Sunday, February 11, 2007

human failings in Biblical figures

Parshat Yisro

This weeks question at the shabbos table was:

The parsha starts off with the story of Yisro showing up to join Bnei Yisrael after having heard of the various miracles. He sees the method Moshe uses for judging the people and gives him advice how to improve. Moshe implements the suggested changes and then sends Yisro back home.

Why did Moshe send him home? Yisro came to join the Jewish Nation? Right before Har Sinai and Matan Torah, Moshe sends Yisro home?

The discussion first partially answered, by my 11 year old daughter, the question by saying this is story is not in chronological order and happened after Matan Torah. This is an opinion offered by some commentaries and answers how Moshe could have sent Yisro away before Matan Torah. According to this opinion he did not. It happened after Matan Torah.

But that only answers the question about the timeframe. The question of why he sent Yisro away still remains unanswered. Yisro came to join the Jews and Moshe sent him away?

The discussion of this centered on Moshe's relationship with Yisro. Yisro was his father in law. Yisro shows up and right away criticizes the way Moshe is doing things. He even does so using fairly harsh terms. He says, "what you are doing is not good" (18:17), then he gives him advice how to improve the method of judgement and starts off by saying, "Now listen to my voice as I advise you (18:19)". Then Yisro concludes by saying, "If you do all this, you will be ok (18:23)".

Then it says, "And Moshe did all that he said (18:24), etc.... And Moshe sent his father in law and he went back to his land (18:27)".

Maybe Moshe did not like the way his father in law came and right away started telling him what to do and how to do it, so he sent him away. He figured he would not be able to lead Israel properly with the tension of having his father in law around.

But this leads to the question of do we treat the Biblical figures as having similar emotions and failings that we have? Was Moshe so selfish that he could not bear to have his father in law around? He was so selfish that he sent him away? Was Yisro so haughty that he shows up and right away starts bossing people around?

Maybe. But if we prefer not to ascribe such human weaknesses to our Biblical figures then we need to find an alternative answer to explain what happened between Moshe and Yisro.

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