For years my colleagues and I have discussed and debated the following question: To what extent can and should we address political issues from the pulpit? My long standing opinion is that the pulpit should not be a place for politics. Off the bima perhaps, but not from the bima.  God is not a member of any designated political party; when we advocate for a specific candidate we reduce Torah to a political campaign.  However, we do have an obligation to address specific subjects which arise from political issues; but in a manner which offers moral and/or spiritual guidance and wisdom.

The Torah portion of Yitro enables us to convey such wisdom.

We find b’nai yisrael beginning their journey in the desert.  They are still adjusting to independence; and Moses is adjusting to being the leader of a free people.  Among his important tasks is to be a judge and mediator for the inevitable disputes which will arise within the population.  Just as any inexperienced political leader, he does not yet have the solutions.

Enter Yitro (Jethro), Moses’ father in law and the mother ofTzipporaMoses’ wife.

Yitro was in the camp to bring Tzippora and her children back from Midian; where they stayed while Moses led the people out of Egypt. Yitro remained in the Israelite camp for a while and observed Moses’ leadership style. He observed how Moses served as judge and jury for all disputes within the camp.  Since Yitro was an experienced leader in his own country, he knew that neither Moses nor the people could endure such a limited justice system. Yitro shared his experience and wisdom with the son in law; suggesting that Moses divide his camp into districts and appoint wise and honest individuals to serve as district judges. Not only did Moses accept Yitro’s sage advice, but so would future nations.  Yitro, a non-Israelite, helped establish a justice system which has effectively served the world ever since!

The Torah not only highlights Yitro’s advice but calls the Torah portion by his name:  Yitro.

There is no asterisk to indicate that Yitro was a foreigner and not an Israelite.

There is no reference to his political views.

Yitro does not worry how advising the Israelites will play at home with his own people.

 He is not concerned about his High Priesthood being in jeopardy because he helped the Israelite community.

His advice was sound and effective; born out of experience.  Neither Moses nor any other Israelite dismissed Yitro simply because he represented a different political entity. They listened and they learned. They respected both his experience and his wisdom; incorporating his observations into their new way of life.

Hey Washington (all of Washington):  Are you paying attention??

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Klayman