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’.
There are two reasons
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.
That we might be suspicious
Of this text’s nature.
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.
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.