This week’s parasha offers us two distinct perspectives about encountering G!D. The more well-known involves the revelation of G!D and G!D’s word (the Ten Commandments) to the Israelites. The Torah describes this moment in other-worldly terms and relays the fear and awe involved with such an overwhelming encounter.
All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance. (Exodus 20:15)
Amidst all the sounds, smoke, and dramatic events, it seems the most the Israelites could do is separate themselves, passively bearing witness to a power much greater than themselves.
In contrast to spectacular enormity, a second perspective the Torah describes is a different type of spiritual encounter, one that involves intimacy, depth, and connection. As we study this encounter, we can see the sacredness that dwells in trusting relationships, helping us to connect with the Holy and to live into our best selves.
This week’s parasha, Yitro (Jethro), refers to Moses’ father-in-law, a Midianite priest who is viewed by our tradition as wise and holy. Having heard about all that G!D had done to liberate the Israelites from slavery, he packs up Moses’ family and goes visiting. However, he quickly recognizes that both the community and Moses are in a state of low morale.
The Torah includes most of Yitro and Moses’ conversation verbatim, giving us a glimpse into their unique relationship. Yitro starts the encounter by establishing truth, knowing that if they are not on the same page and moving in a shared direction, his input will only invite discord between them. Eventually Yitro respectfully rebukes Moses for trying to do too much and, with G!D’s blessing, provides him with an alternative – a solution for setting up a more effective leadership structure.
It’s obvious to Yitro that Moses, whom our tradition considers to be the humblest person who ever lived, has overextended himself and is failing to recognize his own limitations. In his effort to be all to all (which, let’s face it, is only G!D’s role) by constantly putting himself in a position to have to work at 110%, Moses began diminishing a connection to his own soul and left himself compromised and vulnerable to exhaustion. It took a trusted advisor to point out the flaws in his behavior and to offer an alternative.
Yitro speaks to Moses as a friend, earnestly reminding him about his essential (and Divine) purpose and calls upon his sense of higher obligation to make necessary changes. By helping Moses to get out of himself and connect with his Soul, he guides him to humbly surrender, in self-acceptance, to the universal truth that he, like all of us, is both a Holy Soul and an imperfect human. As Yitro points out, it is through Moses’ acceptance of this counsel that G!D is with him.
If you do this – and God so commands you – you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied.” (Exodus 18:23)
This experience of soul-to-soul intimacy can be found in all types of relationships and calls us to approach ourselves, another, and G!D with an open heart and an open mind. These meaningful moments provide space for G!D to dwell and for each person to share a piece of themselves with the other.
I find it interesting that, in contrast to the Revelation of the Ten Commandments – when the people implored Moses: “… let not G!D speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:16) – it is through Yitro’s alternative system – the assignment of worthy, capable men to judge the smaller issues among the people – that the Torah shines light on a means of encountering G!D that soothed the people’s souls. This leadership system allowed the entire community, including Moses and his new cadre of leaders, to find themselves in a place of shalom. A place of peace.
Whatever our relationships, whether they be with friends, family, co-workers, bosses, sponsors, sponsees, neighbors, our entire community – as long as we keep an open heart and an open mind – they can provide us an encounter with the Divine.
Let’s learn from Yitro’s approach towards Moses. It is a true gift to have someone speak truth to us out of love, looking to lift us up in a time of low morale; someone to demonstrate a hope in us, when our own hope seems distant. Yitro does this with dignity, humility, and faith, knowing that the importance of inviting G!D into vulnerable conversations always outweighs the potential discomfort and pain. Our community is blessed to have many members who have received and provided these types of encounters; may we continue to draw from them in our own and in each other’s moments of need.
Chaplain Adam Siegel