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Parshat Yitro: Meet the In-Laws


This week’s Torah portion includes the most important event not only in Jewish history, but arguably one of the most pivotal moments in Western culture. The Ten Commandments have defined the Jewish and Gentile worlds alike and their universal message has resonated for thousands of years since they were uttered.

The placement of this monumental event in the parsha however is somewhat curious. It is found after an exchange between Moshe and his father-in-law who comes to greet him after hearing of the great miracles that were wrought for the Israelites in their Exodus from Egypt.

The narrative has Yitro (Jethro) almost asking permission, respectfully, to see his son-in-law, Moshe. Moshe was at the top of his game, so to speak, for not only was he a prophet but he has just brought the major world power to its knees and was now poised to bring the Israelites to Mount Sinai. 

Most striking in this account of their meeting is the number of times the Torah refers to Yitro as Moshe’s father-in-law. You would think we would have been reminded of their relationship after the first or second mentioning of it and know by now who Yitro is. But that is not the case. Yitro is referred to as the “father-in-law” no less that fourteen times! He even introduces himself as such when he greets Moshe by stating, “I, your father-in-law, Yitro have come to you” as if maybe Moshe forgot who he was.

Moshe, in his usual humble manner, welcomes Yitro with warmth and grace as the Torah notes that “Moshe went out to greet his father-in-law. He (Moshe) bowed down to him (Yitro), and kissed him.”

In-law relationships are often tricky to navigate. Jokes notwithstanding, consider for a moment the connection between a son-in-law to his father-in-law. Here are two people who really have nothing to do with one another save for the fact that one man married the daughter of the other. 

When I recall my own father-in-law who was a pleasant and very polite man, the fact is that were I to meet him other than through his daughter, I’m sure we would have had a nice conversation and that would be it. He would be just another passing stranger among the myriad of people that I might encounter in my life.

However inasmuch as I married his daughter, the closeness and warmth that I expressed to him is completely based on the simple fact that, were it not for him, I would not be married to the woman with whom I chose to create a life, family and future. And thus my relationship with Mr. Benjamin Aminoff (of blessed memory) was completely and totally based on an innate sense of gratitude for bringing his daughter into the world and raising her to be the person with whom I share my life.

Sometimes people who go on to do great things forget the essential relationships that got them there. When they become stars and travel in a whole new circle of similar super-star friends, high-powered business, professional, artsy or political folks, they may feel they have out-grown the everyday relationships of their past. And those relatives may also feel that to be the case and approach their Moshe-like son-in-law gingerly and formally, as Yitro did upon his first meeting soon after the many spectacular events that Moshe orchestrated.

I’ve seen your picture
Your name in lights above it
This is your big debut
It’s like a dream come true
-Steely Dan

But Moshe, being the great and humble person that he was, dispels with this nonsense in a matter of moments. Not only is he thrilled to see his father-in-law, Moshe is the one who makes himself subservient and does the bowing. 

Moshe had the proper sense of gratitude to Yitro, not only for raising the woman whom he married but also in recognition that it was Yitro who took him in when he was a fugitive from Egypt. Moshe never forgot that it was Yitro who saw his true character and qualities and believed in him to the point of allowing him to marry his daughter and live alongside him for many years until God called upon Moshe at the Burning Bush to undertake his important mission. 

It is thus fully appropriate and by design that the parsha that gives us the most vital and central laws of humanity found in The Ten Commandments should begin with an emphasis about the essential trait of gratitude. The gratitude that Moshe had and conveyed to his father-in-law. As high as Moshe rose and as important as he became, he always held onto the awareness that he would be nothing without the efforts of Yitro. And thus we are reminded, over and over and over and over again – 14 times no less – of Yitro being Moshe’s father-in-law. That Moshe could never have become the greatest figure in world history without his father-in-law.

Yitro may have started off his life as a complete stranger to Moshe. But through his care, concern, love and integrity in raising his daughter and bringing Moshe into his life, he became a key figure in the life of the greatest man in history. Moshe never lost sight of that fact and neither did Jewish tradition by naming the most central parsha of the Torah with the name of Yitro, the father-in-law of Moshe.

It will come back to you

It will come back to you

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