Linking the Generations - Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)
Jethro, priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel, God's people, how the Eternal had brought Israel out from Egypt.
The weeks Parasha is named for the patriarch we encounter at the beginning of our post Egypt experience. Yet, at the core of the Parasha sits the 10 Commandments and the story of Moses ascending Mount Sinai. One can imagine how the story of Jethro (Yitro) might get overshadowed.
This week I asked our students to consider the importance or relevance of Jethro, Moses’ father in law, and consider his relationship to the 10 commandments. Students were asked about a recent time when they needed advice or help, asked for it and got it. Many were very forthcoming about struggles at home or at school. One student even acknowledged having asked his mom how to be a better person.
Students were curious to hear about a time when Moses also needed help. Moses, after leading the Israelites out of Egypt, was essentially a King without a crown. He was our leader and our teacher – and he alone had communed with God. I asked our students to remember how just a week before we had talked about our transformation in Egypt from a family to a Nation. From a tribe to a people. From hundreds to hundreds of thousands. This mass of people with new-found freedom looked to only one place for guidance in their new reality. And that was Moses.
Our texts reveal that Moses was not faring well under the strain of being the lone leader and from future texts, we know that discontent and rebellion was already brewing among the Israelites. Jethro, a Midianite who did not know the God of the Israelites, saw Moses struggling and told him he could not continue this way. This is an amazing interaction that details both the respect Jethro had for Moses and the humility Moses showed to a more experienced elder. Jethro, a non-Jew if you will, becomes a true leader in our history who helps right this ship. Essentially, Jethro proposes a governing structure to Moses – who had become Judge, Jury and Legislature for the people all in one. Moses acknowledged how challenging it had become to serve the people and their needs and followed Jethro’s advice to appoint respected members of the community to positions of responsibility and to appoint many others to serve under them.
In the world of Jewish studies, this Parasha is often used to examine the very nature of leadership – even the sometimes thankless nature of service and leadership in a congregation. It is also used as a template for the mentor/mentee relationship Moses and Jethro seemed to have formed – one based on mutual respect, honesty, and collaborative brainstorming.
For our students, they saw how challenging it might have been to manage that growing nation without a larger group of leaders and without any laws. Hence the connection to the 10 Commandments. This Parasha is about the very practical evolution of the disparate individuals who left Egypt and were becoming a very distinct Jewish nation.
Our students were even able to wrestle with some of the central commandments and consider how important each one was – and what our first commandment – that Adonai is our God and there is no other - may really mean. It was a remarkable moment when they could see that what seems like a simple phrase or command – may have deeper and more complex meanings then they may first have thought.
Additional Torah Study Resources:
ReformJudaism.org Torah Study /
Yitro for Tots / Yitro for Tweens / Leading a Family Torah Discussion