Not only that, Yitro merited the promise that his descendants would always be among the Torah leaders of Am Yisrael.
Until a certain point in Jewish history, Yitro's line was traceable. But Rav Miller assures as the even today, some of our Torah greats still descend from Yitro, even if we don't know which ones.
Yitro's Extreme Turnaround
Rashi tells us that Yitro gained fame as one of the most dedicated priests of idol worship.
For example, when an idolater came to sacrifice a mediocre animal to an idol, Yitro's dedication led Yitro to delay the sacrifice until Yitro managed to groom & fatten up the animal (at Yitro's own expense) into a sleek, plump delicacy fit for the glory Yitro desired for the occult worship.
As Rav Miller states, Yitro soared from minus-zero to the heights of spiritual greatness.
So we see here we have something massive to learn from Yitro.
How did he pull off this impossible feat?
Yitro's Lesson #1: Listen
Prior to the Internet (via which issues & events can be drawn out & analyzed ad nauseum), the media hyped a certain event for a day (or more, if it served their needs) & that was it.
(They still do this, but certain types of people no longer allow certain events to go lost so easily.)
Rav Miller offers examples, like a 276-passenger jet that crashed in the ocean or the mass murder-suicide of the cult in Guyana.
It's true that the cult murder-suicide still enters into discussion on some websites today—not as an official part of the media, but by people who chose to study the event in order to glean lessons from it (sort of like Yitro, but with a lot less clarity & self-honesty).
Most of the time when an amazing thing happens, it gets blared about throughout the media, then it dies down, swept into the annals of history.
Even when regurgitated for analysis, the analysts usually leave Hashem out of the picture (which thus ensures they never glean the real lesson of the event) and focus on the wrong aspects due to confirmation bias.
For example, if a murderer enjoys the diagnosis of mental illness, everyone pretends that mental illness makes a person 100% incapable of moral choice (despite the fact that on forums & comment threads, you can find people who suffer from hearing voices that tell them to hurt themselves or others, but the hallucinator refuses to listen, claiming that obeying the voices violates their personal value system.)
As many frum Jews noted after the Chanukah machete attack in Monsey, the proclaimed mentally ill attacker was apparently in control of himself enough to obtain a lethal weapon, to target Jews, and to know where to find Jews...yet he wasn't able to understanding that hacking into a sweet old man was evil?
That's the first lesson of Yitro: The Exodus of Am Yisrael wasn't outta-sight-outta-mind.
No. It stuck in his mind.
As the Torah says: Yitro HEARD...and he came.
He heard about it, thought about it, then acted on it.
Yitro's Lesson #2: Ponder What It Means for You
We're even supposed to listen to criticism.
Yes, even painful criticism.
And because this concept understandably imposes so much distress on people, I'm going to digress for a moment to offer my own unauthorized opinion based on some learning & experience:
You don't necessarily need to listen to the criticism the exact way the critic means it.
Sometimes you should. For example, maybe you really are causing harm & you need to stop.
On the other hand, destructive critics mean to destroy you (whether intentionally or not) to enable themselves the dubious pleasure of fake superiority.
But we are supposed to take a step back and, in a more composed moment, ponder what message Hashem meant in the agonizing interaction.
(And it's meant to be a loving message, even if it doesn't feel like it.)
Having said that, if a person loves to criticize & denigrate others, then that person loves to engage in the Torah prohibition of onaat devarim—verbal torment.
Such a person also transgresses the mitzvah to judge others favorable & loving one's fellow (one of the 10 Commandments), and so on.
Contrary to what you hear in many Torah classes on ahavat Yisrael, the classic mussar books (Orchot Tzaddikim—The Gate of Love, Pele Yoetz, etc.) actually exhort you to AVOID associating with people on a lower level.
Otherwise, you get influenced by them.
Even kiruv calls for caution, states Rav Itamar Schwartz. Not everyone can associate with off-the-derech or assimilated Jews without being affected negatively. Some can. But not everyone.
So should you hang out with people who relish committing these person-to-person Torah transgressions?
To answer that, ask yourself whether you should you hang out with atheists?
Or people who wolf down pepperoni pizza while watching Friday night TV?
Should you hang out with gossips, slanderers, and tale-bearers?
Drug dealers? Gamblers?
If someone regularly violates the Torah (whether knowingly or not), you aren't supposed to be all buddy-buddy with them.
You generally don't need to hate them, but you certainly shouldn't spend time with them any more than absolutely necessary. (Sometimes, the situation necessitates interacting with emotionally unhealthy people because you share children together, or certain relatives, or a co-worker or boss).
Chronic critics violate the Torah.
Instead, you should associate with people on a higher level, people who teach you by example good behavior and influence you positively.
Yes, you should treat every human being considerately. You should do chessed when necessary and you're able.
But you don't need to maintain "friendships" with those who relish gutting you (figuratively speaking) or engage in what my grandpa used to call "chiseling" (a great description for passive-aggressive sniping)—even when they claim to be "helping" you.
But to privately dig out the message within?
After all, everything comes from Hashem & happens for a reason.
On page 10, he emphasizes:
Not only boys, not only men.
Like the Gra used to say to his daughters; he told them that they should always learn mussar seforim – the greatness of mussar is available to everyone.
If a girl learns all these things then she’s a gaon; she’s considered the same as if she became a gadol hador; she has learnt her Torah, she has achieved success no less than the greatest talmid chacham.
But he also recommends:
- Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah in the Rambam's Mishneh Torah (HERE)
- Hilchot Teshuvah in the Rambam's Mishneh Torah (HERE)
- Hilchot Dei'ot in the Rambam's Mishneh Torah (HERE)
- Chovot HaLevavot (Duties of the Heart) by Rav Bachya ibn Paquda (HERE)
- Shaarei Teshuvah (Gates of Repentance) by Rabbeinu Yonah
All the above come in English translations too.
It's also worth noting the story on pages 12-13 of Rav Yisroel Salanter as a boy: None of the great talmidei chachamim of the town recognized the greatness of Rav Yosef Zundel, the tzaddik from whom Rav Yisroel Salanter learned.
Only Rav Yisroel Salanter recognized the tzaddik for who he really was.
Because Rav Yisroel Salanter listened. He noticed. He pondered. And he acted.
Just like Yitro.