"...Now I know that G‑d is greater than all gods...."—Exodus 18:11

This week's portion describes the mass revelation at Mt. Sinai and the events leading up to it. While the nation was encamped at the foot of the mountain, Jethro, the former Midianite high priest, came to join them, proclaiming, "Now I know that G‑d is greater than all gods." The fact that Jethro says, "Now I know," indicates that there had been a time when he did not know. Indeed, tradition tells us that Jethro had studied every form of idol worship known in his day and had practiced them all. Jethro was one who came to his belief in G‑d only after a lifetime of trial and error.

It is interesting that tradition relates that Jethro's presence was so integral to the revelation at Sinai that G‑d would not have deemed the great event worthy of taking place had Jethro not been there. Why was the presence of Jethro, the former idol worshipper, so crucial to the revelation at Sinai?

The greatest wisdom is that which only comes about as a product of having rejected its oppositeThere is a verse (Ecclesiastes 2:13) which states, "I have seen the superiority of wisdom over foolishness." This doesn't seem like such a novel insight—that wisdom is superior to foolishness. But by taking a second look at the original Hebrew, it becomes clear that the verse may also be read, "I have seen the superiority of wisdom that comes from foolishness." The greatest wisdom is that which only comes about as a product of having rejected its opposite. When Jethro, the expert of unholy wisdom, declared his faith in G‑d, this was the ultimate "wisdom that comes from foolishness"—the refinement of unholy wisdom and its transformation into holiness. It was this unique contribution which provided the additional degree of sanctity necessary to bring about the revelation of G‑d at Sinai.

The alcoholic in recovery can easily understand that there is a special quality of wisdom that comes about only after all else has failed. Our present state of spiritual consciousness is not a last ditch effort to stay sober; it is actually the culmination of all our past foolish notions finally being seen for what they are by one who knows all too well why they don't work.

Honest self-appraisal may reveal that we had been intimately familiar with almost every false god known to man. We attributed G‑d-like powers to people, places and things and even to ourselves. Even those of us who claimed to believe in G‑d still couldn't shake the feeling that other powers also needed to be appeased. We lived in awe and dread of these false gods. We paid tribute to them with the greatest of sacrifices. But there came a time – after admitting our powerlessness and turning to G‑d to care for our lives – that we were finally able to smash these idols with the certainty and wisdom of one who has learned the truth by first learning all of the lies.