Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Parashat Yitro (Jethro); Exodus 18:1-20:23 by Jon Eaton



Parashat Yitro (Jethro);  Exodus 18:1-20:23 by Jon Eaton

The parashah begins with how Yitro (Jethro) packed up his family, including Moses’ wife who obviously had returned to Midian before the exodus, and travelled to the desert to be with Moses and the Israelites.   It is worth noting that Jethro had heard about what HaShem had done for Moses and Israel in Egypt which stirred up his motivation to move.    Which was the exact intent of the miracles; so that the name of the Lord would be famous throughout the earth as we read in Exodus 9:16, “that my name may be proclaimed throughout all the earth.”

Midrash says that Jethro worshipped all the gods: "There was a not a god in the world that he did not worship" (Midrash Mechilta Yitro 1:1; cp. Exod. 18:11). In respect of this, Jethro became part of the mixed multitude, a Ger Tzedek (righteous convert), that chose to join Israel because of what the Lord had done (although he did return to Midian later).  It was Jethro’s son Hobab who later joined the Israelites and traditionally his descendants became incorporated into the tribe of Judah in Numbers 10:30-32.

Despite his ‘newbie’ status, Jethro noticed that Moses needed a better system of dealing with the people’s issues and advised Moses to set up a common law court system.  Still used today.
Moses took the advice, which was a precursor for the Sanhedrin later.

On the 1st Sivan,  nearly three months later (in the third month) the Israelites camped infront of Mount Sinai pretty much the same place that Moses was commissioned earlier.   
Moses ascended the mount where HasShem told him that if Israel obeys the Lord and keeps His covenant then they would be a "kingdom of priests, and a holy nation."  (Exodus 19:6).  After delivering this message, the people responded with “All that the Lord has spoken we will do”

It is here that we should examine how Israel accepted the terms of the agreement (the Ketubah), before reading the “fine lines” or any lines at all.  They had accepted that the King and Creator of the universe is to be obeyed.     But why wouldn’t they?  HaShem had not demanded their obedience before delivering them.  He had shown his mighty power in Egypt and his personal care at Marah. 
And then the Lord warned them all to be sanctified, "Be ready for the third day; for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people." (Exodus 19:11)

It was on the third day that the Lord descended with thunder, lightning, billowing smoke, fire and the blast of the shofar.    This was a massive and scary sight which came with a warning in verse 21 of chapter 19 which states, “charge the people, lest they break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish”.     Interesting how despite the awesome show, it was not a Hollywood show (or do I dare say an evangelical show) for the people to disrespect.   Awe and reverence of HaShem is a basic human requirement.  

With the Israelites listening, the Lord declared the ten conducts that were required of the people called The Ten Commandments.  Tradition states that the LORD then spoke, in a single utterance, all Ten Commandments at once.  (Horovitz – Rabin, 218).    This idea came from Exodus 20:1 which states, “And God spoke all these words”.

Without going into all the Ten Commandments, it is worth investigating how the language indicates that they are a personal request from HaShem – a request to each individual not just as a nation.
Rabbi Levi said, "When the Holy One spoke to the people of Israel, each one felt personally spoken to…”   We can even read it this way in Exodus 20:2, "I am Adonai Elohim, who brought you (singular) out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" .    Through the rest of the commandments, HaShem uses the second person singular (not plural) for all the verbs, "you (singular) shall have no other gods beside me"; "you (singular) shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain," and so forth and so on.    The commandments are a personal appeal for obedience and to honour His name when we "carry" His name (לֹא תִשָּׂא - lo tisa)

In reflection there is a old story about teaching and learning the commandments.  "Teach me the whole Torah, a heathen said, while I stand on one foot. Shammai cursed and drove the man away. He went to Hillel. Hillel said, What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else: that is the whole Torah. The rest will follow (the rest is dialogue) – go now and learn it.”  Yeshua shared this sentiment when he stated, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” in Luke6:31 and then, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”    Or as Shaul taught, “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:10).

The parashah then continues with the Israelite begging Moses to speak to them instead of Adonai and finishes with Moses drawing near to the “thick darkness” where HaShem dwelt while the people stood far away. 

How often do we hear Adonai speak to our hearts about obedience, but we would rather keep Him and his Messiah in the thick darkness where we cannot see Him or hear Him speak into our lives.  Without even trying, we have ended up standing “far away” from entering into His presence.

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