Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Yitro The Teacher


Vayichad Yitro al kol hatovah asher asah A-donai l’Yisrael asher hitzilo miyad Mitzraiyim. Vayomer Yitro baruch A-donai asher hitzil etchem miyad Mitzraiyim u’miyad Pharaoh asher hitzil et ha’am mitachat yad Mitzraiyim.
And Yitro rejoiced over all the good that God had done for Israel, in that God delivered them from the hand of Egypt. And Yitro said, ‘Blessed is A-donai who delivered you from the hand of Egypt and the hand of Pharaoh, who delivered the People from under the hand of Egypt.’     (Shemot 18:9-10)
Yitro is a fascinating figure in the history of our people. He is a game-changer. Yitro is the prophet and priest of Midian. Breishit 25:2 reports that Midian is one of the sons of Avraham and Keturah. Although given their inheritance and sent off during Avraham’s lifetime, they maintained their beliefs in A-donai as one God. Yitro is the recipient of this tradition. It is under Yitro’s tutelage that Moshe learns of A-donai. In Egypt Moshe’s education would have been very different. Although his mother reared him in his early years, after he was weaned the connection would have been broken. Even if we accept that Yocheved taught Israelite tradition to Moshe, and that he fully absorbed these teachings, they would have been tainted by the education he then received in the palace and at the knees of Pharaoh, his priests and magicians.
It is as adult that Moshe finally realizes who he truly is. Unclear in our text whether Moshe knows who he is, he flees Egypt after accidentally killing an Egyptian guard. He somehow finds his way through the desert to the well of Midian, where Tzipora and her sisters are trying to water their livestock. To all he appears as an Egyptian. But Yitro sees beyond. Yitro is the one who refines in Moshe the belief in one God. Yitro is the one who teaches Moshe the traditions of those who follow A-donai. Yitro is the one who interprets Moshe’s prophetic experience at the burning bush. And Yitro is the one to whom Moshe turns for advice upon leaving Egypt with all of Israel.
Upon hearing of the Israelite’s success in leaving Egypt, Yitro is overjoyed. He rejoices not at the power of God, but at the goodness he sees in God for saving Israel. After the last few parshiyot, which speak to us of God’s power, to hear of Yitro’s rejoicing draws us back to God’s goodness. B’shalach may be dominated by song, but it is also dominated by fear, the fear of the Egyptians or the fear of Amalek. The time for fear is over. Now that we have left the life of slavery and oppression we should think of God not with dread for what might befall us, but rather with joy at the benevolence God shows to our people.
Although our tradition teaches that we have never again had a prophet like Moshe, we must also praise his teacher, Yitro, who in our time of oppression maintained our traditions to be once again passed on to us.