Yitro

By Rabbi Mindie Snyder

Traveling across Italy on a tour, it became apparent that the driving style of the people operating cars, scooters, bicycles, vans, buses, trucks appeared different than where I was living in the US. Out of seemingly nowhere, a vehicle would appear, make a turn, come to a stop, race ahead. From my seat on the tour bus, it looked like some sort of plaid in motion, as one object traversed through another’s space. As I reviewed Parshat Yitro this year, I remembered that playful concept of a living plaid and how the vital intersection of things in our world depend upon our action, reaction, discernment, and faith, at times, simultaneously.

When I think about transformational moments in my life, there has always been a coalescence of the right people, circumstances, timing. This resulted in a remarkable feeling of alignment and purpose, along with the clarity that accompanied right action.

In Parshat Yitro, Moses’ transformational moment occurred with a similar coalescence. The location was a state of formation. God was present. Yitro was present. Moses was poised for change but did not know it. Yitro, wise and experienced, enamored with the God of Israel, opened Moses’ eyes and pushed him to identify why he served alone as a symbolic exemplar of Divine Authority: And Yitro said: ‘This thing you are doing is not good…Why do you sit by yourself while the whole nation is standing (and waiting) for you all day? Moses explained that he was bringing people to God, teaching about God’s laws, ruling upon disputes between people, but Yitro saw things differently.

When Moses realized what he was doing in contrast to what Yitro was suggesting, such as:                      others can judge human encounters, others can manage ritual observances, he began to imagine the possibility that things could be better. No one is above opportunities for refinement, even Moses. Many view this shift as a supreme example of the fine art of delegation, while others point to Moses’ humility, as he takes a step back.

Another way of exploring this text is to address the role of courage as it pertains to change.                It takes courage to change patterns, to alter the weave of things that are familiar and that have served us. Yitro called upon Moses to change, to improve his life by diminishing his burdens and to enhance the lives of countless others by inviting them to use their talents and skills in new roles, to support the growth of their monotheistic ideal. In other words, Moses was called upon to have the courage to collaborate, to relegate trust in his fellow to the front lines, and to take a stand that B’nei Yisrael are stakeholders in the manifestation of a dream they all shared.

As in the beginning of Torah, when we learn that Adam was not meant to be alone, so we see in the core narrative of Judaism, The Book of Exodus, neither Moses, B’nei Yisrael, Yitro, nor God were meant to be alone. Rather, they were woven together through a system of behavior and beliefs through all time; and throughout all time, having the courage to remain intertwined.

Looking carefully at the juxtaposition of Yitro’s earthly wisdom and God’s Divine Wisdom we can identify the space for Shalom: wholeness, completeness, the foundational and motivational concepts within the House of Judaism.

Interestingly, the positioning concerns expressed by our ancestors about whether Yitro came before or after Revelation, may not be our primary focus today.  For example, over centuries, there has been vigorous debate about positioning and order. For example: Rav Sa’adia Gaon (Persia, 892-942), Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak, France, 1040-1105), Don Isaac Abrabanel (Spain, 1437-1508) agree that Yitro came before the Revelation at Sinai, in the order of the textual account. On the other hand, Rashbam (Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, France, 1080-1160), Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi, Provence, 1160-1235), Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham ben Ezra, Spain, 1092-1167) hold the opinion that Yitro followed the giving of the Torah.

In any case, Moses was tasked with listening to the guidance and directives of both his father-in-law and God, synthesizing and integrating practical and spiritual concepts for the benefit of B’nei Yisrael’s present and future. Furthermore, this animated psycho-spiritual fabric that was resilient enough to hold an evolving democratic society, influenced other peoples over many centuries. How the concept of wholeness, reflected in wisdom from diverse sources, reverberates across boundaries, and builds a nation, seems particularly meaningful.

Yitro shared with Moses, timeless wisdom about the power and importance of including others in ways that strengthen the greater whole. God shared with Moses and B’nai Yisrael the blueprint for a just and resilient society, fueled by chesed, lovingkindness. In both instances, healthy partnerships were essential to the story. Moreover, the intersection of these dynamic, unbreakable connections created our sacred plaid, whose weft and warp are constant reminders of why we are here.

To be alive is to behold unlimited intersections of moments, living beings, sights, sounds, fragrances, textures, sensations, thoughts, ideas, dreams, wishes, realities. In partnership with God, in partnership with any combination of these things, no one is alone. Each one holds the key to some sacred treasure that makes life worth living, that makes the world a better place, that connects earth to heaven in an inseparable bond of Shalom.