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Yitro 5769

By: Rav Ari Shames

I would like to dedicate this shiur in honor of my father-in-law, Professor Shimon Glick, a very wise man whose advice I often accept.

Parshat Yitro -- Rav Shames

I would like to focus our attention this week on the persona of Yitro, who arrives as the parsha opens, along with the rest of Moshe's immediate family.

Before we even begin to find out who Yitro was, in terms of his ideas, qualities and the effect that he had on Am Yisrael, I would like to focus on the names used in reference to him throughout the mikra. Rashi has already told us that Yitro had seven different names -- Reuel, Yeter, Yitro, Chovav,Chever, Keni and Putiel. It might seem that either he was a spy of some sort, managing multiple aliases, or an individual with a severe personality disorder. But more likely, and the way we are taught to perceive Yitro, he was one individual with a multifaceted life in which each and every name was meant to bear forth a different quality.

However, in reading the parsha, I was struck by an eighth "name" of Yitro, one that Rashi did not put on his list. As we read the pessukim in our parsha, we find Yitro repeatedly being referred to as the "father-in-law" of Moshe. This, of course, is true and deserves to be noted but I think, when we study the number of times, and the circumstance in which it is mentioned, we are curious to understand why this point is so stressed.

Below are the pessukim, with the manner in which Yitro is mentioned stressed in bold:

1 Now Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel His people, how that the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.

2 And Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moses' wife, after he had sent her away

5 And Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness where he was encamped, at the mount of God;

6 and he said unto Moses: 'I thy father-in-law Jethro am coming unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her.'

7 And Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and bowed down and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare; and they came into the tent.

8 And Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the LORD delivered them.

9 And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, in that He had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians.

10 And Jethro said: 'Blessed be the LORD, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh; who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.

11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods; yea, for that they dealt proudly against them.'

12 And Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, took a burnt-offering and sacrifices for God; and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law before God.

13 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood about Moses from the morning unto the evening.

14 And when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said: 'What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand about thee from morning unto even?'

15 And Moses said unto his father-in-law: 'Because the people come unto me to inquire of God;

16 when they have a matter, it cometh unto me; and I judge between a man and his neighbour, and I make them know the statutes of God, and His laws.'

17 And Moses' father-in-law said unto him: 'The thing that thou doest is not good.

24 So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said.

27 And Moses let his father-in-law depart; and he went his way into his own land.

Yitro is referred to as Moshe's father-in-law no less than 13 different times. This is in sharp contrast to his proper name which is used only twice on its own (pessukim 9-10), and another few times in conjunction with his title as the father-in-law. In order to illustrate just how peculiar this is, we can read the account of an exchange between Moshe and Yitro in parshat Behaalotcha where we find Yitro named or described only the first time, with the rest of the conversation continuing with pronouns ("He said to him", etc.).

It seems clear that the title father-in-law implies something central to Yitro's role in this story, and is not meant simply to describe the man.

Rashi notes that Moshe previously referred to himself as the son-in-law of Yitro (or actually Yeter) when he was still shepherding the sheep for him. Moshe was the homeless renegade that had very little to show for himself at the time and, so to speak, printed his "business card" with the title "Yeter's Son-In-Law" as a legitimizing status symbol. How curious that things now seem to have come full circle and it is actually Yitro who seems to be flaunting the title of "Moshe's Father-In-Law".

I think this is more than ironic, and delivers the key to understanding the relationship and an important character trait that they both shared. Both men went out of their way to respect the other. Yitro first finds out about Moshe after the incident with his daughters at the well. Moshe seems to be a brave and just man, however one cannot forget that he is on the run from Egypt after a murder that he committed. It is one thing to invite the hero of the day to lunch; it is quite another to allow him to marry your daughter. This is especially true given Yitro's lofty position in Midyan, where one would expect that there was a long line of suitors waiting for his daughters. For some reason, Yitro trusted Moshe and not only felt that Moshe should be given a chance, but then shows him support him in a most profound way.

Moshe is not known as the best family man, and our parsha is only one indication of this. Despite the claims of Korach, we know that he did not favor his family or give them special treatment. The arrival of Yitro should not have made many headlines, but it did because Moshe decided to do everything he could in Yitro's honor. It is not only Yitro who is excited about being the Father-in-law, but Moshe stresses the point time after time, telling us that he is Yitro's son-in-law. From here we see that there is a mutual respect and understanding between the two men.

I think that this point is the key to understanding the advice concerning the judicial system that Yitro introduces. How can one not be reminded about all classic mother-in-law jokes as we read about the "next morning" when the newly invited (self invited) in-law decides to see how things are run by the kids? Yitro reveals a critical eye and a burning desire to correct the mistakes of the "young" (80 year old) son-in-law. We would expect Moshe's reaction to be one of resistance and annoyance, yet we find the opposite. Moshe adopts the critique of his father-in-law in the most positive fashion, implements his plan and institutionalizes it for all future generations.

Moshe and Yitro share two important qualities, humility and a sense of appreciation. Yitro arrives and is the first to clearly thank God for all the miracles that He performed in a most moving way. Yitro knows how to look beyond himself, which is the key to both humility and appreciation. Moshe demonstrates these same qualities in showing his deep and true respect for Yitro.

Chazal sum up this idea in their comments in the Mechilta on passuk 7. The passuk says:

"And Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and he bowed down and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare; and they came into the tent".

The Mechilta says:

"It is not clear who bowed to whom and who kissed whom? When it states, " they asked each other of their welfare," Ish leraahu - we know it was Moshe who is the Ish who bowed to and kissed Yitro - from here we learn that one should always be prepared to respect his father-in-law."

The lesson is a nice one, but note the introduction to the moral. We have the only passuk in the chapter with pronouns -- "and he bowed down and kissed him". The context of the verse is clear that it is Moshe who is bowing and kissing but the ambiguity of the pronouns leave us wondering. I think the linguistic ambiguity reflects the mutual respect that they had for each other and one could have easily imagined the opposite scenario taking place.

Shabbat Shalom


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