- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On February 17, 2017
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat.
Who is wise? One who learns from all people. (Pirkei Avot 4:1)
Last week, while in Washington D.C. with our teens, we visited the US Holocaust Museum. In one of the exhibits, a film, a survivor described her initial assumption of the female commandant of her camp. The pursed lips, glaring eyes and gaunt face gave the impression that she was evil, unhappy, and determined to make the prisoners miserable. Instead, their commandant took extreme care of each prisoner, offered kindnesses and protection when necessary. She ended her story by saying that it is just not true that people were only following orders. Amidst the darkness of malevolence, small pockets of goodness prevailed.
Last week, we ended the Torah portion that celebrated our freedom from slavery not with just with singing and dancing but rather with an unfortunate event. Israel was forced to fight its first war with Amalek. Deuteronomy will recount the event in more detail how Amalek surprised the Israelites and attacked the stragglers at the rear, those more vulnerable with less strength than the others. As a result the Torah teaches us to blot out the memory of Amalek. In less than a month, we will be doing the same to Haman when we hear the story of Esther at Purim.
This week’s portion begins with a contrast to Amalek. Instead, we encounter Jethro, Moses’ father in law. Jethro, had been in Midian and came to meet up with Moses. In their brief encounter, this Midian priest for whom the portion is named affirmed God’s power and even offered a sacrifice. But, he does something more. He witnessed how Moses had placed himself as magistrate among the people from morning until evening. But when Moses’ father in law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone…? (Exodus 18:13-14) As a result, the Torah tells us how Moses restructured his own role and brought in others to help him.
This scene puzzled the 12th century commentator, Abraham Ibn Ezra, because it would seem that they had already received the Torah if Moses was acting as judge. It must have been placed out of order, Ibn Ezra argued, to juxtapose the wickedness of Amalek with the goodness of Jethro. Amidst the darkness of malevolence, small pockets of goodness prevailed.
Whether they are Pharaohs or Hamans or Amaleks, there are those in the history of humanity who rule by ego and fear, who disregard humanity in the name of their own power. And yet, there are also Jethros whose fresh eyes bring a helpful, kind assistance and perspective. In this week’s Torah portion, the people receive the Torah from God, but they also see it embodied by righteous and kind individuals like Jethro who offer kindness and advice to someone as noble and humble as Moses, who in turn teaches us that the truly wise ones are those willing to learn from everyone.
We gather at 6 p.m. for Qabbalat Shabbat and again at 9 a.m. for a short Shabbat Service and Torah Study.
I welcome your comments and reflections here.