Yitro, Exodus 18:1-20:23, Parshat Ha Shavua for Shabbat, Saturday, February 6, 2021

It is a commonplace of political and social analysis that our society is deeply divided: Democrat and Republican, Liberal and Conservative, white and people of color, urban/suburban and rural, so called “native” Americans against immigrants. Our politics is descending into political warfare, climaxing in the attack on the Congress on January 6, spurred on by President Trump and lies about the election being stolen. There are politicians, news channels, talk radio personalities and individuals who seek personal gain, whether power or profit, by pitting us against each other, regardless of the cost to our society. The politics of division always exact a cost. 

This week’s Torah portion shows us another way. Following the crossing of the Sea of Reeds to freedom and a battle against the Amallekites, the Israelites are encamped. Yitro, (Jethro) Moses’ father in law and a Midianite priest, comes to visit Moses. When Moses tells him of all that God has done for the Israelites, Yitro responds by blessing God, “Blessed be the LORD,” Jethro said, “who delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, yes, by the result of their very schemes against [the people].” (Exodus 18:10-11) 

Commenting on this verse, the Mekhilta (a first century CE commentary on the Torah) says, “that Yitro knew of every idol and god in the world.” Thus despite being an idol worshiper, he could recognize what God had done for the Israelites and bless God for it. In other words, he could see beyond his own beliefs and values and recognize another’s. 

Imagine how much better our country would be if we focused on our commonalities rather than our differences. 

~Rabbi Dean Kertesz