Sunday, February 3, 2013

Jethro and the inauguration, Shabbat Yitro 2/3/2013

Standing on the inaugural lawn
Between the stone likeness of Jefferson
And the grandeur of the Capital
Between Monument to our first President
And the White House that has served as
Home and office to presidents since 1800

The video stream was hazy
The audio painfully distorted
Being there
Being present
Despite the chill in the January air
Despite the inability to hear all that was taking place
On those Capital steps –

I felt like an American, a participant in the democratic process,
Yes, just one more American citizen
Among so many others
Standing together
Standing with our President
As he committed once again to the oath of office
To faithfully lead us,
Protect us,
defend us.

The challenge and courage of leadership:
This man – a husband, a father: he has duties at home,
He could take on another occupation,
He commits himself to this country,
To us.

It is a remarkable moment watching the installation of our President into office.
Someone remarked to me on that cold inaugural morning that it is the closest thing we Americans have to royal pomp and circumstance.
This may indeed be true, and thankfully so. 
The governing of our country does not rest in the hands of one individual.  It rests in a democratic process and a balance of power ideally shared with congress and the Judicial branch.  The President of the United States has a great deal of power, for sure; but, he simply cannot have his eyes, ears, and full attention on every situation that arises.  He must be able to trust and rely on others to further justice here and abroad.   And we, in turn, must trust in the leaders appointed to assist him in this task and resist any hasty temptations to attack their credibility.  

Thank you, Jethro!  Now listen to me,” Moses’ father in law instructs him in Chapter 18 of the book of Exodus, “you cannot do it alone!  Even Moses, God’s selected and appointed charge, cannot manage the implementation of fair justice among his people entirely on his own.  Placed between the dramatic scenes of heroic escape through a splitting sea and the thunderous revelation at Sinai, it would be easy to overlook chapter 18 of Shemot. But, I wonder, if the placement of Jethro’s council isn’t a pointed warning offered by the biblical redactor.

As important is the law that is about to be presented is the manner in which it is implemented.   The system for adjudicating law may not lend itself to a divinely dramatic biblical moment, but it is understood by Rabbinic tradition as critical to the survival of the Israelite nation.  It is worthy of awe.   Indeed, Rabbinic legend credits Jethro’s immortalization in Torah to this very moment where he serves as Moses’ advisor and rewards Jethro further for his sage advice with a copious down pouring of Manna offered solely in his honor.  The bible may not have provided miracles for this moment -- the rabbis did!

As we stand this Shabbat to reenact the giving of law at Sinai, a Shabbat that falls mid-way between our Presidential inauguration and our country’s marking of President’s Day, may we remain cognizant that while our Jewish tradition celebrates the revelation of law – emphasizing it liturgically and in the festival calendar -- the just and balanced interpretation and implementation of law is paramount to the proper functioning of any society – including our own.