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(Moses' father in law) said to him: 'I will not go. I will only go to my own country and to my own birthplace' (10:20).
The scene of Moses attempting to persuade his father-in-law to accompany the Israelites was set at their departure from their year's sojourn at Mount Sinai to the Promised Land. Jethro had previously been so enthralled over the events of the Exodus that he declared: 'Now I know that G-d is greater than all other deities' (Ex. 18:11). What made him change his mind to saying: 'I will not go. I will only go to my own country and to my own birthplace'?
Rashi (to Ex. 18:13) quotes Talmudic opinion not followed by all commentators to the effect that the events recorded with Jethro were not always in chronological order. Other commentators disagree: the Ramban follows the line that events in the Torah may only be seen as non-chronological when supported by direct evidence within the text itself - and this is not one of them.
Taking that latter view, it may be suggested that Jethro's refusal to accompany the Israelites forward to the Promised Land reflected on Moses as well as Jethro. For the text (Ex. 18 5-26) relates that Moses and the Israelite elders received him with due dignity and respect when he arrived from Midian. But afterwards (even though he paid a visit to his homeland in the meantime - ibid. 27), he seemed to have been left out of things - he does not get a mention in the records. Even Jethro's accepted proposal of a hierarchal judicial system did not get him into Moses' inner circle.
The record shows that Moses put his energies entirely and unequivocally in directing the spiritual growth of the Israelite nation, and unlike the Patriarchs, seemed to have little time for his family. His two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, hardly get a mention - and certainly not in the context of any position of importance - neither, for that matter, does his wife. Nor did his father-in-law, whose declaring: 'I will not go. I will only go to my own country and to my own birthplace' may well have expressed his being disgruntled at the lack of contact and attention from Moses in contrast to the first enthusiastic reception.
That does not mean that Moses actually sinned - Moses was human, and a human being is only granted a certain amount of energy. The exigencies of the time meant that he had to give the Israelites at large every ounce of his energy, in order to bring about their spiritual and physical redemption at Mount Sinai and lead them towards the Promised Land - with often stiff and distressing opposition.
So his appearing to put less time into his family affairs than might have been expected of him was a product of his situation. But it caused Miriam to comment about his lack of attention to his wife, Zippora (12:1 and Rashi ad loc) - which Moses did not deny. And his sons Gershom and Eliezer hardly appear in the narrative at all. And Jethro who had sheltered Moses at a very critical time (2:16-22) no doubt felt slighted that Moses was too busy to keep in touch. Therefore Moses had to save the relationship by pleading with him to stay, emphasizing that he would not be able to get on without his wisdom and experience: 'for you will be as eyes to us' (10:21).
A lesson that a person should endeavor to keep his family relationships in consistent, constant, good repair…
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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