From Jethro to the Druze, Making Room for Others

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In this week’s Torah reading, the Israelites in the wilderness look forward to their journey to — and settlement in — the Promised Land. A marching order is established for the tribes, provisions are made for carrying the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and all of its furnishings, and the Israelites begin their long march, a trip that will take up the rest of the narrative of the Torah.
 
At this moment, Moses turns to a non-Israelite, his Midianite father-in-law, Jethro, who has been accompanying the Israelites through the wilderness. He asks him to continue journeying with them to the land. “Come with us, and we will do you good, for the Lord has spoken good concerning Israel” (Numbers 10:29). But Jethro is reluctant, saying, “I will depart to my own land and to my kindred” (Numbers 10:30). Jethro is, after all, an outsider. Perhaps he is better off going back to his own rather than remaining among those who may think he does not belong.
 
Moses urges his father-in-law to reconsider. He offers two arguments. First, Jethro could be of great help to the Israelites because he knows the wilderness through which they pass, “and you may be to us instead of eyes” (Numbers 10:31). Second, by joining his fate to that of the Israelites, Jethro will receive blessing just as it accrues to the Israelites; “whatever goodness the Lord shall do to us, the same will we do to you” (Numbers 10:32).
 
Jethro is persuaded, and according to Rashi, the promise Moses makes is fulfilled when the Israelites enter the land. Just as each tribe is allotted a portion of land, so, too, the descendants of Jethro are allotted land in the Negev, where they live peaceably with the Israelites.
 
This short episode has much to teach us. We know — though we often forget — that the Israelites in the wilderness include in their camp many non-Israelites who came with them out of Egypt, including the “mixed multitude” that accompanied them when they saw a chance to escape. Here we see Moses acknowledging that non-Israelites have valuable skills that the Israelites need in order to survive and prosper both on their journey and when they settle in the land. We also see that as thanks, Moses and the Israelites are prepared to allot these non-Israelites a portion of land where they will live side by side with them.
 
In the Torah, the dream of reaching the Promised Land requires the enlistment of the skills of non-Israelites, and the dream of living there is one that includes the presence of these non-Israelites as partners in settling the land. Amazingly, we saw the same pattern repeat itself in the unfolding of the same dream in the same land in modern times.
 
Thousands of years after Moses and Jethro had their conversation, we saw those who trace their descent from Moses — modern Jews — enlisting the skills of those who trace their descent from Jethro — the Druze people — in creating and defending the State of Israel. And in modern Israel, Israeli Jews and Israeli Druze live side by side as citizens, sharing the dream of the Promised Land, enjoying its blessings and shouldering its burdens.
 
May their example and that of Moses and Jethro always inspire us to make room for others, even those unlike ourselves, to share in our dreams.
 
Rabbi Adam Zeff serves as rabbi of Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia. He is currently on sabbatical in Israel. Email him at: adamzeff1@gmail.com.

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