Parashat Yitro: Leaders – Moshe, the Man and a Torah Democracy

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Vote Torah
24 Jan 2008

Parashat Yitro 5768

PART ONE: Moshe, the man

Yitro, who merited having a parasha of the Torah named after him, is a Biblical personality who deserves more scrutiny than is usually accorded him, probably because the information regarding him is quite sparse.

What do we know of Yitro?

In parashat Shemot, we learn that Yitro opened his home to Moshe for many years, and gave him his daughter, Tzipora, for a wife.

In our parasha, the Torah repeats the relationship between Moshe and his father-in-law, Yitro. This relationship is repeated seven times in the Book of Shemot and once in the Book of Bamidbar; not a usual occurrence in the Torah whose every letter is significant.

Yitro arrives at the Jewish camp, bringing with him his daughter, Tzipora, Moshe’s wife and Moshe’s two sons, in an act of family re-unification as befitting the eldest member of the family.

After examining the daily routine of Moshe as chief judge, and indeed only judge of the nation, Yitro, who was an experienced administrator in the court of Pharaoh in pre-slavery days, presents Moshe with a remarkable, original proposal – to establish a system of judges to help implement the law.

In Bamidbar chapter 10, Yitro voices his intention to return to Midyan, despite Moshe’s plea that he remain and – ת לנו לעיניםוהיי “And you shall be for us as eyes.”

I suggest the following:

We know Moshe the Law-giver.

We know Moshe, the prophet who spoke to HaShem “peh el peh” (mouth to mouth) as no other prophet was ever permitted.

We know Moshe, “protector of the faith,” when he exacted severe punishment from wrong doers – Jew and Gentile.

But what about Moshe the Man; the husband, the father, the man who so loved his people that he refused HaShem’s offer to reject the Jewish People and view Moshe’s offspring as the new legitimate “Chosen Nation.”

In parashat Shemot, Moshe Rabbeinu bursts onto the stage of Jewish history from out of “nowhere”.

He is correct in his assessment at the burning bush; that the Jewish leadership and people have no reason to believe that he was sent by HaShem to free them, because he was unknown – a total stranger. On the face of it, it appears that Moshe did not go to cheder (school) with the others of his age, nor did he carry on his back 100 kilo stones, but was firmly entrenched in the palace of Pharaoh, enjoying royal life with the nobility of Egypt.

Furthermore, in the forty years between Moshe’s arrival and his death on Mount Nevo, he continues to remain “unknown”. When appearing before the people, he wore a mask to cover the rays of light which emerged from his face; he moved his tent outside the area of the general camp and even divorced his wife.

Moshe was not your “friendly” pulpit rabbi, but as stated in the gemara (Sanhedrin 6b), in contrast to his brother Aharon, Moshe was a man of the law, who opposed compromise among litigants, preferring the strict decisions of halacha.

Yitro, as a former advisor to Pharaoh, was aware of Moshe’s background and education as the Prince of Egypt, which created an aloofness of the royal family towards the common people. Yitro knew Moshe very well from the years they lived together in Midyan, as a father knows a son.

Yitro believed that to lead the special Jewish nation one cannot be aloof, but must be intimately involved with the nation. It was to this end that Yitro journeyed to join Moshe in the Israelite camp in the desert.

To be part of the nation and to feel its pulse, one must be involved on the family level. So Yitro brought Moshe’s wife and children to him. The repetitive title of “choten” (father – law-law) emphasizes the close relationship Yitro sought to develop with the leader of the God’s Chosen Nation.

His advice to Moshe to establish a system of Judges was not meant to distance Moshe from the daily events of life, just the opposite, the appointment of judges was a show of confidence in the people. Moshe would always be in the picture as chief judge, but to be the only judge is to cast doubt on the individual Jew, which in turn exacerbates the feeling of aloofness.

In time, Yitro realizes that this was not going to happen. Moshe is “eved HaShem” (the servant of God), and as such his essence was spirituality. Yitro erred in his assessment that Moshe could be a “man of the people,” as required from ordinary leaders.

There never was, nor will there ever be again, a leader like Moshe Rabbeinu – a stranger in his lifetime but so much a part of every one of us today.

PART TWO: Torah Democracy

In part one, we saw that Moshe was either by choice or was compelled to distance himself from the nation, by living apart from them and appearing with his face covered.

This position was distinctly that of Moshe, but in all pursuant generations the closeness of the local rabbi to his congregants was crucial in determining their degree of observance and Torah erudition.

We in Eretz Yisrael today, are living in a time when there exists a great degree of aloofness between the rabbinic leadership and the nation, as a whole. Each rosh yeshiva is enclosed in his private world. The Chassidic rabbis give all they have – but only to their adherents. The Chareide representatives in the Knesset are very active in funding for their constituents, but no further than that.

There are many problems which we face due to our laxity in keeping the Torah. Although between seventy and eighty percent of the population regard themselves as either “dati” (religious) or “mesorati” (traditional), there are still too many who are far from total Torah observance.

The rabbis must come to the people. I believe that the majority of the nation is looking for Jewish moral leadership. In the sixty years since the establishment of the Medina, we have yet to have a “yiddishe” prime minister. Menachem Begin was the closest, but his “yiddishkeit” was limited to saying “be’ezrat HaShem.”

I believe that the time has come to establish a political party whose platform is unashamedly for a Torah state.

The leadership will be composed of rabbis who regard the medina not as a mere political entity but as the forerunner of the final geula.

The major points of the platform would be:

1- There is no one definition of democracy in the world. Hence, we will redefine ours as a Torah democracy. The law of the land will be the Torah and will be coercive as all law is.

2- Massive construction in Yehuda, Shomrom and the Golan with the aim to bring a million Jews to these areas within 10 years.

3- A massive effort to bring millions of olim (new immigrants), including the research of the millions of people who are descendants of the Anusim (Marranos) or the Ten Lost Tribes for the purpose of uniting them with the Jewish nation.

4- The army as the most respected institute in the land will be revised. All able-bodied males will undergo basic training, regardless of how many pages of the Talmud they know and all soldiers will be taught the rudiments of Judaism. All female soldiers will be released and the concept of “ma’chanecha kadosh” will be implemented.

5- Shabbat will be the law of the land. There will be no desecration of the shabbat in the public areas, including non Jews. Kashrut will be strictly observed as will the limits of modesty – tzniut.

6- The Law of Return will be amended so that only Halachic Jews will be able to attain citizenship.

7- Only Halachic Jews will be permitted to serve in the Knesset, and only after fulfilling a minimum requirement of Torah and general knowledge.

8- An ultimatum will be given to the Gazans that within 24 hours all weapons are to be deposited in the city stadium. After this time if anything which can be construed as a weapon will be found then the entire city will be immediately destroyed.

9- The Gazans are to immediately clean out the area called “Gush Katif” in preparation for its re-building, bet knesset by bet knesset (synagogue by synagogue), home for home, on an area three times larger then before.

10- Architectural plans will be drawn up for the Bet Ha’Mikdash, to be implemented at the appropriate time.

11- We would send Rav Lau to make a statement to the General Assembly of the UN, that Medinat Yisrael is the realization of God’s promise to return His nation to His land, and the establishment of a new United Nations in Yericho, to unite all the gentiles in the world around the seven Noachide laws.

The list is endless.

The frustrations of the people are clear indications that they are ready for a return to Torah. The question is: Are the rabbis prepared to lead?

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.