Tucked into our action-packed Torah portion of Beha’alos’cha, we find Moshe pleading with his father-in-law, Yisro/ Jethro, to stay with the Jewish People. Aside from bucking the stereotypical father-in-law-son-in-law relationship, the even larger question is the significance of this short passage. To better understand why we need to know that Yisro left, we need to better understand who Yisro is.
We are first introduced to Yisro when his daughters are saved by a mysterious Egyptian man (who is actually Moshe). The girls thank him and go back home, but Yisro sees some greater potential, invites Moshe into the house and eventually has Moshe marry one of his daughters. Later, Yisro hears about all the miracles that took place in Egypt and decides to join the Jewish People. The final episode involving Yisro, and perhaps the most telling one, is when he sees Moshe addressing all the questions the Jewish People have and suggests to his son-in-law that he needed a better system. Without a full-fledged judicial system of higher and lower courts, Moshe and the Jewish People would lose patience with the slow pace of judgment.
The common thread in all these narratives is an individual with a proactive nature. Where others see a good deed, he sees a potential spouse. Where others hear great stories coming from Egypt, he draws conclusions for how that should affect his life. And whereas Moshe is reactionary in regards to the questions posed to him, Yisro is proactive and visionary in setting up a long-lasting judicial system.
This is why Moshe is so intent on keeping Yisro with the Jewish People. He is, as Moshe puts it, “the eyes” of the congregation. He can “see” things that others cannot. Quite tellingly, immediately after Yisro leaves the Jewish People, everything seems to fall apart. The rest of the Torah portion describes setback after setback as the Jewish People fail and Moshe is helpless in leading them.
We have all been in reactionary mode for the past three months – how could we not be? We were faced with an unprecedented crisis, groping along with conflicting information and ever-changing restrictions. It has been a challenging three months.
There is now a light at the end of the tunnel. Baltimore County is already in phase two of reopening and Baltimore City is not far behind. As a shul we are starting to plan ahead for reopening our beloved shul. There are many new requirements and we are trying to be as prepared as possible for a smooth transition back indoors.
Shul is not the only experience we need to be preparing for. There are many activities that we have been on hold, many relationships that have been altered due to this pandemic. Now is the time to prepare ourselves for what they could look like. Will we just go back to what was? Will we just be the same person we were before this all began? Will we just pick up where we left off?
Yisro teaches us the great importance of being proactive and planful. There are times in life where having a vision is not possible because we are so overwhelmed by the circumstances. Now, as the fog of the coronavirus is lifting, we have the opportunity to develop a vision for what we want our future to look like. Our future could look different than our past but only if we have a vision to follow.
What lessons can we take with us from these past three months? What activities do we want to continue to do in the future? What do we not want to go back to? In what way can we take advantage of this new and fresh beginning and reimagine who we are?
May God bless us with “eyes” to see the potential that exists within us and the courage to follow through.