With Friends like These
Dvar Torah Parshat Yitro 5780
Feb 15, 2020 Ed Rapoport
Our parasha is named for Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law who in the parasha becomes a Jewish communal management consultant.
My father, Leonard Rapoport’s yahrtzeit was last Sunday. He also consulted with Jewish organizations and gave them management and staffing advice. He also had expertise in legal administration. Preparing for this drash made me think of his memory.
We met Yitro before in parshat shmot when Moshe was exiled to Midian. He was identified as a Midianite Priest or Prince.
Now Yitro has heard about the miraculous Exodus of the Jewish People from Eqypt and comes with his daughter Ziporrah and Moshe’s sons Gershom and Eliezer to the camp of B’nai Israel. There is a midrash that in this process Yitro invented air mail by announcing his arrival via a letter attached to an arrow fired into the Israelite’s camp. It is because of this that Moshe knew to come out of the camp to greet his Father-in-law on his arrival.
The Torah relates,
Yitro rejoiced for all the good which the Lord had done for Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians.
And Yitro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.”
Then Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and other sacrifices to offer to God.
The day after his arrival, Yitro shadows Moshe in his daily occupation. Yitro sees the inefficiency of people waiting in long lines to get Moshe’s decision on each dispute or question. He then gives Moshe detailed administrative advice on management delegation. Yitro was thus very important to the continuity of the Jewish People.
Some rabbinic sources cite Yitro’s prayer and offering as evidence of his conversion to Judaism, but at the same time according to Rabbi Joshua, Yitro did not deny to idols all divine power. Moses thus purposely sent Yitro away afterwards so he would not be present at the revelation at Mount Sinai.
Yitro was close to the Jewish People but remained a Midianite. Now the Midianites were descendants of Midian, son of Avraham and Keturah who was sent away to the east. There seem to have been two groups of Midianites, the main group in northern Arabia and another one in the Sinai Peninsula. The group in Arabia practiced the idolatry of Baal-Peor. In Parshat Balak the Midianites in Arabia plot with the Moabites to entice the Israelites to idolatry. In the book of Shoftim, the Midianites ally with the Jews worst enemies the Amalekites to attack Israel.
The Midianites in Sinai, however, were associated with the Kenites an ancient nomadic tribe. These would seem to be the group that Yitro came from. In Sefer Shoftim Yitro is identified as a Kenite. In last week’s haftarah Yael, another Kenite kills the general Sisera, enemy of the Israelites.
There is another interesting modern connection linking the Yitro and the Midianites with the Jews.
In researching the drash I came across the importance of Yitro to the Druze religion. Yitro is considered by the Druze to be the chief prophet of the Druze religion and the ancestor of the Druze. His tomb in Hittin in the Galilee, known by his Arabic name Nabi Shu’ayb, is the site of celebration of the most important Druze festival. In some sense, the Druze are the modern descendants of the Midianites.
The historical arrival of the Druze religion did not occur until the 11th century CE with the preacher Hamza ibn-'Ali ibn-Ahmad and the sixth Fatimid caliph Al Hakim. The Druze religion is a fiercely monotheistic spin-off of Islam. Yitro is mentioned 11 times in the Quran and is recognized as a prophet there calling on the Midianite people to eschew idolatry.
Benjamin of Tudela, the Jewish traveler who passed through Lebanon in or around 1165, was one of the first European writers to refer to the Druze by name. He also said that “they loved the Jews.”
Yitro is considered by the Druze to be a “Hidden Prophet”, that is, his revelation is not written down, but the Druze believe that Yitro’s prophecy was passed down to the “revealed” prophet Moshe. After all, Moshe did spend 40 years in Yitro’s company.
The fact that Moshe married Yitro’s daughter created a special bond between between Druze and Jews which is celebrated by Israeli Druze. Israeli Druze and there are over 130,000 of them are loyal citizens of the state of Israel and are drafted into the Israeli army.
This is all very interesting. There are many peoples neighboring to the Jews in the Tanach up to our current day. We relate to each other in complicated ways. Many of these people have been our enemies, but some, like the family and descendants of Yitro have been and remain our friends. Thank G-d for them. Shabbat Shalom.