Jethro, Ideal Father-in-Law and a man for our times

Jan_van_Bronchorst_-_Jethro_advising_Moses

Last week we read Parshat Yitro. It is filled with extraordinary things particularly the story of the title character Yitro and his interaction with Moses and the Children of Israel.

Yitro joins up with the people of the Exodus in support of their leader, his son-in-law Moses, if not in support of their journey to the Promised Land. I am taken by Jethro’s selflessness and righteousness.   For Jethro isn’t just any father-in-law, he is a priest of the Midianites. Arguably, his allegiance should be with his people, but Jethro never misunderstands that to mean he should undermine Moses.

It would be easy for Jethro to take advantage of the turmoil in B’nei Israel and steer them towards Midian, immigrants likely ready to offer their experience as slave labor in exchange for food, shelter, and security. Instead, he helps Moses organize a system that brings justice and order to the chaos, strengthening the fledgling institutions under Moses. Jethro remains in the background and not proselytizing, although he was likely a far better communicator than Moses. Finally, once Jethro shared all that he could teach Moses, he departed so that the leadership of Moses would not be challenged if people saw the power behind the power.

Jethro did not abuse his power. Indeed, he deftly manipulated his power into support of Moses. As a Midianite Priest, his worldviews and religion were different from the Children of Israel. However, he was respectful of the “other” and helped them flourish on their particular journey.

We can be different. My beliefs do not require a negation of your beliefs. We can co-exist, cooperate and even consider ourselves connected as part of a larger family. Not only a model father-in-law, Jethro is the model leader for civil pluralistic society for today as well.

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