We’re currently in the midst of the celebrity awards season. It feels like almost every week there’s another event for celebrities to dress up and pat each other on the back for their achievements over the past year. I don’t know about you, but I’m always interested to hear who people choose to thank at that moment when the spotlight shines upon them. They often begin by thanking colleagues and others connected to the project which brought them success, but then I’m always waiting to hear if, in this potentially once in a lifetime moment, they will remember to thank their families. This issue was brought a couple of years ago by Lena Dunham at the Golden Globes when she won for best television comedy she thanked an obscure actor, Chad Lowe, because back in 2000 when Hilary Swank won the best actress Oscar she famously forgot to thank Lowe, who was at the time, her husband.
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses is in danger of falling into the same trap, and forgetting about his family. Having led the Israelites out of Egypt and across the parted sea into the wilderness, Moses is a man consumed by his mission and, while it is understandable, that he may have wanted to protect his family from the experiences in Egypt, now that the Israelites are safely in the wilderness, we may assume that he would have summoned his wife and sons to join him, but the Torah is silent about Moses concern for a family reunion.
Instead, this week’s Torah portion begins with the fact that Yitro, Moses father-in-law heard of all that God had done for Moses and for the Israelites. Hearing all of this good news, Yitro took Zipporah, Moses wife after he had sent her back and her two sons. He is the one who is responsible for making sure that Moses and his family were reunited. He was the one who made sure that she and her sons would be present for the revelation at Mt. Sinai. And Moses appears pleased with what Yitro has done, for as we read, Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and he bowed down to him and kissed him. And they asked each other about their welfare and they came into the tent.
In the midst of leading the Israelites out of Egypt and consumed by all of the pressures which leading a people brought with it, Moses forgot about his family. In the same way that celebrities with the pressure of a couple of minutes in the spotlight sometimes forget to thank their family. It is understandable, but Yitro appeared as a reminder that it is not really acceptable. Yitro is the necessary prompt to remind Moses that despite all of the pressure of work, he has obligations to his family.
It is striking that the Torah portion which contains the giving of the Torah, the moment when the entire community of Israel stood together at Sinai is named for the non-Israelite Yitro – but without Yitro, we as a community would have been incomplete, without him Moses' family would have been absent and without him Moses would have failed in his familial obligations.