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Parashat Yitro

January 21, 2022
19 Sh'vat 5782
Parashat Yitro
Exodus 18:1 - 20:23


Dear Friends,

Currently, we find ourselves living in a moment of time when America and the world are unlike any we have known before. We are off balance. What we thought would always be so is no longer the case. This state is true in so many different arenas. As a result, we feel a loss of agency, a loss of power. And many of us are frightened.

Join me in examining our Torah portion as a source of strength and wisdom on how to regain our balance and go forward. This week’s Torah portion, Yitro, is one that scholars feel gets the timing wrong, but the lessons embedded within speak to us across time and space. From a literary perspective, it seems that Chapter 19, which has the Israelites traveling on their way to Mount Sinai, should have preceded Chapter 18.

The Torah portion begins with the arrival of Moses’ father-in-law Yitro, reuniting Moses with his wife and sons. The Torah is not explicit as to where Moses’ family was during this time, but clearly they were with family prior to reconnecting with Moses.  The Torah portion concludes with the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.

Let us take a closer at what Yitro teaches us, particularly at this moment in time. Last week’s Torah portion ended with the Israelites engaged in battle with Amalek. They are successful in beating back Amalek and those who were bent on destroying them. At the end, we are told to both blot out the name of Amalek and remember.

Right after this battle against a cruel enemy, Yitro enters. Yitro comes to see for himself what God has done for the people. With him he brings a way forward not only for Moses but for the people. Moses is exhausted trying to adjudicate all of the issues that people bring to him. Yitro aids him by devising a system by which the work will be shared. He is a harbinger of peace. 

In the Amalek story, Moses chooses men for war; upon Yitro’s arrival he chooses men to create a layered judicial system. The question Rabbi Shai Held asks in his analysis of this Torah portion is: why is there this close juxtaposition of Amalek and Yitro? Yitro is not a member of the tribe. He is an ally and a valued teacher.

It seems to me that at this moment when indeed there are those who create a destructive narrative around us and our democracy, we are not alone. Yitro comes to teach us that we need to reach out to others and listen and learn from one another. We too live in challenging times, constantly confronted with the unexpected.

We confront the unexpected by caring for others. We have seen this action in recent days as people have rallied in support of our neighbors in the African Muslim community who lost their homes. We also see this need as we begin to create a community collaboration with our neighbors to aid Afghan refugees find homes and begin life anew. Right now, the road is bumpy and the path less clear, but let us help one another along the way, each of us doing our part step by step, day by day

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn


Sun, December 4 2022 10 Kislev 5783