Saturday, January 26, 2008

Parshas Yitro - Yitro the Individual

Parshat Yitro begins with the arrival of Yitro, father in law of Moshe. What is Yitro's response to Moshe relating to him what has occurred? Vayihad, it says, a word which is interpreted in various ways. One interpretation relates Vayihad to Yehudi or Jew, meaning that Yitro converted to Judaism. Vayihad could also be interpreted as related to Yahid or individual, meaning that Yitro became an individual at that moment.

Exodus Chapter 18

א וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרוֹ כֹהֵן מִדְיָן, חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אֱלֹהִים לְמֹשֶׁה, וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עַמּוֹ: כִּי-הוֹצִיא
יְהוָה אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִמִּצְרָיִם.

1 Now Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel His people, how that the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.

What made Yitro's action so individual on hearing over what G-d had done to Moshe and the Jewish people? Let's consider the difference between Pharaoh and Yitro. At every turn Pharaoh might repent while a plague was going on but once the plague was in the past, it no longer mattered to Pharaoh. Even in the aftermath of the death of the firstborn, once it was over, Pharaoh led an attack on the Jews even leading his men down into the sea.

Why did Pharaoh behave this way? Because to him what G-d had done was indeed in the past. It was what G-d HAD DONE and therefore irrelevant and indeed to many people today, what G-d has done in the past is irrelevant. Even to many who accept what is in the Bible actually happened, will say that it has no relevance to modern times. The defect is a failure to accept that G-d is eternally aware and to assign to him some dusty corner of history. This is the modern attitude and it was the attitude of Pharaoh.

This is what made Yitro's attitude so individual, because when Yitro heard what G-d had done, he came to worship G-d, even though it was what G-d had done, past tense. As an individual he broke from the common attitude that G-d has no relevance to the future only to the past, instead Yitro responded by blessing G-d, Baruch Hashem Asher, speaking not in the past tense and indicating an acceptance of G-d in the present and the future. Like Avraham, he had recognized as an individual the power of an eternal G-d.

At Sinai in the 10 Commandments, G-d bridged the past and the present and the future by declaring that I am the G-d who took you out of Egypt and that you may not in the future have any other gods besides me. When Amalek had attacked the Jewish people, they had shared in the attitude of Pharaoh, that what G-d did in the past is no longer relevant. They had attacked the weak who had lagged behind because Amalek feared men but they did not fear G-d. In response G-d vowed a personal war against them, not merely against a people because no individual nation could resist G-d as he had proven in Egypt, but against the mental attitude that Amalek had exemplified.

This is why the war between Amalek and G-d continues from generation to generation. It is a war between those who relate G-d to the past and those who are willing to accept him in the present and the future.

To see last year's dvar torah on Parshat Yitro click here)


LemonLimeMoon said...

Nicely done, thanks for taking the time to write it up for us. I love when you make a dvar torah.

WomanHonorThyself said...

thanks SK!..always an inspiration..Yitro was one a kind indeed~!..oh btw...would ya like me to add ya to my blogroll?

Devash said...

Excellent! Thank you. Shavua tov!

Sultan Knish said...

thank you all, yes womanhonorthyself, you are on my blogroll

Keli Ata said...

Wonderful dvar torah and a particularly important one given the state of the world.

hockey hound said...

I really enjoyed this piece, Sultan. Very good.

I just finished reading this particular part of Exodus. I notice that Yitro contributed to the well-being of Israel and that, as you point out, to the relationship between G-D and Israel as in the present and the future. In the Schocken Bible it is written that Yitro says to Moses, "I will advise you, so that God may be-there with you: Be- there, yourself, for the people in relation to God." (Exodus 18:19) If only more people were actually trying to contribute to the well-being of Israel instead of excoriating Israel and vilifying the Jewish people.

In the last verse of Exodus it reads that, "Moshe sent his father-in-law off, and he went home to his land." As a Noachide, I am glad to read that Yitro didn't meddle in strictly Jewish matters. Neither did he, a non-Jew, arrogate to himself the honour befitting only a Jew (unlike many Christians): he acknowledged publicly all that G-D had done for the Jewish people through the leadership of Moses; he didn't claim to be wiser than Moses, nor did he try to eviscerate Moses' judgements and decisions on Halacah (calumny in which both Christianity and Islam were conceived).

Christianity and Islam both claim to supercede Judaism, and who should be the biggest enemies of Israel right now but a Christian president and his Muslim friends in Saudi Arabia and beyond. Both religions, Christianity and Islam respectively, instead of contributing to the well-being of Israel and the Jewish people, have been continuously meddlesome and historically critical of both Judaism as a national directive and of Israel as a people. Here is Bush and Rice, exhorting Israel's government, with the backing of how many Muslim nations, to kick more Jewish families from their homes. This is not contributing to the well-being of Israel and the Jewish people. Nor is it in tune with the G-D Who will "be-there."

Thanks for the perspective, Sultan.

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