Dvar Torah: Most non-Jews are Jethro not Amalek

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 25 January 2019

One consequence of the rather odd way in which we read Torah (in which we take a section of 20 or so verses from a third of each weekly parasha moving through the year) is that we sometimes miss some of the links, the connections and contrasts, that the Torah, either inadvertently or often intentionally, makes.

One such is the link between Amalek and Yitro.

If we had read to the end of last week’s Torah portion, we would have read about the battle with Amalek, who would become Israel’s eternal enemy, a source of constant antagonism and threat.  The final verse of last Shabbat’s sidra was “The Eternal will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages”.

And then, immediately after, in the very next verse, this week’s Torah portion begins with the arrival of a complete contrast, Jethro.  Jethro who is a model of friendship; Jethro who can see beauty in the life of Israel – even though it is not ultimately for him; Jethro who is family, Jethro whose input makes Israel a better place.

There is a great insight in this juxtaposition – a juxtaposition which, if you compare the language as some scholars have done, appears to be intentional.  Here are two people with one thing in common.  They are not Israelites; they are an Amalekite and a Midianite – both non-Jews, but with very different relationships with our people.

There are plenty of Jews who see the rest of the world as being Amalek.  There is, unfortunately, cause to be wary.  We would be naïve to think that modern day Amalekites do not exist. But most of the world is not Amalek, most of the world is like Jethro.

And this community is proof – containing within it hundreds of non-Jews who offer only friendship; who see beauty and truth in our community and tradition, even though it is not ultimately for them; who form some of our families, whose input makes our Israel, this community, a better place.

Some of the ancient rabbis sought to transform Jethro, to make his the first conversion, to project a new identity into his character.  But the point of the story is that he is not Jewish.  He is the living embodiment of an important truth: that non-Israel – despite Amalek – is most often our friend.