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Yitro and Amalekite

02/04/2021 07:05:28 PM


Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses’s Midianite father-in-law, Yitro, offers unsolicited but welcome advice. He sees Moses struggling to serve as judge for all the disputes of the Israelites, the equivalent of a midsize America city. How could Moses handle such a burden? Yitro counsels Moses to appoint anshei chayil – people of repute – and anshei emet – people of truth – to serve as lower court judges. The most challenging cases will come to Moses, who knows the laws of Torah best.

There is a problem here. The story refers to Torah law but occurs prior to the giving of Torah. This passage, therefore, really belongs later in the book of Exodus.  Some suggest that this is just how it goes with Torah. Ain mukdam v’ain muchar. There is early or late in Torah.

But others posit that the editors of Torah carefully placed this story of Yitro, the righteous non-Israelite, shortly after the story of the unrighteous and irredeemably evil Amalekites. The placement of the Yitro story here may be a subtle message to the Jewish reader: not all non-Jews are Amalekites. Indeed, most are not.  

Some ascribe the term “Amalekite” to those with whom Jews – or Israel – have disputes. We should be very wary of doing so. A dispute over land – even a bitter dispute over land – does not an Amalekite make. When we call others “Amalekites,” we give up on negotiations; we surrender to fear; we foreclose any possibility of compromise. You don’t negotiate with Amalekites.

We have our enemies, yes, and still do. But the world is broad and full of Yitros as well.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeffrey Weill 

Tue, August 3 2021 25 Av 5781