Torah Portion: Yitro (Jethro) Exodus 18-23
HafTorah: Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6
Tonight we read the Torah portion Jethro. It is one of only two Torah portions named for a non-Jew. Jethro came to visit Moshe and Israel in the wilderness and brought Moshe’s family with him. However, the main theme of the portion is G-d’s giving of the 10 Words (Commandments) and Israel’s acceptance of this Covenant with G-d.
In Exodus 19:2 we read where the people departed from Rephidem, came to the desert, camped in the wilderness and “Israel camped before the mount.” The interesting thing is, in verse 2 only the last verb in this verse, the word in Hebrew for “camped” is in singular form. The other three verbs being expressed are plural. What can we learn from this? In each of the first three cases the people are referred to in the plural form, meaning that in these three cases they were mentioned as individuals, each person with a variety of thoughts, opinions and outlooks. However, in the last case where they camped before the mountain to hear the Word of G-d, they were one, completely unified. We can clearly see this in Exodus 19:8. Moses presents G-d’s offer to them. There is no bickering or arguing but just the unified statement that, “All that the L-rd has spoken we will do.” They are one people in their agreement to the offer of G-d to become His people. This is an outstanding example of unity of the people to this Covenant of G-d.
This unity here is tested over and over as we read Israel’s story, as it is in our own life. In fact it could be said that our unity grows by the discussions we have as we travel the road G-d has put before us. We grow as we learn through being able to express opinions that may not always be in the majority. In Philippians 2:12 we read, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. This working out should not harm our unity around the fundamentals of faith but they should be a way for all of us to grow as we move ahead to what He has for us. We must never allow ourselves to fall into the trap of killing the messenger. Opinions are to be evaluated and discussed but should not come to breaking our unity as a people of G-d unless they result in a canceling of those fundamental truths that the Father has given us all, which are non-negotiable.
Which brings us here in these verses and to those Words of G-d. Remember to look at this whole experience as a Covenant between G-d and His people. This is also what our faith experience is patterned after. G-d here makes an offer to the people. They, as we read in verse 8, accept His offer. Now come the details of the contract. We call them the Ten Commandments usually. However, in Hebrew it is more correctly translated as 10 Words or Utterances. I would like us to look at these in pairs, taking the first Command and comparing it to the Sixth and so on.
These words are usually pictured as two tablets with five words on each tablet. We could look at the first tablet as those words pertaining to our relationship to G-d and the second to our relationship to our fellow man. However, do not lose sight of the unity of them all as a group.
So let us look at the first commandment and the sixth commandment.
1. I am the L-rd and 6. Don’t murder.
How can we relate these two? Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of G-d He made man.” To murder destroys G-d’s image.
2. Have no other gods. 7. Don’t commit adultery.
To go after other gods can be easily equated as breaking our marriage vows of being faithful to our spouse.
3. Don’t take the name of the L-rd in Vain. 8. Don’t steal
Taking the name of the L-rd in vain is equal to stealing from His holiness.
4. Keep the Sabbath. 9. Don’t testify falsely.
Shabbat is like a testimony to G-d’s creation. Sabbath speaks of G-d’s purpose for man – to have time to spend with our “Beloved.” To give no heed to the Sabbath tells the world we are okay without any time for Him.
5. Honor your parents. 10. Don’t covet.
How can we see any connection between these two? Three partners are involved in our creation, our mother, our father and G-d. G-d puts us where we can grow in our relationship to Him. Sometimes that is a hard, difficult place, but the Father has a reason, for us to become what He intended. We may have to pass through the fire to get there. To covet other parents is not recognizing our parents as G-d’s tools in shaping us. This I know is hard to grasp for some of us. However, it is true and we are to honor them because it is where He has for us. We are not commanded to love them but to honor them.
I pray each of us is faithful to our Covenant with the Father.