This week's parshah is Parshat Yitro. Yitro is the name of Moses' father-in-law. It begins in Exodus 18:1 and ends in 20:23. Yitro, whose name is sometimes written as "Jethro" in English, arrives from Midian to bring Moses' wife, Tzipporah and their two sons to the Israelite camp. Moses' family was separated because that was thought to be the safer option during the plagues and splitting of the sea.
When Yitro arrives at the Israelite encampment, he is shocked by what he sees. From morning until night, the Israelites are lined up to talk to Moses every day. They come to him with all of their issues, big and small and Moses deliberates on all the matters. Yitro tells Moses that this cannot go on any longer, both because Moses holds too much power and because he fears Moses will be burned out quickly. So, he advises Moses to make a system of judges.
Moses is instructed to pick out the best men for the job, with strong faith and morals. Moses would still continue to teach the word of G-D and to solve large disputes, but these judges would handle the smaller issues and questions.
This method is implemented, and Yitro returns to Midian. The Israelites then gather around Mount Sinai and are told that, before they receive the 10 Commandments, they must purify themselves by washing their clothes and abstaining from sex.
Three days after the Israelites are instructed to remain pure, it becomes time for Moses to go up and receive the 10 Commandments. That morning, the Israelites could see lightning and hear thunder on the mountain. The mountain became engulfed in a thick cloud, and Moses brought the Israelites to its base. The people were in awe at what they saw and they shuddered. Mount Sinai was set on fire, and smoke rose from it. The sound of the ram's horn rang out, and Moses ascended. G-D announces the 10 Commandments, and the Israelites are overwhelmed with emotion while witnessing His voice.
Although the 10 Commandments are a very important aspect of this story, they are not what I want to focus on here. Rather, I want to focus on the judicial system that Yitro suggested to Moses. The people went to Moses so that he could tell them the word of G-D, so they were instructed directly. But, with these new judges, the word of G-D would be through their interpretation. This would inevitably create factions within the Israelites, with every one thousand people or so following the interpretation of a different judge. Why wasn't this an issue? Wasn't there more of an effort to keep the Israelites unified?
In the modern world, we see that, for various reasons, Judaism is heavily factioned. Synagogues are different from one another in many ways. Practices can vary between countries and cities. Jews are not unified in this way, but it is not an issue. Rather, it is an advantage. Thousands of years ago, Israelites coexisted whilst maintaining their beliefs, and we can do the same. Jews do not need to be unified ideologically. The sacred texts we read, study, argue over and interpret tie us together. What unites us is our Tanach (Hebrew Bible). No one interpretation is right because we all are. There is no need to be unified as long as our differences are accepted and respected. Yitro's system taught the Jewish people not only to think and interpret for themselves but also to coexist with other Jews who thought differently. Thousands of years later, we are learning that same lesson over and over again.
Hadass Galili is a senior studying political science pre-law at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Hadass by tweeting her at @HadassGalili.