly of The Three Stooges to Cletus of Dukes of Hazard, to Woody Boyd of Cheers or Pinky of Pinky and the Brain, have been fumbling and bumbling their way through television. The type of person who can never find the right answer and is always a step or two behind their peers. Sure, try as they might to make sense of the world around them, the Jethros always successfully don’t “get it.” Like the time he was explaining the game of bowling: “I think I got this game figured out. You throw the ball down this gully. Then you throw yourself down the other gully, and try to hit them snake-hittin’ clubs before the ball does.” Sometimes he becomes so confident of his explanations that he is able to share his assured wisdom with others. In explanation of why a person had 2 steps leading up to their home: ”One to go up and one to go down!”

Yes, there is an official condition Jethro Bodine had, I believe it was called “being a nitwit.”

But the original, the first Jethro (the Jethro of our Torah portion), was unlike the Hillbillies version. Jethro of our portion was schooled and sophisticated. As the Midrash notes: There was not one ideology or theology that Jethro did not entertain. A PhD in theology, so-to-speak, Jethro, or more accurately, Yisro, was an individual who would stop at nothing to understand what the purpose of life is and who, if any, was the Deity to serve. And how far did his quest for knowledge and truth go? In fact, Yisro could have lived a very easy life. He could have had a plush cushy job with a corner office and a view. As the beginning of the portion points out, “Yisro was the Kohen of Midyan.” He was the Big Kehuna. He was on par with the pope. Yet comfort in the material world would not satisfy Yisro’s agitated soul. He could not live with himself if there were a stone left unturned as to what, if anything, lay behind the reality of the world. His unceasing search, though making him unpopular, an outcast in fact, with the natives of his home, eventually lead him to the door called Judaism.

Let us take a lesson from the Jethro of our portion, let us not be dull, or simple in our approach to Judaism and the Torah. Let us use our Yisro-like skills to search for the meaning behind every Jewish custom, every Jewish ritual and every Jewish story. And at the same time, don’t forget to use your Jethro-like skills to have a fun time in the process.

Shabbat Shalom