19 Shevat 5770
This week we read Parashat Yitro, the
fifth Parasha of the Second Book of the TORAH. Yitro,
with several variant spellings both in English and in Hebrew, is
always described as both the Father-in-Law of Moshe Rabbeinu
and as a priest of the Midianites, or perhaps the Priest of the
Midianites. We do know
that Moshe Rabbeinu and Yitro had a pretty good
relationship. At this
point in the story just after the crossing of the dry bed of the sea
by the Israelites and the drowning of the Egyptians in the sea
Yitro comes to visit the Israelite camp bringing Moshe
Rabbeinu’s wife with him.
The interaction between the two is quite interesting in that
Yitro seems quite at ease with Moshe Rabbeinu and he
sits down to a meal and begins asking Moshe Rabbeinu about
“all the good that HaShem did for Israel.” Moshe Rabbeinu on
his part insists on telling Yitro “all that happened.” One
might say this is a subtle difference and yet it indicates the great
divergence in the point of view of the two men.
Remember, Yitro was not asking for a “highlights
reel,” but appeared to be truly only interested in that GOOD that
HaShem did for Israel.
This specific aspect of their conversation reminds me of when I
lived in Israel and I learned that the Bedouin tea was highly
sugared and Bedouin coffee was served bitter.
I also learned that the Bedouin coffee was served first and
unless you drank of the coffee you were never served the tea.
The philosophical lesson of this simple cultural device was
that if you did not choose to share the bitterness of their lives
you could not share in the sweetness of their lives.
Yitro apparently wanted no part of the bitterness even
in the recounting.
Moshe Rabbeinu, the gracious host and
son in law of his guest offered Yitro a position of honor and
respect in the Israelite band.
Moshe Rabbeinu showed great respect for Yitro’s
knowledge of the desert, and asked Yitro to help guide the
Israelites on their journey.
In a most magnanimous offer, Moshe Rabbeinu told
Yitro, “if you stay with us, whatever reward we will receive you
will have a share in it.” Despite this offer, Yitro decided to leave
and return to his people.
The Sages asked a question, “Why did Yitro
come at the specific moment?” The answer that they give is that
after seeing the parting of the sea and the crossing of the
Israelites on dry land and the closure of the sea on the totality of
the Egyptian army Yitro had no choice but to accept that “The
GOD of the Israelites was also The GOD of Nature.”
For this reason Yitro found it incumbent on himself to
come to the Israelite encampment and offer sacrifice to HaShem.
That Yitro came to this realization is wonderful.
That Yitro decided to act upon his newfound knowledge
come to the Israelites encampment to sacrifice to HaShem, nothing
short of miraculous.
That after coming to this knowledge and acting upon it Yitro
decided to get up and leave is beyond comprehension, or maybe not so
much beyond comprehension.
My guess is that like many of us Yitro saw the truth,
acted on the truth and then returned to his old habits and ways.
How many of us wake up momentarily from our
lives and decided it is time to change for the better?
We run off and join a health club we see a dietitian we begin
to live a better life we even pledge to quit smoking, and then we
see that all of these choices though they will bring joy, goodness,
righteousness and health in the long run will require us to work
hard and suffer some in the short run.
Yitro had his epiphany and surely will never be the
same after his meal was his son in law, but still he goes back to
his own people, to his own land and we can assume to his own life.
Because after Yitro rises and leaves the
Israelites encampment we immediately progress to the reading of the
10 Spoken Commands, known generally as the Ten Commandments, most of
the lessons and sermonic material to be delivered this week will
deal with those 10 spoken commands and yet this week’s reading is
named Yitro after the man we just spoke about.
In so many ways in our lives each of us make the decisions
that Yitro made.
We see the light, we see the truth, we are even willing to make
sacrifices and then we get up and go home.
For you and not for me, for you and your
children and your grandchildren, this week when you come to worship
the G-D of the Israelites; the G-D of Nature stay even after the
meal, stay and change your life just a bit.
You won’t change all at once; that’s impossible, but slowly
you can turn. Step by step bit by bit slowly you can turn.