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Parashat Yitro (Exodus 18:1-2:23)

“Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, yes,
by the result of their very schemes against the people.” (Exodus 18:11)

Parashat Yitro contains two stories. The first is a family reunion, when Yitro (a Midianite priest and Moses’ father-in-law) joins the Israelites. The second is the revelation at Mt. Sinai. Aviva Zornberg (1944-; contemporary scholar and author living in Jerusalem) describes the subtle relationship between the two events.

Yitro arrives at the Israelite camp after he hears, “…all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the Lord had brought Israel out from Egypt.” (Ex. 18:1) The rabbis claim the story of the splitting of the sea and the war against Amalek trigger a spiritual crisis and draw Yitro out (Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 116a). Yitro abandons everything he knows to march into the desert to hear words of Torah, becoming a symbol for the entire Israelite people. The difference is Yitro, a Midianite priest and an elite, has everything to lose, whereas, the Israelites, being slaves, have nothing to lose.

According to Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) Moses appreciates the risk Yitro is taking. So Moses gives Yitro the honor he would typically receive in Midian: he goes out to greet him, which causes Aaron to join them, prompting all the elders to extend themselves, too. Moses even waits on Yitro personally at the festive meal). Moses then tells Yitro all God has done, causing Yitro to rejoice (Ex. 18:7-9, 12).

Moses knows it is not easy to give up a past just because you commit to a future. Moses’ ability to lead the entire community is based on his sensitivity to each individual.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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