A Gentile's Sacrifices
Why is Yitro (a Gentile) bringing sacrifices and making a festive meal?1
Celebration of the Children of Israel's salvation
Covenant sealing meal
R. D"Z Hoffmann posits that the sacrifices and meal were not part of a religious ritual, but rather a political ceremony which accompanied the signing of a covenant between the Israelite nation and Yitro's clan.
Sacrifices to Elohim
Why is Yitro offering his sacrifices to Elohim and not to Hashem?3
Yitro fully recognized Hashem as his God.
Did Not Yet Recognize Hashem
Yitro was still in the midst of his theological transformation and did not yet fully recognize Hashem as the one and only God.
Never Recognized Hashem
Eating Bread Lifnei HaElohim
Exegetes differ on whether the term lifnei haElohim is used here to connote a particular geographical location. In addition, the meaning of our verse depends on when this story occurred and where the nation was encamped – see Chronology.
A Place With a Divine Presence
Lifnei haElohim means in front of a specific place where there was a Divine presence. This approach subdivides regarding the identity of that place:
Moshe's personal tent
Moshe's tent was mentioned just a few verses earlier in 18:7.
The pillars of cloud and fire which housed God's presence
An altar where sacrifices were offered before the building of the Tabernacle
A designated place for thanksgiving and prayer
The burning bush
A Sanctified Activity
"Eating before God" is an expression which connotes a sanctified activity, but not necessarily a particular location.
Partaking of Sacrifices
Partaking of a meal in the presence of sages (in this case Moshe) which is analogous to benefitting from the Divine presence
Partaking of a covenantal meal made before God
Where Was Moshe?
Moshe Participated in the Meal
Moshe participated, but this is understood and needed no mention, as the meal took place in Moshe's tent.12
Moshe Did Not Participate
This opinion subdivides in explaining Moshe's reasons for not participating in the meal: