Torah: A Love Story in Verse

Today is a day of many a first 

For trying new tricks, with some trust 

Which is why, you will see, that this speech is in verse

For I was told, a new thing is a must. 

So please excuse if it’s clumsy
Please excuse if I slip

Understand that I’m just not well-trained

I will try not to mumble

I will try not to trip

I have no expertise here to claim.

But beyond my own wish to take part in this tryst 

Of new things with some nerves and some glory 

This is the perfect portion   for poetic distortion

To tell Torah as an epic love story. 

Now this may sound strange, but I swear it sincere 

That with heart and with ear just refined

The whole Torah can seem to an eye that is keen

As a romance with the Divine.


It has love, it has loss; it has drama, intrigue,

It has character growth and deceit,

It has pain, it has hope, it has sadness and glee

So hold on to the edge of your seat. 

Here we are, here today, at the scene of Sinai

At what might be a kind of, well, chuppah

Under mountain and smoke and the widest blue sky

To take Torah - perhaps, our ketubah.

And like any love tale, any story worth reading
We all know that the twist, it is vital

But this story’s turn is in details preceding

See, the problem is there in the title.

This significant story of love and elation

Led to Sinai by our leader Mo’

This here great moment of Divine revelation

Is entitled ‘The Portion of… Yitro’!

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the title today 

Is the father-in-law of our hero

For each portion is named the first thing it might say

And in this case, it happ’ns to be ‘Yitro’.

However

There are two reasons

Two facts

To ponder upon

The first, which is simple, at least:

Such a section celebrating Israel and her God 

Is entitled for a foreign priest?!

A Gentile, a man who was not enslaved 

And then saved from the might of the masters

No, this man spends his days as a priest giving praise 

To his gods up there in the rafters. 

How strange, how bizarre, how truly absurd!

But you’re right - it’s just a matter of chance

His name was simply the first major word 

It’s not delib’rate - it’s just happenstance.

But ah, you see - that’s where you’d be wrong

For here comes the point that comes next:

This tale of Yitro visiting the throng

Is out of place in the text.


Yitro does not belong here

It is a fact that is made clear

Through a careful perusal

Reading close here is crucial

Or the lending of an attentive ear 

See this here story, of judgment and glory

Of teaching that leadership rating

Does not mean taking charge of the least and the large

But also of smart delegating,

Takes place in a space called ‘the Mountain of God’

Understood to mean good old Mount Sinai

But this understanding is really quite odd

It seems something here is awry.

For where we left off back in last week’s piece

Makes clear that they’re still on the road

And they only arrive at the mountain of peace

After the story of Yitro.

Another reason

That we might be suspicious

Of this text’s nature.

Moses’s judgments

Use - and this is ambitious -

Laws given later.

But now, don’t you worry - it’s no cause for concern
That the story might seem out-of-order 

For our sages would say that from this we should learn

There’s no before-and-after in Torah.

But it does beg the question, it does call to mind 

Even if this is fine at the least 

Why would it be that in this case we find 

The section starts with this one foreign priest?

  Yes, this is fine 

It isn’t an issue

Though why, if the story’s misplaced

Right into the romance betwixt God and the Jews

Of all sections - why into this space? 

Of course our commentators throughout all the ages

Have used this question to answer

And dear Ibn Ezra, pond’ring these pages

Says the reason is in last week’s par’shah.

For last week concluded with Amaleik

Israel’s first enemy since in Egypt

We thought we were done with the frightened foot-race

Until by Amaleik we were greeted.

And while God did save us, that’s twice we’re attacked

By some evil non-Hebrew foe

And so Ibn Ezra says that this piece is tacked
-here to contrast the goodness of Yitro.

There once was an evil troop

That attacked all the Jews as a group

So after that foe / the Torah brings Yitro

To remind us, not all gentiles are brutes 

And, far beyond that lesson there

That Gentiles can be, well, gentle

It’s worth a note, that should we care

There’s another question to mull...

See sometimes, some places, if we follow the trail

We can see breadcrumbs of reversal

Though we think of the Torah as our great love tale

Still, we believe in a God universal.

And while ‘priest of Midian’ might seem to be pagan

Most read him as monotheistic 

Meaning Yitro, though not one of us, though he’s foreign

Gives us reason to be optimistic…?

That non-Jews can too have connection with God

That being chosen does not mean alone

And though that lesson  here might feel odd

It is quite a nice thing to know.

But still, why would this be of import

Here in this one area?

Why would Torah wish to distort

The wedding of the millenia? 

Perhaps, lest we might propose
That God is ours and ours alone.

Yitro’s example

Says in our  relationships

With God, the Divine.

We belong to God

God does not belong to us 

None can say ‘God’s mine’.

As I’ve many times said, Torah’s a romance 

Between Israel and her Divine

But it’s worth recalling that, in this great expanse 

We just cannot say ‘God is mine’.

It’s a moment quite strange to serve as reminder

Of the Holy One’s bond with all

Perhaps it could be a tiny bit kinder

To not make us feel quite so small.

But the truth is quite wondrous as it comes to teach us 

To remember, even if it hurts 

That as we reach to God, and God reaches us,

Relationships always take work. Relationships always take work.


And a relationship with the Divine

With the great mystery 

With what is far beyond, Other, undefined

Still requires us to look and to see 

That if we put in the work we will find … 

Something beyond what we already know.

And with that, I wish you: Shabbat shalom. 


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