Yitro's Sacrifices and Eating Bread Before God



Shemot 18:12 records how Yitro brought "a burnt-offering and sacrifices to God" (Elohim) and that "Aharon came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moshe's father-in-law before God" (לֶאֱכָל לֶחֶם... לִפְנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים). While at first glance this seems straight forward enough, the story actually contains a number of unique aspects which warrant further examination:

  • Yitro is a rare case of a Gentile offering sacrifices to God. What motivated Yitro to do so?
  • The use of the generic name Elohim (אֱ-לֹהִים) – Shimon b. Azzai in Sifre Bemidbar 143 points out says that the name Hashem (the Tetragrammaton) is used exclusively with regard to all of the sacrifices in the Torah.1 Here, though, Yitro offers his sacrifices to Elohim. This issue is compounded by Yitro's explicit recognition and use of the name of Hashem in the previous three verses of 18:9-11.
  • How does one "eat bread before God" (lifnei haelohim)?
  • Where Was Moshe? Why are only Aharon and the elders of Israel mentioned in 18:12?