Yitro by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Yitro (יתרו)
Torah: Exodus 18:1 – 20:23
Haftarah (S): Isaiah 6:1 – 6:13
Haftarah (A): Isaiah 6:1 – 7:6; 9:5 – 9:6

Come in, Stranger! Take a cup of barley beer from me, and sit here by the fire. Who am I, do ye ask? I am Jethro, Chief Judge and High Priest of Midian, and I practice courtesy and hospitality—what, d’ye think I would let you freeze out there, in the desert night? Baal’s my witness, I would never do such a thing! Why, if my boy Moses were here, I would have him slaughter a sheep, tan its hide, and prepare you a fine, warm sheepskin to wrap yourself in, I would! But he’s gone, back to Egypt, to free his people, as he said….

A fine boy—I mean, son-in-law—he was, too—married him off to my daughter, Zipporah—there she sits, in the corner, with my grandsons, Gershom and Elazar! Gershom is the five-year-old, and Elazar is the baby she is nursing—oh, I’m sorry Zippy; my fault—please pardon me. Ha! What a fool I am! Ne’er ye mind—I’ll just help myself to some more beer—join me, Stranger?

Listen to the old East Wind, out there—I heard tell that it blew strongly when Old Man Pharaoh Ramesses II got his nose bloodied this morning—lost his cavalry, he did, and haven’t heard from him, either! Something about a flooding at the Sea of Reeds—did the mighty Pharaoh drown? Ha! And my boy, Moses, there in the thick of it!

Zippy, did ye hear? Are ye finished with Baby Prince Elazar, there, yet? Oh, you’ve got to be about putting the boys to sleep, then—Gershom, my precious grandson! Have you a kiss for Gran’ther, then? There, there, that’s a good boy—go to sleep, and Osiris guide your dreams—ha, ha!

Well, now it’s quiet—let me lie back here, among my pillows, loosen my belt, a bit—ah! What of you, Stranger? Where are you from, of what country, what nation? Sure, that’s a lot of questions, but I am a curious fellow—being a village judge and parson, it’s inevitable. A refugee? From where, if I may ask? Oh, Egypt? What, a slave? Of what name?

Korach? A Hebrew? Well, why’d you leave the host of the Exodus? Didn’t Moses free the lot of you, and didn’t ye depart in a bunch? Of course he did, of course—but you don’t like him? Well, don’t you think that you would be better off, by staying with the people, and working things out with Moses, your God-given leader? I am a great believer in talking things out—just the way we’re doing now. Why, when my son-in-law Moses—yes, I know you don’t care for him; you said the same, just before—was working on freeing the people from Egypt, he came for a visit to us.

“How do you spend your days, My Son-in-Law?” I asked him.

“I work miracles, but I also judge the people, when they have legal disputes,” he said.

“Do you have help?” I asked.

“No, Father,” he said, “I do it all myself, and if I have a problem I cannot handle, I bring it to the Lord God.”

“Well, Moses, my son, why don’t ye appoint sub-judges, and sub-sub-judges, and make it easier on yourself?”


And he took my advice….


More beer? Of course, Friend Korach….What’s that? Ohoo, you’d like to be a judge, as well? Well, why don’t you go back to the camp of ex-slaves, and present yourself to Moses, and try to work it out, so that you can be helpful to him? That might be a good thing….Yes, I believe it would be helpful. You’re a Levite, too? Capital idea! Capital! He’s a Levite, you’re a Levite, and that way, the Israelite folk would know who to come to for judgment. Well and good.

Where are the Israelites, now? I heard they had a battle with Amalek, but came out, all right, and are on their way to Mount Sinai. Yes. For some sort of meeting with their God. Never heard of such a thing, before. Truth is, my wife and I, and Zippy and the boys, we’re all thinking of meeting them at this Mount Sinai. Never before met an Invisible God. Might be something to see. An Invisible God, I mean. Care to come with us?

Oh, you can’t stay; must be leaving. Well, let’s have the women pack you a bite to eat, then. Zippy! Wife Athaliah! Put a pita and some cheese into a bag, won’t you, for Friend Korach, here? He’s off into the desert cold, he is. Can we give him a wool blanket, perhaps? Brr! It is cold, out there….


Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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