Yitro: Good Advice from the Shver

Yitro is the shver, the chotain, the father-in-law of Moses, and he is also a Midianite priest. Within the first 15 verses this relationship to Moses is reiterated 10 times. Yitro is positioned in Torah as having a far greater influence on Moses, as he leads the Israelite people into the lands out of Egypt, than his own father. But one wonders, as with all repetitions, why this aspect of their relationship is so stressed. Why isn’t Yitro merely introduced as the father-in-law and then named in subsequent verses?

There is clearly great loved and regard between these two men, both of them wearing the mantle of leadership. That said, Moses is still finding his way in his new role. Yitro guides him in a most necessary manner, as Moses almost collapses under the weight of leadership. Yitro asks Moses, “What is this thing that you do to the people? Why so you sit alone with all the people standing by you from morning to evening? And then a little later, “The thing that you do is not good.” And Yitro proceeds to advise Moses to share the work – with elders, people who have fear and awe of God, men of truth, people who despise money…”

This advice that Yitro gave to his son-in-law stands to this day. One who does not despise money has a judgment that can be bought. One who does not live in truth will not recognize truth – or deception. And one who does not awe of God? Perhaps, Yitro is suggesting that without such feeling in their bones, the long journey ahead of them might not be sustainable.

Some of us have had the enormous and generous blessing of having in-laws who have welcomed us with wisdom and kindness. Some of us have taken on that yoke of being an in-law. It isn’t always easy. Yitro sets the bar very high. What a blessing to read of such an example in the beginning of this journey. May we all be like Yitro and not carry our burdens alone; may we each find elders who bring their truth and their ethics and their faith to help guide us. And maybe in difference, we find our necessary learning.

Our Jewish philosopher Maimonides learned from Aristotle and his Muslim interpreter Avicenna. Maimonides said, “Accept the truth whatever the source.” A great rabbi named Ben Zoma once taught, “Who is wise? One who learns from every person.” (Avot 4:1).

Kein yehi ratzon. May it be so.

Rabbi Lynn