To what degree should we listen to the advice of our allies and other nations? One could argue that we should take it very seriously. Moshe
takes the advice of his non Jewish father in law, a political and religious leader of a foreign, pagan, nation on a very sensitive topic – how to run our judicial system.
Often, you will hear people draw the line between “technical” advice and advice pertaining to values and morals. Yitro’s advice seems to be the former – organizational advice regarding an efficient judicial system, not the latter – what judgment to give. I’ve always had difficulty with this distinction (albeit a very logical one at that): how the court is organized has real impact on judicial process, procedure and therefore – judgment. Furthermore, Yitro advises Moshe with criteria for choosing judges: advice Moshe accepts without reservation and that definitely impacts the essence of his judgment.
It is important to note that the distinction between what advice we should and should not accept on a national level lies elsewhere in the story. Let us consider what we read about Yitro prior to his advice:
1. Yitro recognizes, and has an appreciation for the miraculous events surrounding Jewish fate and history (“Yitro was happy for all of the goodness Hashem did for Israel. Yitro said blessed is Hashem who saved you from Egypt.”)
2. Yitro has genuine concern for Am Yisrael and Moshe (“‘what are you doing to the people… you shall surely wither and the nation…”)
3. Yitro conditions his advice on Hashem’s agreement – “…if G-d commands you”. Meaning, Yitro understands that Moshe and Am Yisrael are obligated by a higher order and only if his advice aligns with that higher order should they follow it. He understands that just because something may make sense and may have worked for him with his people it’s not necessarily right and “workable” for the Jews.
Now, let’s consider the “advice” Israel has been getting from John Kerry recently while bearing in mind the following questions:
1. Does he have a personal appreciation for the miraculous existence and flourishing of The Jewish State?
2. Is he genuinely concerned for the Jewish People, and is he not motivated by ulterior motives?
Let us beware the “advice” of those who don’t “get us” as a people, who don’t understand our unique identity; those who don’t believe in our divine mission and are not motivated by similar motives. Advisers are possible–even necessary. We’ve even named a Parsha after one of them, but these are definitely not the type of people we’re taking advice from at the moment…
1. Harper’s recognition and appreciation for the achievements of The Jewish People and State in our generation:
“I believe the story of Israel is a great example to the world. It is a story, essentially, of a people whose response to suffering has been to move beyond resentment and build a most extraordinary society, a vibrant democracy, a freedom-loving country with an independent and rights-affirming judiciary, an innovative, world-leading “start-up” nation. You have taken the collective memory of death and persecution to build an optimistic, forward-looking land one that so values life, you will sometimes release a thousand criminals and terrorists, to save one of your own. In the democratic family of nations, Israel represents values which our government takes as articles of faith, and principles to drive our national life.”
2. Harper’s motives and concern for Israel:
“The understanding that it is right to support Israel because, after generations of persecution, the Jewish people deserve their own homeland and deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland. Let me repeat that: Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so… It is, thus, a Canadian tradition to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is convenient or popular. Canada finds it deplorable that some in the international community still question the legitimacy of the existence of the state of Israel. Our view on Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is absolute and non-negotiable.”
3. Harper’s understanding of the realities and necessities that drive our decisions:
“Ladies and gentlemen, any assessment – any judgment – of Israel’s actions must start with this understanding: In the sixty-five years that modern Israel has been a nation, Israelis have endured attacks and slanders beyond counting and have never known a day of true peace. And we understand that Israelis live with this, impossible calculus: If you act to defend yourselves, you will suffer widespread condemnation, over and over again. But, should you fail to act, you alone will suffer the consequence of your inaction, and that consequence will be final, your destruction”.
The Torah teaches us via the model of Yitro the importance of identifying and giving recognition to true friends of Am Yisrael. Prime Minister Harper, is turning more and more into a modern day Yitro. Let us recognize him as such and by so doing strengthen his hands in extending his support even further for the blessing and prosperity of both The Jewish and Canadian People.