Rashi starts our parasha talking about Yitro’s names:
It’s worth pointing out that יתר פרשה אחת בתורה isn’t talking about the sedra called יתרו; the names of the weekly portions have no religious significance. The פרשה אחת refers to a paragraph of halacha, the laws of establishing בתי דין. Yitro merited to have a chapter of the “שולחן ערוך” written into the Torah in his name.
And Rashi points out that this whole paragraph is out of chrolonogical sequence. It took place after מתן תורה.
And even Ramban, who usually tries to read the text chronologically, agrees:
This is important because most laws in the Torah are apodictic; they are simply stated without a justification or a narrative explaining them. The exceptions are there to highlight the roles of certain individuals:
So what was so important about this story that it had to be said in the name of Yitro, and that it had to be said before we read about getting the Torah. The אור החיים says that we need this story because we know that Jews are smart. Really smart (I discussed this in פרשת+כי+תבא+תשע״ז). Psychiatrist Scott Alexander (who has a fascinating blog called Astral Codex Ten) points that out:
I think this idea, that intelligence is genetically determined (and Jews have a lot of it) is both ethically abhorrent and scientifically wrong (and, since it’s ethically wrong, I won’t look for data about the scientific part). I think Alexander is missing the point entirely. The ייִדישער קאָפּ is culturally created. Torah and Talmud are not “wasting brain labor”; they are the basis of what our brains are for. Nuclear physics is just a fortunate (or maybe unfortunate) side effect.
The אור החיים tells us that this is what the story of Yitro is coming to tell us. Goyim can be smart, too.
And it’s more than a statement about Jews as a whole. It’s a statement about each of us. We need to have the humility to realize that none of us knows everything. Even a משה רבינו can learn from others. And he does so with his characteristic ענוה:
And if I may go a little Rabbi Fohrman on this, Yitro tells Moshe לא טוב הדבר אשר אתה עשה. There is only one other place in the Torah where the expression לא טוב is used: