|The Rev. Karen Byrne, Rabbi Raymond Krinsky, and Rabbi Rachel Isaacs|
In this week's portion, parashat ba'alotecha, Moses pleads with his non-Jewish/proselyte father in law to stay with the community. According to the simple meaning of the text, Jethro (aka Chovav), is a Midianite priest. In our midrashim, he is portrayed as a convert. Regardless of how you choose to think of Jethro, he is clearly a man on the periphery. The rest of his family in Egypt is not Jewish. However, the good that he has done for the Jewish people is so great that Moses cannot imagine the Israelites thriving without him.
Numbers 29:31 describes a moving exchange between Chovav and Moses:
The Kehot Chumash which integrates the Torah text with the interpretations of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, presents the conversation between Jethro and Moses this way:
Moses said, "Please do not leave us, because then people will say that you converted not out of conviction, but because you thought you were going to receive a portion of the desirable Land of Israel, and left Judaism when it became clear that you will not. You really should stay with us no matter what, because you are familiar with our encampments in the desert and you have been an eyewitness to all the miracles that God has done for us. Furthermore, your wisdom can guide us in many ways; you can serve figuratively as our eyes. And beyond this, we value you and we will cherish you as much as we cherish our own eyes.
Every individual in our community provides us with a pair of fresh eyes, a new approach to seeing the world. Every person has their unique gifts and distinct hearts that move them in different ways. Hovav is not just someone who knows the physical terrain well (though the value of this cannot be overstated), he knows who Moses is a leader, the challenges he faces, and how to best manage the challenges of the Jewish people. As a fellow clergy person, his eyes are invaluable, and Moses cannot imagine his life without them.
In my life as a rabbi in Waterville, I cannot imagine completing my job without the counsel of local ministers, nor without the aid and support of the many non-Jews (or Jews in training) who bring their eyes, ears, hearts, and voices to our community. These individuals respect our faith and do not seek to change who we are -- they endeavor to understand, fortify, and learn. Their prayer and support should always be acknowledged, celebrated, and cherished as much as we cherish our own talents and contributions.