08 Feb

I have long admired the character Jethro (Heb. Yitro), the father-in-law of Moses whose cameo role at the outset of last week’s Portion merits him the honor of being its namesake.  We are reminded that this was the same Torah reading that contains Aseret HaDibrot, also known as The Ten Commandments, which is no small honor for this individual whose main occupation was Priest of Midian.

In his “walk-on” Dvar Torah at Young Israel of Denver on Friday night, Elan Penn referenced Rashi’s elucidation of the meaning of the name “Yitro” as deriving from the Hebrew root y.t.r., which connotes an addition which when applied to the narrative in the Book of Exodus suggests an additional teaching over and above what was promulgated by the Torah.  I already knew of Yitro’s largesse of spirit and his formulation of an elaborate method of delegation to hand-picked subordinates from earlier studies and readings.

The novelty for me as I listened with great interest to Elan was the tactic of Yitro in dispensing quickly with his personal criticism of Moses (captured by earlier words in his address, such as “The thing you are doing is not right.” - Exodus 18:17), in order to move more intentionally into a solutions-oriented teaching that placed heavy value upon best practices.  This is named by Rabbi Shalom Rosner in his commentary as the very embodiment of Jethro’s supplementary teaching:   

You shall (also) seek out, from among all the people, capable individuals who fear God—trustworthy ones who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you.  (Exodus 18:21-22)

My Two Cents:                                                                        

With all the talk over the airwaves these days about “humanitarian” concerns, which have been charged with political and moralist tropes, especially in the case of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, we have in the case of Yitro/Jethro an airtight model of a humanitarian; his interest in directing Moses to manage better has no strings of self-interest attached and speaks to his character as a fine human being who sought to connect with others under the Providence of God.

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