This week's Torah portion begins a new biblical book, after which the parsha is named in English, "Numbers,"and in Hebrew, "Bamidbar," best translated as "In the Wilderness."
There is little doubt that Aseret Ha-dibrot, the Ten Commandments, form the centerpiece of Parshat Yitro and probably the entire Torah.
Parashat Ki Tisa tells us that "the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another." (Exodus 33:11) We also hear God telling Moses, "I have singled you out by name, and you have indeed gained My favor" (Exodus 33:12). In Numbers 12:8, God explains that only with Moses does communication occur "mouth to mouth." And the expression "face to face" (panim el panim) recurs in Deuteronomy 34:10, as both Moses' life and the Torah reach their conclusion: "Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses -- whom the Lord singled out, face to face."
The syllabus for my USC general education class includes both Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and chapters 37-50 of Genesis -- the Joseph story or "novella." These two narratives share themes that commend themselves: forgiveness and reconciliation. Both Prospero and Joseph were set upon by their own brothers and narrowly escaped death. Both protagonists contributed to their victim role -- Prospero through neglecting governance and Joseph by insensitive boasting. In the end, though, both forgive those who abused them -- enabling their family circle to be repaired and the next generation blessed. Just as Prospero realizes that "the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance," so too does the instinct for reconciliation surge through Joseph.
When John and I married, our invitation featured a verse from this week's Haftorah (Isaiah 61:10-63:9): Yasis alayich Elochayich kimsos chatan al kalah, rendered freely as "Come join in the sanctification of our joy"; literally, "As a bridegroom rejoices in a bride, so your God will rejoice in you" (Isaiah 62:5). This verse became a favorite years ago when its daring, electric comparison hit me: Human love provides the standard for God's love of the Jewish people. Instead of urging human lovers toward heaven, we Jews cannot imagine any-thing more deeply, joy-ously loving than what committed human part-ners feel for each other. We envision God learning love from human lovers.
Last week, Rabbi Richard Levy, executive director of the Los Angeles Hillel Council, introduced to the Central Conference of American Rabbis in Pittsburgh a new Reform movement manifesto. And according to Rabbi Susan Laemmle, that's not his only contribution to Reform. For without Rabbi Levy -- her mentor and former superior -- there may never have been a Rabbi Laemmle.