A D’var Torah by Rabbi Robert L. Tobin, Rabbi of B’nai Shalom
“Who is Jewish in this week’s parshah?”
Moses’ father-in-law appears for the first time in this week’s parshah, Parshat Shemot.
We read in the third aliyah, “Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock; but shepherds came and drove them off. Moses rose to their defense, and he watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, ‘How is it that you have come back so soon today?’ They answered, ‘An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.’”
Remarkably, to the Midianite women Moses seems entirely Egyptian. After being raised in Pharoah’s house, presumably he is of assimilated appearance, language and demeanor. Is this a case of “don’t judge a book by its cover,” or is Mosheh Rabbeinu, Moses our Teacher, still on a journey Jewishly? Both interpretations are meaningful, and worthy of consideration. But whatever his appearance or practice, Moses is Jewish through and through.
But what of “Reuel,” the father of these women? We are clearly told that the women are the daughters of the Priest of Midian, that he invites Moses to come home with them, and that he gives Moses his daughter Tzipporah as a wife. Moses marries a Midianite.
Yet we also read in the fourth aliyah, “Now Moses, tending the flock of his father-in-law Yitro, the priest of Midian, drove the flock into the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God…”
If “Yitro” is the father of Tzipporah, then why is he called “Reuel” in the third reading?
And to make matters even more confusing, in Judges 4:11, we have “Hovav, father-in-law of Moses.” In fact, Rashi (on 4:18) quotes him as having 7 different names: Reuel, Yeter, Yitro, Kenite, Hovav, Hever, and Putiel!
An interesting solution to this quandary is the idea that Yitro converted to Judaism. Rashi, commenting on verse 2:16 says, “The Priest of Midian – that is, their chief. But he had abandoned idolatry, and they had excommunicated him.”
The idea here is that the name “Reuel” should be understand as a verb more than as a name. “Re’u” means “They saw,” much as Jacob’s firstborn is named “Re’uven” or “they saw a son.” In this case, “Reuel” would mean, “they saw God.”
So a mighty chieften, Yitro the Priest of Midian, had a vision or experience of the One true God, and as such became distant from his people. Marginalized, he lived yet on the outskirts of his society, in the Sinai, with his daughters who had to endure the abuse of the other natives daily at the well. Without power these women followed their father in adopting a pure belief in Adonai.
Ramban adds another idea, teaching (on 2:16) that, “after Yitro converted to Judaism he was called Hovav… For it is the way of converts to call themselves by a different name when they become Jews.”
Further support for this idea comes from the meaning of “Hovav,” a Hebrew root word meaning “Loves.” After all, conversion is essentially an act of Love for God, Torah and Israel.
It is interesting that such effort was made to prove the Jewishness of Yitro. Yet the family unity that ensues cannot be understated. After all, it is Tzipporah who circumcises their son in 4:24-26, thereby saving Moses’ life. And it is Yitro who meets the children of Israel on their way to Mt. Sinai and aids Moses in his leadership of the people in 18:17-27. Moses’ success is in part made possible by their having joined him on the Jewish Journey.
In fact, in the beginning of this story neither the Jewishness of Moses nor that of Yitro is by any means clear. But by the end of the week’s parshah all is as it should be.
In our day, the question of welcoming converts has become political beyond belief. I believe, as shown in the Torah, that all are welcome on this Jewish Journey, and that we will be only better for having them with us.
UPCOMING EVENTS AT B’NAI SHALOM
Adult Education Offerings for Winter/Spring 2012
Saturday, Jan. 14
12:15 –1:15pm: - Women and Tallit: Rabbi Tobin will continue the conversation with women who are considering the mitzvah of Tzitzit/Tallit for the first time. Study the classic texts in an informal atmosphere and hear from those who would like to add this tradition to their spiritual lives.
Sunday, Jan. 15
10 a.m.: The Journey of Bereavement: A support group for those who have recently experienced the loss of a loved one. Led by Wendy Sabin, B’nai Shalom’s JFS Synagogue Social Worker.
6:45-8:15 p.m.: The Magnificent, Mysterious Mourner’s Kaddish
A three-part lecture series with Rabbi Stanley Asekoff, also on Jan. 22 and Jan. 29.
Learn the origin of this prayer, its meaning, its connection to other Kaddishes and the purpose it serves to those in mourning as well as to the whole community.
Thursday, Jan. 26
8:30 p.m.: Talmud Class with Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz and special guest, Rabbi Barry Schlesinger who will speak about Bayit Cham, an afterschool program for underprivileged children in the East Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Thursday and Friday, Jan. 26 and 27
A Musical Shabbat with The Golden Ochtaves, The Golda Och High School Choir. Join us for Kabbalat Shabbat, a Chinese-style Shabbat dinner and a mini a capella concert on Friday. Then on Saturday after services and Kiddush, the choir will again sing at 12:45 p.m. Come and enjoy their beautiful Jewish music. Reservations required for dinner only.
Sunday, Jan. 29
9:30-10:30 a.m.: Tzitzit Tying Workshop
Men and women of all ages are invited to learn to tie your own tzitzit and make your own tallit. Rabbi Tobin will lead a practical, hands-on experience of this mitzvah.
10 a.m.: Rabbi Tobin will lead a discussion on Sacred Aging: Dignified Decisions for our Elders Using texts, examine:
• How do we Honor our Fathers and Mothers in later years?
• When is it ok to drive?
• What are Jewish Medical Ethics for Aging?
Thursday, Feb. 16
Trip to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Discovery Times Square
Departure; 9:15 a.m.
10:30 a.m. admission to the exhibit
Return to B'nai Shalom by 3 p.m.
$36 members of B'nai Shalom and B'nai Shalom's Hazak seniors
Includes bus transportation from B'nai Shalom, admission and guided tour with Rabbi Tobin
(Lunch is on your own)
Call to reserve a spot by Feb. 1 to (973) 731-0160 ext. 207 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Shabbat, Friday, Jan. 13, 2012
Torah Reading: Parashat Shemot
Service Times are as follows:
Friday Candle lighting time: 4:33 p.m.
Evening Service: 6:15 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012
Services begin at 9 a.m.
Afternoon services at 4:30 p.m.
Sunday Morning: 9 a.m.
Monday- Friday: 7 a.m.
Sunday- Thursday: 8 p.m.