A wise old bird who, at the beginning of this week’s parsha, arrives in the Israelite camp with his wise daughter Zipporah, who earlier saved Moses from the wrath of God when on his way back to Egypt together with his wife and two sons. What do we know about Yitro? He is described as the priest of Midian. The Midianites were a pagan nation at the time of Moses, but Yitro appears to be a monotheist and refers frequently to ‘the Lord’ as if he himself is a believer. Yitro is also identified as the father of the Druze and he could surely not have asked for more illustrious descendants, just as they could ask for no more illustrious ancestor. The Druze are a remarkable people. In Israel they number just 143,000. They call themselves Ahl al-Tawhid “People of Unitarianism or Monotheism” or “al-Muwaḥḥidūn”. They are recognised as a religious minority and serve in the IDF and in civic and political life. Many of them have achieved high positions of authority. Their role in Israeli society has parallels with that of Jews in many countries in which they have lived, for, like the Druze, Jews have invariably striven to be patriotic members of the countries they have inhabited.
But I digress again, or do I? To return to both man and parsha, his advice to Moses to set up a sort of civil service to help him administer justice and leave himself time for the really important work precedes one of the most monumental sections of the Torah. Yitro’s conversation with Moses is followed by the foundation block of the Covenant, namely the Ten Commandments, which are delivered to the Israelites in the most solemn and awe-inspiring manner as they stand at the foot of Sinai.
To show us more with his customary skill, touch and wisdom will be Adam Feldman. Come along on Saturday at 10:30. You will not be disappointed.
Footnote: According to the Midrash, Jethro had been looking out for Moses ever since he was a baby in Pharaoh’s palace:“And she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter,” etc. (Exod. 2:10). Pharaoh’s daughter used to kiss and hug Moses, loved him as if he were her own son, and would not allow him out of the palace. Because he was so handsome, everyone was eager to see him, and whoever saw him could not turn his eyes away from him. Pharaoh also used to kiss and hug him, and Moses used to grab Pharaoh’s crown and put it on his own head. The magicians of Egypt sitting there said, “We fear this one who grabs your crown and puts it on his head may be the one, as we have been saying, who will take your kingdom away from you.” Some of the magicians suggested that he be slain, others that he be burned alive. But Jethro, who sat among them, said, “This child has yet no understanding.” (Sh’mot Rabbah 1:26) The Book of Legends: Legends from the Talmud and Midrash, Hayim Nahum Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky (eds.), translated by William G. Braude, p. 60.