You Cannot Do It Alone
February 10, 2023 / 19 Shevat 5783
This week’s Torah portion is titled Yitro, named after Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro. To have simply had a Torah portion named in one’s memory would have been honor enough, but to have the Torah portion that includes the receiving of the Ten Commandments named in your honor, well, this doesn’t happen by accident.
Jethro was a very special person. He was a family man, a man of such wisdom that other nations openly welcomed him in their lands even though he freely questioned their beliefs. Jethro spent his lifetime seeking a faith that touched him spiritually, engaged him intellectually, and intuitively felt right in how it promoted the relationships between people. Jethro was a convert to Judaism.
We are introduced to Jethro in this week’s text with a reminder of his religious status as a “Priest of Midian.” Yet, this status is not the focus of the opening, rather, it is Jethro’s role in having been Moses’s family’s protector during Moses’ travels to Egypt that takes precedence. Now that Moses and the Israelites are free, Jethro’s first thoughts are to reunite his daughter Zipporah’s family once again.
Jethro had gotten to know Moses when Zipporah and Moses first met and eventually married. He knew the type of man Moses was, and he obviously understood the mission on which Moses had embarked when he left Zipporah and their two sons behind. Moses was obviously chosen for this task because of his deeply empathic awareness, and care for everyone. Therefore, before Jethro, Zipporah, and Moses’ two sons arrive at the Israelite’s encampment, Jethro sends word that they are almost there (Exodus 18:6).
Why? Why give Moses a “head’s up” before their arrival? Why not just show up and celebrate with great surprise and delight? Because Jethro knew that Moses would be so consumed with taking care of the Israelites’ needs that he may be too distracted to show his family the level of excitement and happiness they deserved after having been separated for so long.
In fact, even with his insight and awareness, Jethro is still shocked at how much Moses is involved in the day-to-day decision making after he arrives at the camp. We read of Jethro questioning Moses, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” (18:14) “The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well…the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.” (18:17-18)
It was these words, “You cannot do it alone,” that reminded me of Gd’s words to Adam after the creation of the universe, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
I am often asked, “What is it that the Jewish Federation does?” To which my response, depending on how much time I have, is that we build community so that no Jew ever feels alone.
- Yes, we bring the community together.
- Yes, we plan for the community, here, in Israel, and around the world.
- And yes, we secure the resources to create this community.
But everything we do is because, in the words of philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, “A Jewish community that is diverse and openly embraces all who seek to lead actively Jewish lives will be a Jewish community that is stronger and more enduring for generations to come.” Because we are…