1/22/22 YITRO (EXODUS 18.1- 20.23)
I learned only a few years ago that the weekly sections of the Torah are named for the first distinctive word in them. Because that word is (obviously) in Hebrew, it doesn’t help me really remember what the section is about. Unless!- it’s Lech Lecha, or Chaye Sarah, or Noach), or, like this week, Yitro. Yitro (Jethro in my JPS version) is Moses’ father in law, and in the beginning of this week’s parshah he hears about the success of the Israelites escape from Egypt and comes out for a celebratory meetup and he and Moses have a chat. He notices that Moses spends his whole days solving disputes for the Israelites and he tells him that “The thing you are doing is not right” (18.17), and that Moses’ time, and the people’s time, would be better spent if he (Moses) delegated better. So Moses does, and it works, and all’s well, and the portion moves on.
Lots of other stuff happens in this parshah too (oh yeah the Decalogue, just a minor thing), but when I read this week’s commentary in TQ it mentioned this part in particular as standing out for a few reasons. First, Yitro is openly critical (and doesn’t mince words) of Moses’ leading style. Second, Moses easily accepts this advice from Yitro (someone “not of his culture” p.94). And actually when I started to think about it, it sort of actually frees Moses up to do other stuff which results in the coming together of the people and G-d at Sinai.
This felt especially relevant as I sat down to a Zoom meeting with a bunch of strangers this morning. I’d reached out to my Rabbi months ago looking for queer community, and the result of it was a sort-of-book-club, meeting, for the first time, over Zoom, this morning. Open to Trans and/or Non-binary identified folks only, we were going to be discussing the book Soul of a Stranger by Joy Ladin (a trans woman). Despite the fact that I had actually essentially asked for this group to be created I was feeling really hesitant. One, I’m not much of a talker. Two, I’m not great with people (so awkward). And three, trans groups tend to be about a lot of feelings- and I am NOT one to talk about my feelings. At all. True story I saw a therapist for 4 years before I even mentioned one of my parents. That’s not a joke.
Additionally, I try to stay out of trans-centered spaces because I often end up feeling just weird. I feel like I don’t fit there, and I don’t fit in cishet spaces either. Trans groups can sometimes be strangely judgmental, from what I’ve experienced- telling people what they can and can’t say, what words are OK to use or not use, who has a right to this feeling or not. For example, I’m married to a man who identified as straight (mayyyybe sometimes still does) for a really long time, and really struggled with that as I transitioned. Queer groups told people like me my whole life that “conversion therapy doesn’t work” (of course not) but now that “if he really loved you for who you were, then gender wouldn’t matter” (but of course it does, to some people). I didn’t know where to turn. There weren’t any safe spaces. So, while I have been a part of a few Trans groups in the past, they didn’t last long. And while I can blame it on all sorts of stuff, ultimately they just left me feeling more isolated, and THAT clearly is probably more about me, and the things I struggle with- first and foremost opening up, (DUH), but also often only seeing differences in people rather than similarities.
When I signed on to Zoom today, and I soon realized that I was the ONLY binary trans person (and I know that might not mean ANYTHING but that was the first thing I noticed) and I started feeling, again, like this wasn’t the right place for me. And that feeling started to come back, like- I spent 37 years of my life being the outcast, being the different one. And I don’t want another group where I have experiences that others don’t share. I don’t want to get in another group where I feel like I just won’t “fit”. But now here I am, re-reading this parshah, and the commentary about Yitro’s advice. And being reminded of the power of the voice of the Other was maybe just what I needed to hear today. And I think maybe (probably?) I’m looking at it the wrong way. At least for now, I need to remember to reframe. Or, you know, at least go to the second meeting.