Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Democracy from Without

In Exodus, Midrash on February 10, 2012 at 7:39 am

I observe the world

and ponder it silently

as people pass by.


They make oblations

And words of thanksgiving.

I am cold and hungry.


Parsha Yitro

And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood about Moses from the morning unto the evening. And when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said: ‘What is this thing that thou doest to the people?’

Exodus 18.13-14

Moses and the Israelites have left Egypt, survived war with Amalek, and begin the business of peoplehood. Yitro is there. Is Yitro of the people, or with them? It is not clear if Yitro is a monotheist. He talks about other gods plotting against God in verse 11. Is it made clear that Yitro has accepted something to do with God. What do you suppose that is?

Yitro was a priest of Midian. He was Moses father-in-law, but an outsider. He worshipped idols, and likely engaged in despicable rites (child sacrifice?) before he made his statement in 18.11. Now we see him lecturing Moses on democracy. How’s that for a complete 360? How can this be?

Look at this from Yitro’s perspective. Where he came from: gods asked, people did. It didn’t matter what the gods asked for. They could ask for compassion, or for your wife or your first-born to be burned alive. People served gods, even when those gods where fellow humans, like Pharoah. So, with this in mind, how do you think Yitro felt when he saw the people, Moses among them, behaving this way?

Is Yitro a prophet? Does it mean anything that he is a ger?

What does this parsha say about our society?

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