by Rabbi/Cantor Eva Robbins, ’04 & ’15, AJRCA Professor of Tefillah Skills & Musical Traditions
Parshat Yitro highlights one of the most important events in our history – the meeting of the Israelites with G-d, creation of a covenant, and the formation of a people as well as receiving the ultimate guide for our behavior, Torah and the Ten Commandments. Unlike other peoples of the world all of this is solidified before even entering and owning the land. Yet, what makes this parshah so unusual is that it is named after ‘non-Israelite,’ Jethro, Priest of Midian, and of course, Moshe’s father-in-law. You might expect the heading to be ‘Yirah,’ Awe, instead of ‘Yitro.’ But despite this extraordinary moment, it is he who claims the title. Why?
Yitro can be translated as “his abundance” or “his remaining.” The portion opens with Yitro hearing of the great Exodus and the Israelite G-d emanating acts of wonder. Aware that Moshe and the people have crossed the sea and ‘remain’ at Sinai, he takes it upon himself to bring Tziporah, Gershom, and Eliezer, Moshe’s family, to Sinai. They should not ‘remain’ in Midian any longer; they should be reunited with Moshe and the people. He then expresses his sense of ‘abundance,’ joy, gratitude, and blessing for G-d’s greatness, with multiple sacrificial offerings. Following these important acts, he turns to Moshe, after watching him perform his duties as leader and is moved with an empathic response. He gives Moshe the following advice, “The thing that you do is not good, you will surely become worn out-you as well as this people…you will not be able to do it alone.” He suggests that Moshe handle major issues and assign “Anshe Chayil,” men of valor, (sound familiar, Proverbs 31, Aishet Chayil, A Woman of Valor) to take on supportive roles. The root ‘chool,’ means to be ‘strong, firm, durable, have integrity and virtue;’ in other words, a people of ‘valor.’ “Appoint men of accomplishment, G-d fearing men of truth who despise money” to judge, in smaller groups, minor disputes so they can share the work. In other words, create an effective government (democracy in its infancy) to support Moshe’s work as leader. Yitro teaches us all to delegate and be very discerning about whom one chooses to share the workload. We are also reminded in Proverbs 9 and Psalm 111 that, “The beginning of wisdom is the awe of Adonai,” “T’chilat Chochmah Yirat Adonai.” Yitro comes to Sinai with awe of G-d and he leaves sharing wisdom for all.