Yitro - Weekly Torah Portion
Isaiah tells a fantastic story in the reading of this week’s Haftarah, “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim were standing above Him, each having six wings: with two each covered his face, and with two each covered his feet, and with two each flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of armies.The whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, ‘Woe to me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of armies.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; and your guilt is taken away and atonement is made for your sin.’” It was not easy for the prophet to seek absolution. He receives an instruction, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not understand; And keep on looking, but do not gain knowledge.’ Make the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull,And their eyes blind, So that they will not see with their eyes, Hear with their ears,Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed.” If we want to be healed, we need to take action.
Nowadays it is not common to have such revelations experienced by our prophets but we do have some kinds of substitutions. After hard work by researchers worldwide there are some vaccines available to combat the pandemic resulting from COVID-19 that continues to rampage the world and expanding with its mutations. Like the prophet, we have an opportunity to cleanse, a vaccine to touch our bodies and provide relief to the agonies associated with the deadly illness. I would like to call upon you again, if you have not done so until now, go and get the shot. I have gotten the second shot of the vaccine some three weeks ago, and encourage you to do the same.
Vaccines and Seraphim are just part of what we learn about this Shabbat, reading the portion named after the priest of Midian, Jethro. While we do read the Ten Commandments, I decided not to address them this time around, just because we are on the verge of another round of elections here in Israel, and especially because the judicial branch of government is a source of conflict rather than debate. It is therefore important to carefully read the advice given by Jethro to his son-in-law Moses when he observes how difficult his daily life is trying to be the judge of the Israelites. He suggests to nominate “leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that they will bring to you every major matter, but they will judge every minor matter themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will carry the burden with you.” He actually suggests to build a judicial system that is built of several levels of courts as we know them to be today.
There is one more thing that he says to Moses that we should not ignore. Jethro identifies the kind of people Moses should select for the task. “you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain”. It is worthwhile to analyze what he has to say: “out of all the people”, meaning that no outsiders are brought to perform this task, people who may not be involved or understand what happens with the people; “able men”, they have to be able to withstand pressure while pursuing justice; “men of truth”, those who seek truths at all times; and they also have to “hate dishonest gain” like the receipt of bribe to obstruct the possibility of justice. No, I did not forget, they also have to be “men who fear God”, they have to fear not other persons but rather something that is greater than themselves, greater than their leader, Moses, who has nominated them, they are accountable to a force that is beyond the leader, they “fear God.”
Unfortunately, a kind of dialog has developed in recent year as if the judges of courts have to satisfy the will of the party in power at one or another time. That is not justice, it is not the rule of law, it is not what we learn from our prophets, and it is certainly not what we were taught by Moses. Jethro completes his words of wisdom by saying the Moses, “If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their places in peace.” I truly hope that as we cast our vote during the up coming election we select, or at least take into account when making our choices, to vote for those who are going to strengthen our judicial system, that are committed to abide by it, as without truth and justice one may lose it all.
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for Good Health.
Reuven Marko, 5 February 2021, 24 Shevat, 5781