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The Giving of the Torah

WEEKLY SCRIPTURE READING

Torah Portion: Parashat Yitro ("Jethro")

Shabbat: Feb. 11, 2023 / Shevat 20, 5783

Torah: Exod. 18:1-20:23

Prophets: Isa. 6:1-7:6; Isa. 9:5-6

New Covenant: Matt. 8:5-20


TODAY’S PRAYER OF AGREEMENT

The Shema

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength”. Deut. 6:4-5


 

Last week's Torah portion (i.e., Beshalach) recounted how the LORD delivered the children of Israel from Pharaoh's advancing armies by dramatically drowning them in the Sea of Reeds. The Israelites were overjoyed over their new freedom and celebrated by singing the "Song of the Sea." Despite their newfound freedom, however, the people soon began complaining about the hardship of life in the desert. Nonetheless God was gracious and provided fresh water and manna from heaven as he led them by the Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night to Mount Sinai (Exod. 13:21-22). In our Torah portion for this week, Moses' father-in-law Jethro (i.e., "Yitro") had heard of Israel's deliverance from Egypt and went to the land of Rephidim to meet with Moses. There Moses recounted the great story of the exodus, telling him all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake. Jethro rejoiced, blessed the LORD, and offered sacrifices which were communally eaten with Moses' brother Aaron and the 70 elders of Israel (Exod. 18:1-12). After this celebration, Jethro observed how Moses sat every day to judge the people "from morning to evening" and expressed concern that his son-in-law was taking on too much responsibility. Jethro then wisely advised his son-in-law to appoint a hierarchy of magistrates and judges to help him govern the people, thereby freeing Moses to be a more effective intercessor before the LORD. Jethro's wise counsel helped implement the system of justice that later became the basis of Jewish social law (i.e., the Sanhedrin, etc.). After the third new moon after leaving Egypt (i.e., the 1st day of the month of Sivan), the Israelites encamped opposite Mount Sinai, the place where Moses was initially commissioned at the "burning thornbush." Moses then ascended the mountain, and there God commanded him to tell the leaders that if they would obey the LORD and keep His covenant, then they would be mamlekhet kohanim v'goy kadosh -- a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation." After returning down to deliver this message to the elders, the people responded by proclaiming, kol asher diber Adonai na'aseh ("all that the LORD has spoken, we shall do"). Moses then returned to the mountain and was told to command the people to prepare themselves to experience the presence of God upon the mountain in three days. According to Jewish tradition, on the morning of the "third day" (i.e., the sixth of Sivan, exactly seven weeks (49 days) after the Exodus), all the children of Israel gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, where the LORD descended amidst thunder, lightning, billowing smoke, fire, and the voluminous blast of the heavenly shofar. The LORD then declared the foundation of moral conduct required of the people, namely, the Ten Commandments, which begins with the words: "I AM" (Exod. 20:2). Because the vision was so overwhelming, the terrified Israelites began beseeching Moses to be their mediator lest they die before the Presence of God. The portion ends as the people stood far off, while Moses alone drew near to the thick darkness where God was (Exod. 20:21).


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