On my first trip to Israel in 1978, my traveling companion wanted to climb Mount Sinai. It seemed like a fun Jewish adventure, so I went with her. I remember waking up way too early, that it was way too hot, and that the guide kept talking about Moses. What I remember now, so many years later, is that most everything he said went in one ear and out the other.

I often wonder: what message was playing so loudly that I couldn’t hear that G‑d gave the Torah to the entire Jewish nation on Mount Sinai? (I have since learned that we actually don’t know where the real Mount Sinai is, but I don’t think that was the problem.)The guide kept talking about Moses

I’m fairly sure that the guide related the Sinai story pretty much like that—a story—but I am definitely sure that hearing it didn’t even raise a question in my mind about what it meant to be Jewish, other than being smart, funny and persecuted.

Clearly, it would have taken much more than a day trip up any mountain to free my head of all the information that had nothing to do with G‑d and Torah.

I was a pop-culture sponge, and my mind was packed with tidbits of trivia, much of it from my favorite childhood pastime: watching television. Cartoons, sitcoms, soap operas; nothing was too dumb. Watching TV was what Americans did,and I did it exceedingly well.

But, nine years later, when I was ready to listen and decided that I wanted to become observant, it was challenging not to be frustrated, even saddened, by the amount of pop-culture “stuff” that had hoarded precious storage space in my brain, never to be emptied. Instead of learning which way to turn during the Amidah prayer, I had been watching The Beverly Hillbillies. I can still remember the names of all the cast members, but when I go to the synagogue, I often need help.

This brings me to this week’s Torah portion, and what I learned from that television series in particular.

The show’s creators probably didn’t intend to make the connection, but one of the main characters on The Beverly Hillbillies was named Jethro, which is also the English translation of the name of this week’s Parshah, Yitro. Which means that year after year, whether I like it or not, when it’s Parshat Yitro, that show’s theme song plays in my head.

This Torah-television connection may seem ironic, especially because Parshat Yitro contains the pivotal event for the Jewish people and the entire world—the moment when G‑d gave the Torah on Mount Sinai.

But it Everything has the potential to be transformedmakes sense in light of the original Jethro/Yitro’s identity. He was Moses’ father-in-law, a Midianite priest who enjoyed tremendous status and high regard in the world, largely for his unparalleled expertise in the field of idol worship. When a maven like Jethro recognized that this G‑d was the One and Only, then chose to convert to follow Him, it sent a powerful spiritual message to the world for all time: Everything about a person, including the past, has the potential to be transformed into holiness.

That’s why this magnificent Parshah is named after a convert who once served as an idolatrous priest.

And for me, that message is a priceless gift, although it took many years for me to be grateful for my history. Who knows what part the emptiness of entertainment played in igniting my desire for a life of meaning? The knowledge that my current effort in the realm of G‑dliness actually elevates my past is a great joy for me—one that allows me to laugh a little more about the things that feel like they will stay in my head forever.