Yitro: The Revelation of Life Experience

This week we come again to one of the pivotal portions in all of Torah. Yitro presents to us the Revelation at Sinai. It also contains the famous discussion between Moses and his father in law, Jethro or Yitro in the Hebrew (and thus the portion’s name) regarding delegation of responsibilities in governing. (Exodus 18) The drama and significance of Exodus 20, the first appearance of the 10 Commandments, these “10 words”, forms the heart and soul of the portion and, obviously, one of the central themes of Jewish life. But for this discussion,, lets look at a small verse in Exodus 19.
The Israelites waited until the third “new moon” after the Sea of Reeds experience. They had entered the Wilderness. Revelation of the “words” was not immediate. The tradition understood that there needed to have some time pass before this great event. The excitement of escape needed to be assimilated. They needed time to get used to the new life and reality. What did Moses do? AFter a meeting with God (a common theme in Exodus) we read in 19:7 “Moses called/summoned the elders of the people and put before them all that God had commanded him”. The Art Scroll Torah comments on this verse gives us an insight. “Moses summoned the elders as the wise and experienced representatives of the people, for they would be most influential in deciding whether Israel would agree to accept God’s call”.
Let me suggest that this verse and this comment speaks to our world today. Life experience teaches us many things. Life experience is valuable in allowing us to see the future from the perspective of our collective past. Truth is often “revealed” to us slowly. So-called “a-ha” moments often emerge slowly and without great drama. The “wisdom” of elders is the result of our own understanding of our own history and the ability to learn from what life has handed us. Moses does not create a focus group or poll the community. No, he brings together the “z’kainim”, the elders; whose life experience will allow them to have perspective and vision in the decision-making process. He speaks to the group that can understand where they have come from and the potential of where they are going.
This is a valuable message in today’s world where “institutional memory” is often equated with outmoded thought. The elders of Moses’s community had much to offer and, indeed, affirmed their allegiance to the process. We are seeing, in many congregations, such an emphasis on youth that there is, at times, a willingness to ignore the needs, accomplishments and potential contribution and life experience of elders. Their “mature spirituality” can be of great help in providing a foundation for a positive future. One of the messages then, of this weeks portion. can be taken from this little verse in 19.7. That old saying that there is no substitute for life experience is true, for in that life experience truths are often revealed; truths that speak to every age.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Richard F Address

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