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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Yitro: A Midrash

Want to read a cool Midrash?

And Moshe sent away his father-in-law [Yitro] . . .
  • From here we learn that anyone who suffers through the pains of the community merits to see the community's comfort. Yitro was not part of the community's pain and, as such, did not merit [to participate] in their comfort. Which comfort? The giving of the Torah. Therefore, Moshe sent away his father in law. (Midrash on 18:27, exact source forthcoming)
The Midrash is playing on the strong, even harsh language of the verse and the fact that Matan Torah immediately follows Yitro's exit. However, it may also hint to a major step in Moshe's development.

After all, the Midrash is dripping with irony. If Yitro did not experience the pain of Egyptian slavery, neither did Moshe. A few weeks ago the Project took note of Moshe's initial failures in Egypt and the lukewarm reception which he received. We pondered whether "Moshe remained eternally out of touch, eternally the Outsider?" to a nation he was never really part of. He grew up in the lap of Egyptian luxury and came of age in the peaceful deserts of Midian; could Moshe overcome his mixed identity and represent a heritage he only partly knew?

The Midrash may be commenting on that very tension. Yitro, as Moshe's gentile father-in-law, stood as a glaring sign of Moshe's previous life and mixed identity. His presence in the camp no doubt reignited the questions which originally haunted Moshe's leadership: who is this outsider foisted upon us?

Before Matan Torah could proceed, Moshe was finally forced to commit. In sending away the closest thing he ever had to family, Moshe relinquished a part of himself and exchanged a father for a nation. He may never have tossed a child into the Nile River or lost a sister to the whip of an Egyptian taskmaster, but perhaps, in sending his father-in-law out his life, Moshe finally tasted the pain of community.

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