I am unhesitatingly proud and joyous today, celebrating Yom HaAtzma’ut, the 68th Israel Independence Day, even as it comes amid some hard times for the state and its society.
This week we marked the 157th yahrzeit of one of the most fascinating and forbidding figures in Jewish tradition, R. Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, the Kotzker rebbe [1787-1859]. He is best known in our circles of American Jews through Abraham Joshua Heschel’s writings, especially Passion for Truth, Heschel’s final book, comparing Kotzk with the Danish Christian existentialist Soren Kierkegaard.
The natural focus of Parshat Yitro is always maamad Har Sinai, the “assembly of Israel at Mt. Sinai,” when Israel received the Torah. Yet the first chapter we will read this week, Exodus 18, which gives the parasha its name, concerns instead what Moses learned from the priest of another religion.