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Entries in Sinai (1)


ויספר משה לחתנו And Moses told his father-in-law

I love to learn Parsha with a chabura (group) of people, where we just read the text carefully and discuss together without preparing in advance. It's great - things pop out at you that you never seem to notice when learning on your own. I highly recommend it.
Here's something I noticed this week in one such group learning session. At the beginning of Parshat Yitro, Yitro comes to visit Moshe because he has heard of all the miraculous things that God has done, specifically the Exodus from Egypt.
But then Shemot chapter 18, verse 8 tells us:

And Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, and all the hardship that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord saved them.

Yitro's reaction is:

And Jethro rejoiced because of all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, whom he had delivered from the hand of the Egyptians.

It seems superfluous for Moshe
to tell this story over to a person who has already heard it! What can we learn from this?

We could take three possible directions: 

  1. The rumours of the miracles had spread to Midyan. Rumours have a way of spreading, as the Talmud in Sotah colourfully describes it, by gossiping women spinning tales by moonlight, or as the Talmud in Baba Batra says, simply things get around, "For the bird of the heaven shall carry the voice"
    BUT you don't just want to rely on a rumour, it's important to check the veracity of it from someone who was there

  2. When you hear a first person account it has an entirely different effect than hearing the generalities. This happens to us all the time - we hear of a disaster and it's just numbers: 250 killed in a plane crash, 50000 killed in an earthquake. Our brain registers, but our hearts remain untouched. But when we hear one individual story, tears come to our eyes. Yitro's reaction is one of rejoicing, but the word used ויחד is odd. The rabbis translated it as goosebumps - a powerful reaction of awe and wonder. To hear it from the horse's mouth so to speak, was almost to relive it. אינו דומה שמיעה לראייה - hearing is not like seeing. We see this also when Moshe is up Mt Sinai and the people are worshipping the Golden Calf below. God says (Shemot 32:7-8)
Go down; for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves;
They have turned aside quickly from the way which I commanded them; they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it...

So he knew about this - who would doubt the word of God? Yet only when Moshe SAW the calf and the dancing did his anger burn and he dropped the tablets. 

3. The third angle we can take on Moshe's retelling is less about Yitro's need to hear and more regarding Moshe's need to tell the story over. When we tell a story over to an outsider, it helps us to understand what we have been through. It helps to organise our thoughts and may be cathartic, as in psychoanalysis. It makes a difference who we are speaking to also - here, Yitro was a powerful religious figure, also a leader, and Moshe could speak to him as a peer and share all of the emotions regarding everything he had just been through - including the hardship. I wonder how long that conversation took - perhaps they sat in a tent all day, eating Manna, smoking a nargilla, in one of those unforgettable ten hour conversations that make life worth living.

Perhaps that is also why Yitro was the one who a few verses later suggested to Moshe that he needed to lighten his burden. He most deeply understood what Moshe had been through and where he was at.
This is an early example of coaching - a deep listening followed by advice to match where the person is!

And it is interesting that all this takes place just before the tremendous revelation at Sinai - an event which in Jewish consciousness takes its place in import alongside the Creation of the World. At the Creation, God speaks ten sayings, but there is really no one to talk to - God is saying them to Him/Herself.
לולא מסתפימא I would say, God is lonely.
Now at Sinai, God gets to "do a tikkun - have a healing experience" so to speak, when S/He can say ten things to 600000 people who are listening attentively. We all need to speak out our truth to another, and this is to be not alone.

by Hyam Plutzik

(Once, when I entered the Holy of Holies to burn the incense, I saw the Lord
of all Hosts sitting on a high and exalted throne, and He said to me:
"Ishmael, my son, bless me." —
The Talmud)

He is lonely then within the pale of the palace
The Enthroned Will, whose fingers must ever shore
The pitiful islands against the destroyer of all.

To guard the breath of the violet for its time
And Helen’s face, and the gay moment the sun
Touches the street in the town where children play.

To shape and reshape forever the crumbling substances
Yet see the ruin so quickly, the figurines
Wasting in air, the brush-strokes graying like ash
If only once out of the flow, the river,
To make the lasting, the perfect – O to create
What will endure for all the creator’s time.

Lonely, lonely in the pale of the palace.
Once there were others, rivals, Ammon or Zeus.
Brother or foe, to bring the blood to the face,

Or who fashioned himself a mate out of the ground,
For eternity, his paltry thousand years.
But to shape and reshape forever the dust, the dust.

And the desperate tricks, the man or the nation beloved.
The disguises: dream or fire or a cloak by the gate
Of an unknown city, beyond the candlelight's friendship,

Where the guard cries out who goes, and sees no thing
But the darkening sand and a desert bird wheeling
With the cry that a gull makes on an empty coast.

O he is lonely in the pale of the palace¬— The Enthroned
Will, whose fingers must ever shore
The pitiful islands against the destroyer of all.