Thirst. Water from the Rock. The Staff and the Amalekites. A Visit from the Father-in-Law. Judge over the Land. At the Base of Mt. Sinai.
[Jethro said to Moses,] “Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.”
Exodus 18:19 (NIV)
Consider Ren, a teen boy with autism. He loved cars, just couldn’t get enough of them. He also enjoyed being out in the rain: maybe it was the sound or the feel, he never clarified, but he could just stand out there as long as it kept up. I visited him on a weekly basis to provide “play therapy” to teach “social and emotional intelligence.” It basically amounted to a whole lot of chit-chat while we rolled cars back and forth – building new tracks or making tall ramps for them to roll down. The chit-chat was where the therapy tended to happen. He would bring up something that interested him, and I would jump into that world and help generalize some social lessons from inside. It is a great way to teach someone – to jump inside of his or her world. To empathize. You can build a ton of trust just by listening. Sometimes, Ren would ask questions of me, but usually just to solidify what he already knew to be true. I found this video of the Jurassic Park theme played by melodica. Is it funny? Yes, Ren, that is funny to everyone. But you already knew that, didn’t you? You just wanted a little validation.
So when Ren shaved off his eyebrows and asked me if it was funny, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Of course he thought it was just hilarious, the emotion that I was convinced inspired this venture. He had woken up that morning and decided to see what his face would look like without the tyranny of brow hair. Hilarious, of course. Human faces without eyebrows are hilarious. His mother first saw the damage as Ren laughed his way down the stairs before school. She looked at him with moderate horror and slight amusement. There was no solution to this problem. She could take her eyebrow pen, but no, then he would look even weirder. The act was done. Nothing to be fixed. And now he wanted validation. Was it funny?
So I said: Yeah, it’s funny.
He immediately laughed hard.
I clarified – worried that my answer would inspire more shenanigans: But you probably shouldn’t have done it.
His face dropped. Why? Is shaving eyebrows wrong?
What a strange question. I never thought I would exert mental energy considering the morality of eyebrows. There was a surprising amount to contemplate. Wrong? No, I wouldn’t use that word, because that implies that the act of shaving eyebrows is somehow a sin. But it is certainly not something to do often. You would look sickly without any eyebrows, and social services might pay your mother a visit. Okay. So it isn’t a question of morality, but rather what is probably best for this situation.
So I looked back at him, at his naked forehead, and said: Eyebrows are a good idea.
Everyone needs a little guidance – even such holy men as Moses. After a camp-wide thirst situation and a brief battle with the Amalekites, Moses pauses the journey of the Israelites in order to host a visit from his father-in-law Jethro. Moses regales him with their quest – the slavery, the plagues, the exodus – and Jethro is thoroughly pleased by God’s dedication to saving His people. Then, in front of his father-in-law, Moses takes a seat to act as a judge to the disagreements of the people. After watching this for some time, Jethro chimes in, chastising the inefficiency of this system. He advises Moses to appoint lower judges to hear the simpler cases so that the more difficult ones can be left to him. But ultimately, God should be the judge, and we should bring all matters to Him.
Well, hey, that is the same judicial system we have in place today!
We are about to enter a rather tedious portion of the Torah – the Law. Starting with the Ten Commandments, God lays down the Holiness Code by which all of His followers ought to measure themselves. These standards are notoriously rigid (and often quoted out of context), but if a man or woman wishes to know what to do, well then here it is in plain black and white. Strict ordinances such as these have always rubbed me the wrong way, because it takes complex situations and overly simplifies them. I am actually excited to dig into these laws, because I am fascinated by their rigidity.
But the need for Moses to sit as a judge for his people reveals a startling fact. Even with all these laws, enough gray area still exists to require third-party judgment. Someone still needs to interpret the laws and then apply them to murky situations. There always appear to be exceptions.
Even “thou shalt not kill” isn’t so clear. Especially since that declaration is immediately followed by a series of situations in which a sinner ought to be put to death.
I can say one thing for certain, though. Eyebrows are a good idea.
Unless you have some insider knowledge. In that case, do as you see fit.