Marriage isn’t just a union of two people, it’s a union of two families. One of the challenging parts of getting married is establishing a new relationship with your partner’s family. Best case, your new in-laws are supportive, but considerate and respectful of your boundaries. Or you may have in-laws who mean well, but are unaware of their overbearing, overreaching presence. Most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle, and just as we have with our own parents, there are wonderful, close moments and moments when we need space.
Moshe, the great leader of the Israelite nation, is tested with the ultimate in in-law relationships in this week’s Torah portion. This week we read Parshat Yitro, perhaps one of the most famous portions in the entire Torah. The central piece of the portion is the giving of the 10 Commandments by God to Moshe and the People Israel. We now have a set of laws to live by, a guide to being a free, self-governed people outside of slavery. But before the Torah gives us these laws, it reminds us of the family relationship Moshe has with his father-in-law and how he sets up a legal system.
Moshe is the leader of a nation, attempting to please the people and God, and the last thing he needs is a nosey, bossy father-in-law to tell him how he should be running the nation. Turns out that is exactly what he gets. When it comes to adjudicating the nation’s problems, Moshe is still somewhat lacking. Unfortunately, he has created a system of long lines and dissatisfied customers. In comes Yitro, his father-in-law, with a plan, a plan that ultimately works to perfection and helps save Moshe as the leader of the nation.
For this to have worked, Moshe needed to have in place a trusting – or at the very least honest – relationship with Yitro. Clearly, there was some work that went into building this relationship for the situation to play out the way it did.
All family relationships have their fair share of difficulties, and sometimes in-law relationships can be some of the most stressful, simply because of the number of people to please and appease. However, if Moshe, the great leader of the Israelites, with all the stresses he must have endured could have this level of partnership with his in-law, certainly there’s hope – and room to grow – for all of us.