This parashah – Yitro (= “Jethro”) – has as central themes the story of the revelation of God to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai and the text of the Ten Commandments, which synopsize Jewish ethics. Each of them deserves deep analysis because they are the basis and foundation of the identity of the Jewish people.
But there is another topic in this parashah that is very significant for Jews. Given the multiple persecutions they have suffered over the centuries, on many occasions our ancestors chose to isolate themselves and develop a very restricted relationship with other peoples. This parashah begins with Moses' father-in-law Jethro coming to see him. This was before God gave the gift of the Torah to Israel. Jethro told him how to organize an efficient legal system.
Abraham Ibn Ezra notes that the beginning of the narrative of Yitro (Exodus 18:1) follows immediately after the story of the attack by Amalek (17:8-15). He suggests that this sequence teaches us to differentiate between aggressive, unscrupulous peoples and those who sincerely extend arms of friendship towards the Jewish people. While understandable in the context of Jewish history, isolationism is not advocated by the Torah but a sublime interaction with the peoples, according to the vision of Isaiah (42: 6; 49: 6; 60: 3).
One of the missions that God entrusts to the people of Israel before giving them the Torah is that of becoming a nation of priests (19:6). The priest, as described in the Torah, had the mission to assist human beings in approaching the Creator. This mission continues to be a fundamental part of Judaism, as is sharing in that mission with those who know how to be like Jethro and his people.