Rabbi Robinson’s Sermon Jan. 21, 2022

Parashat Yitro

Source Sheet by Yair Robinson



Exodus 18:14-23

(14) But when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” (15) Moses replied to his father-in-law, “It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. (16) When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the laws and teachings of God.” (17) But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not right; (18) you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. (19) Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You represent the people before God: you bring the disputes before God, (20) and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow. (21) You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens,  (22) and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you. (23) If you do this—and God so commands you—you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied.”


שמות י״ח:י״דכ״ג

(יד) וַיַּרְא֙ חֹתֵ֣ן מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֵ֛ת כׇּל־אֲשֶׁר־ה֥וּא עֹשֶׂ֖ה לָעָ֑ם וַיֹּ֗אמֶר מָֽה־הַדָּבָ֤ר הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אַתָּ֤ה עֹשֶׂה֙ לָעָ֔ם מַדּ֗וּעַ אַתָּ֤ה יוֹשֵׁב֙ לְבַדֶּ֔ךָ וְכׇל־הָעָ֛ם נִצָּ֥ב עָלֶ֖יךָ מִן־בֹּ֥קֶר עַד־עָֽרֶב׃ (טו) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֖ה לְחֹתְנ֑וֹ כִּֽי־יָבֹ֥א אֵלַ֛י הָעָ֖ם לִדְרֹ֥שׁ אֱלֹהִֽים׃ (טז) כִּֽי־יִהְיֶ֨ה לָהֶ֤ם דָּבָר֙ בָּ֣א אֵלַ֔י וְשָׁ֣פַטְתִּ֔י בֵּ֥ין אִ֖ישׁ וּבֵ֣ין רֵעֵ֑הוּ וְהוֹדַעְתִּ֛י אֶת־חֻקֵּ֥י הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים וְאֶת־תּוֹרֹתָֽיו׃ (יז) וַיֹּ֛אמֶר חֹתֵ֥ן מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֵלָ֑יו לֹא־טוֹב֙ הַדָּבָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַתָּ֖ה עֹשֶֽׂה׃ (יח) נָבֹ֣ל תִּבֹּ֔ל גַּם־אַתָּ֕ה גַּם־הָעָ֥ם הַזֶּ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר עִמָּ֑ךְ כִּֽי־כָבֵ֤ד מִמְּךָ֙ הַדָּבָ֔ר לֹא־תוּכַ֥ל עֲשֹׂ֖הוּ לְבַדֶּֽךָ׃ (יט) עַתָּ֞ה שְׁמַ֤ע בְּקֹלִי֙ אִיעָ֣צְךָ֔ וִיהִ֥י אֱלֹהִ֖ים עִמָּ֑ךְ הֱיֵ֧ה אַתָּ֣ה לָעָ֗ם מ֚וּל הָֽאֱלֹהִ֔ים וְהֵבֵאתָ֥ אַתָּ֛ה אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֖ים אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃ (כ) וְהִזְהַרְתָּ֣ה אֶתְהֶ֔ם אֶת־הַחֻקִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַתּוֹרֹ֑ת וְהוֹדַעְתָּ֣ לָהֶ֗ם אֶת־הַדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ יֵ֣לְכוּ בָ֔הּ וְאֶת־הַֽמַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַעֲשֽׂוּן׃ (כא) וְאַתָּ֣ה תֶחֱזֶ֣ה מִכׇּל־הָ֠עָ֠ם אַנְשֵׁי־חַ֜יִל יִרְאֵ֧י אֱלֹהִ֛ים אַנְשֵׁ֥י אֱמֶ֖ת שֹׂ֣נְאֵי בָ֑צַע וְשַׂמְתָּ֣ עֲלֵהֶ֗ם שָׂרֵ֤י אֲלָפִים֙ שָׂרֵ֣י מֵא֔וֹת שָׂרֵ֥י חֲמִשִּׁ֖ים וְשָׂרֵ֥י עֲשָׂרֹֽת׃ (כב) וְשָׁפְט֣וּ אֶת־הָעָם֮ בְּכׇל־עֵת֒ וְהָיָ֞ה כׇּל־הַדָּבָ֤ר הַגָּדֹל֙ יָבִ֣יאוּ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְכׇל־הַדָּבָ֥ר הַקָּטֹ֖ן יִשְׁפְּטוּ־הֵ֑ם וְהָקֵל֙ מֵֽעָלֶ֔יךָ וְנָשְׂא֖וּ אִתָּֽךְ׃ (כג) אִ֣ם אֶת־הַדָּבָ֤ר הַזֶּה֙ תַּעֲשֶׂ֔ה וְצִוְּךָ֣ אֱלֹהִ֔ים וְיָֽכׇלְתָּ֖ עֲמֹ֑ד וְגַם֙ כׇּל־הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה עַל־מְקֹמ֖וֹ יָבֹ֥א בְשָׁלֽוֹם׃



