The word of recognition: shalom

By Rabbi Seymour Rossel
Parashat Yitro

On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed that a new Jewish state to be called Israel would come into formal existence at midnight, Palestine time. Only 11 minutes after midnight, Palestine time, the Truman White House issued a statement saying, “This Government has been informed that a Jewish state has been proclaimed in Palestine and recognition has been requested by the provisional government thereof. The United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the State of Israel.” The United States was the first nation to extend recognition to the state of Israel.

On May 15, 1948, the following declaration of recognition was issued:

The Tennessee River Band of Chickamaugan Cherokee announces full recognition of the State of Israel and her capital, the undivided city of Jerusalem. We also recognize the Jewish people as the sole owners of all land west of the Jordan River, in which was formerly known as Palestine. 

Whereas the Cherokee people and the Jewish people worship the same Great Creator and

Whereas our ancient priests called him by the same Holy name,

Whereas this Holy name was not spoken by the general population on pain of death.

Whereas many Cherokee people know themselves to be a remnant of the ancient Israelites,

The Tennessee River Band of Chickamaugan Cherokee proudly proclaims its solidarity with the Jewish People and its religious and secular authority and with the people of Israel and Jerusalem their undivided Eternal City.

Internationally, the Cherokee declaration was considered a quaint aside, but it relates directly to Yitro (Jethro), our Torah portion this week.

Throughout history, most commentators have argued that Jethro’s visit to Mount Sinai is out of logical sequence. It logically belongs after the giving of the Ten Commandments. The rabbis commented that the Torah is not a history book since there is “no early and no late in the Torah.”

Later commentators, however, thought the timing of Jethro’s visit had a purpose. In last week’s portion the tribes were set upon by the fierce nation of Amalek and forced into battle. If the Amalekites had prevailed, the Israelites would have been destroyed before they could ever have become a nation. Instead, with God’s help, the Israelites overcame the Amalekites.

Because the Midianites were close relatives of the Amalekites, Jethro’s visit demonstrated how a nation like Amalek might reject the new Israelite confederation even as the Midianites welcomed them into the family of nations.

As stated in the Torah, Jethro heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel, so Jethro paid a state visit to his son-in-law. Jethro gave Israel his blessing, thanking God for delivering the Israelites from Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Jethro said, “Now I know that the One God is greater than all gods, for their schemes against you have all come to nothing.” To celebrate this new people, Jethro sacrificed “a burnt offering … and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to partake of the meal before God with Moses’ father-in-law.”

When a new nation is born, then as now, everything depends on whether the nations around it are willing to recognize it. In this sense, the future of the state of Israel is not entirely in its own hands. Recently, some progress has been made, but all is not settled until all the surrounding nations recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist. The Torah uses the word “shalom” in this portion as Jethro’s official word of recognition. Shalom, I believe, is the very word of recognition that Israel still requires. With this Torah portion and this lesson of recognition in mind, we pray for the shalom — for the peace and well-being — of the state of Israel.

Rabbi Seymour Rossel is the author of “The Essential Jewish Stories,” “The Wise Folk of Chelm,” “Bible Dreams” and other books featured at

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