In this weekly podcast, we will offer insight into the weekly Torah portion, condensing 2,000 years of Jewish wisdom into just 10 minutes of modern-day commentary. This week Rabbi Rick Jacobs delves deep into parashat Yitro from the book of Exodus. Enjoy!
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[URJ Intro:] Welcome to the inaugural episode of “On the Other Hand: 10 Minutes of Torah,” a new podcast presented by ReformJudaism.org. Each week, we'll be coming to you with a shot of insight into the weekly Torah portion, condensing 2,000 years of Jewish wisdom into just 10 minutes of modern-day commentary. Of course, there are plenty of ways to interpret Torah, so we want to hear what you think. You can weigh in on this week's Torah portion and what you hear today by talking to us on Twitter-- our handle is @URJ-- and by liking us on Facebook at Facebook.com/ReformJudaism. For this first episode, we're talking Torah with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, as he delves deeper into Parashat Yitro from the Book of Exodus. Enjoy the show.
[Rabbi Rick:] This week, all over the Jewish world, we focus on one particular Torah portion. Its name is Yitro, Jethro. It's named after a Midianite priest, a leader of another faith community. It's a pretty interesting, or maybe provocative idea that the name of the portion when the revelation of Sinai is shared with all of us is named after a leader of another faith community.
Chapter 18 is the beginning of Jethro. Chapter 17 is all about another non-Jewish leader. His name is Amalek. Amalek is vengeful and cruel. Jethro, he is wise and loving.
Last week was about devastation. This week, revelation. The juxtaposition of Amalek and Jethro is just, in some ways, too much to move in one chapter from the arch enemy of the Jewish people, Amalek, the one who attacked us as we were wandering through the desert, and didn't attack the strongest among us, Amalek attacked the weakest, the most vulnerable. The contrast between the non-Jewish leader whom we fear, that we build a whole tradition around blotting out the memory of Amalek, and this teacher, this sage named Jethro, it teaches us that we have within our Jewish tradition this journey from the one we fear to the one we love.
Which one is the type for us in the 21st century? For a lot of people in the Jewish community, we're always talking about our enemies, the ones who are out to undermine us, to physically harm us. Anti-Semitism is alive and well, not just in France and in other parts of the world, it's part of, it seems, the fabric of Western civilization. At the same time, we're living in a time when non-Jews are not other. They are part of our family.
So, we think about this juxtaposition. And our tradition wrestles all throughout the millennia with what are the obligations, what are the relationships with the people in our circles of contact who are not Jewish? Are they people that we can do business with, people that we can share bread with, people that we can learn wisdom from? And that's the big teaching for Yitro.
So, Jethro, in the chapter that begins the parashah, Chapter 18. Before the big revelation happens on Mount Sinai, the revelation that is all about the thunder and the fire, and in a sense, the revelation that flows forth from a mountain into our people, before there's the big revelation, there's the little revelation. It's the revelation of Moses' father-in-law.
That's who Jethro is. Moses marries the daughter of a Midianite priest. It's not exactly what stereotypical people might say is the right or the predicted family configuration for the greatest rabbi, the greatest teacher the Jewish people has ever known. But Tzipora, Yitro's daughter, becomes not just a part of Moses' family, she becomes a part of this Jewish community.
So, what is the revelation, the little revelation that happens between Yitro and Moses before he can hear the big revelation on Sinai? His father-in-law says to Moses, Moses, what are you doing? You're doing everything yourself. You're trying to judge the people.
You've got to empower. You've got to delegate. You've got to share.
So, here's Moses, supposedly the wisest, the smartest, he can't figure that out until the Midianite priest, his father-in-law says, you're not doing this in the most thoughtful way. Moses doesn't say, “Excuse me, you're a Midianite priest. I'm sorry, you really can't tell me. I'm going to be the founder of the Jewish tradition as we know it.”
He hears his father-in-law. And his father-in-law is worried also about his grandchildren not seeing their father. And he's worried about his daughter being properly cared for and loved by his son-in-law. So, he hears that it is actually a time to share the work and to invite people into the judiciary.
It's an amazing thing that the ability to hear his father-in-law literally preps him the moment later in Chapter 19 when he hears the revelation from the Holy One. Sometimes we people who think of our lives as spiritual journeys, sometimes we're waiting for that moment on the mountain, the moment when the fire and the lightning. But we're not hearing the voices of those around us and those we love most, and sometimes, the ones we overlook.
But the revelation of holiness, the revelation at the heart of our tradition happens not just at those peak moments. It happens in those quiet places as well. And friends, it doesn't just happen when people who wear yarmulkes who are called rabbis speak. It happens also when Midianite priests tell us their truths.
So, we live in a new day, a new moment. And yes, there is Amalek and Yitro in our world today. Where are we more? More with the fear of Amalek, or the love of Yitro? Well, that, that depends on us.
[URJ Outro:] Thanks for joining us for the first episode of “On the Other Hand: 10 Minutes of Torah.” If you liked what you heard today, and we hope you did, you can find new episodes each week at ReformJudaism.org, where you can also learn more, not just about Torah, but about aspects of rituals, culture, holidays, and more. “On the Other Hand: 10 Minutes of Torah” is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.
Visit www.URJ.org to learn more. L'hitraot! We'll see you next week.