Drash on Parashat Yitro 2023

Drash on Parashat Yitro       
Rabbi Aviva Kipen
Progressive Judaism Victoria

In October 2022, Rebecca Tullman, a programs director for the Union of Reform Judaism in America, offered a creative summary of Genesis. Using the form of Japanese Haiku poetry, comprising stanzas of 5/7/5 syllables, Rebecca demonstrated “less is more” Torah. (https://reformjudaism.org/blog/our-beginnings-haiku) This offering for Parashat Yitro invites readers to try out a haiku-disciplined engagement with much longer texts in order to be able to compress our responses to them.  Haiku must not rhyme and require a nature reference in each stanza.

The Haftarah quote, one commonly heard in English, is used to balance the poles of non-slavery against obligation to The Divine. Thousands of years after the arrival of The 10
Commandments, in the wake of The Shoah, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg coined his 1982 notion of a Voluntary Covenant. That voluntariness makes explicit that acceptance of the choice to be tethered to Judaism’s values set, itself repudiates everything that has been done to destroy us. Conversely in the words of Emil Fackenheim, to choose the 614th commandment, the one he articulated as ‘thou shalt not grant H***** a posthumous victory’ is not optional!

In the case of our Movement, we understand our code as aligning with and guiding us towards ideals of equality, opportunity, optimism and acceptance. Reference to God’s pact with humanity after The Flood, as symbolised by a rainbow, reminds us that we have a part to play ecologically in retaining the planet as fit for habitation. The Rainbow Dove invokes our acceptance of diverse gender and sexuality expressions, as Sydney prepares to celebrate World Pride 2023 and as we continually overturn the long-held taboo against acknowledging our LGBTQQIA+ parents, siblings, partners and children.

In Parashat Yitro, Moses receives wisdom to accept help, enlarge his understanding and prepare the nation to accept a yoke of obligations in a closed and therefore peer-pressuring community. In our present world, persecution of Pink Triangles is on the rise just as the Alt Right re-activates hatred for the Yellow Star. Under no circumstances will that be allowed to pass (Battle of Cable Street, 4 October, 1936). We bind ourselves to the best of our code. That is the core of our identity as a Progressive community.

Earth shaking drama
haiku compress joys and fears
in this week’s sedra. 

Safely across sea
offerings of thanks they gave
Jethro’s wisdom lives

New system in place
I Am As I Be was heard
no manna or quails

Coded Decalogue
God’s mount shook earth, smoke billowed
human eyes shut tight

Shamor v’Zachor
first awestruck optimism
Rainbow Dove recall

No raven of doom
not Isaiah’s ‘Woe is me’
bound yet free remain

Subscribe to our news updates

Keep up to date with our latest news and events. Subscribe to receive the UPJ Weekly News & Drash.

Find a Congregation Near You

Find a jewish congregation near you Jewish Community of Japan Kehilat Shanghai Kehillat Beijing United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong Thailand Progressive Jewish Community United Hebrew Congregation Kehilot Brit Beracha (Indonesia) Rodef Shalom Jewish Religious Union (Mumbai) Temple David Congregation Beit Shalom Synagogue Progressive Congregation of the ACT Jewish Community Tasmanian Union for Progressive Judaism Dunedin Jewish Congregation Beth Shalom Temple Sinai Congregations in Victoria Congregations in NSW Congregations in QLD