Like many of you, I’ve had Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville Texas and their rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, in my thoughts all this week. Since last Shabbat’s upsetting, near-tragic hostage taking and thankful outcome, we have found ourselves in the same cycle we as Jews often find ourselves in when attacks on Jews and synagogues happen, and they are happening with greater regularity. There are the articles and social media posts about antisemitism, the healing services and vigils, synagogue leaders attending security briefings from the ADL, the Department of Homeland Security, and others. Congregational boards and clergy debate tightening what is, for many of us, already tight security, more guards, more training, more hardening of our buildings. As Scholar Deborah Lipstadt wrote in the New York Times this week, quoting her own rabbi, for many of us, the act of attending synagogue has become an act of courage, defiance, and faith, and that it shouldn’t be so.


It shouldn’t be so. And yet, here we are. In his remarks at a healing service Monday night, Rabbi Cytron-Walker talked about how we as a society need to do some hard work learning to make friends in our community again, and that if we do so, we might have more friends we disagree with, but we would have fewer enemies. To be sure, there will always be Pharaohs and Hamans; there will always be antisemites and antisemitism. But what we need in this moment are allies who don’t just offer support but offer their help. This week, in our Torah portion, we meet Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, a priest of Midian, who, after hearing about Israel’s redemption, praises God, and then, watching Moses adjudicate for the people for countless hours, counsels and coaches him to share the burden so that Israel–and Moses–can be unwearied, or as it says in the Hebrew, “each can return to his place in peace.” As the commentator Sforno teaches, no one can do that work—relieving each person of their own burdens—all by themselves. Moses needs people he can trust to share the load. It is the same for us. As Jews, we need more Yitros, more allies willing to listen deeply to what we have to say, and to help when appropriate. And we need more allies, people we can trust, to help share the load.


Throughout this week I’ve received words of support from clergy friends and partners in the community, Christian and Muslim. I told them how grateful I was, and then, to the Christian clergy, I described everything we as Jews go through to be safe in our worship experience, what is our normal, how Beth Israel’s reality this past week is every synagogue’s nightmare. And I shared that the best support they could offer was to understand our experience, and when there are no Jews in the room, to make their congregants and colleagues understand what antisemitism really is, and what we as a community face. One colleague was moved to tears, processing not just the facts of our experience but the emotional toll it takes on us.  I wish more of our friends and allies got it like he did. Another rabbinic colleague asked a pastor friend, a Presbyterian, if he ever felt that his people would be unwelcome in this country. The question had never crossed his mind. And many of my colleagues describe how their interfaith allies offered no support at all. The truth is, for so many of our non-Jewish friends, especially our white friends, the privilege they experience walking into their churches without locked doors or guards is one that they take for granted.


We are a resilient people, we Jews. And we take our mission, to be a mamlechet kohanim v’goy kadosh, a nation of priests and a holy people, seriously. Not all of us can be Connie Kreshtool, but we carry the words of the prophets in our hearts, and we strive–each of us, all of us–to be that light to the nations in our deeds and our words. Yes, it is harder to do that when we fear injury or attack, but we still do it; we will still do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God–in our synagogues and JCCs, on college campuses, online and on the street. But our burden would be eased if we could share the load with our friends. So, for any non-Jewish friends of our community who are listening, I urge you to do exactly that. Talk to your Jewish friends and more importantly, listen to them when they are scared and rightfully so. Call out antisemitism when you see it and learn to look for it. Understand what this moment means for us as a people. And my fellow Jews around the world, despite this moment, may we be strengthened so that we can do our sacred work to repair the world, moving us toward the world God knows it could be. May we, each of us, go home, unwearied, in Peace. Amen.

Source Sheet created on Sefaria by Yair Robinson