Thursday, February 1, 2018

Parashah Yitro "Jethro" Shemot (Exodus) 18:1-20:23

Yitro "Jethro"

Shemot (Exodus) 18:1-20:23

Now that the Yishraelites and some Egyptians (approximately 2.4 million) have left Egypt, management and keeping order was becoming a pressing issue. Jethro, Moshe’s father-in-law heard of the amazing things that happened in Egypt with the Hebrews, so he took Zipporah, Moshe’s wife, as well as Gershom and Eliezer Moshe’s sons to the wilderness where Moshe was encamped at the mountain of God. Jethro brought Zipporah and the two boys to Moshe because it is possible that Zipporah and the two boys went back to Jethro’s house after Zipporah saved Moshe by circumcising their son. It is believed that Moshe never fully obeyed HaShem’s command to Abraham, that every male at 8 days old must be circumsised (Bereishit [Genesis] 17:11), this may have been due to the influence of Zipporah who grew up in a home of many gods.

When Moshe met up with Jethro he told him all about his journey and what HaShem had done, and Jethro blessed the Lord and said, “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods”, indicating an understanding of the authority of HaShem, however also indicating that Jethro never saw HaShem as the only true G-d.

After experiencing what would have been a massive impacting day of council with Moshe sitting as judges for all of Yishrael (18:13), Jethro brought wise council to Moshe in regards to the way in which Moshe judged the people, suggesting to chose G-d fearing men as rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens, giving them the authority to judge small matters and only bringing the greater matter to Moshe to judge. Jethro also explained to Moshe that he ought to stand before HaShem and bring the people before Him, also teaching the rulers the statues and the laws, guiding and developing them - these days we call it leadership or Pastoral training, also position with authority. Moshe heeded Jethro’s council, then Jethro departed.

HaShem continually had a way, an answer, be it with Aaron as Moshe’s mouth piece (Shemot 4:14), the cloud cover and fire for light (Shemot 13:21), the parting of the sea to provide a way (Shemot 14:21) or now the wisdom to lead such a mass of people.

On the third month (Sivan/May) Yishrael was in the wilderness of Sinai and Moshe went up the mountain to HaShem, were HaShem spoke with Moshe and said something very interesting (19:5-6):

  • “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Yishrael agreed and Moshe relayed this message to HaShem, in which HaShem relayed back through Moshe that in three days He would assent on Mount Sinai in a pillar of cloud so all could see and experience HaShem’s presence to witness and believe forever - Yisrael was to consecrate themselves and be ready. Once Moshe came down from the mountain, he made this statement to the people:

  • “Be ready for the third day; do not come near your wives.”

On the third day, there was a mighty spectacle as HaShem ascended upon Mount Sinai and spoke with Moshe, giving him the ten commandments. These moments put the fear of G-d in Yishrael as they said to Moshe:

  • “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”

This weeks parashah has almost unbelievable imagery as we receive a glimpse of the power and might of HaShem. It leaves me with two questions:

1. What is the meaning of chapter 19:6 when it says, should Yishrael obey HaShem’s voice and keep His covenant, Yishrael would be to HaShem, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. Many questions stem from this one statement, for example does this apply to men and women, as the language is inclusive from verse 6-14, then verse 15 can be viewed from a point of men only, or for the cause of both husband and wife, being inclusive language of the women. If all were to be priest be it both men and women or just men, what would this look like today, and would it have changed in the course of history?

2. What was the purpose of verse 15 when it says: “Be ready for the third day; do not come near your wives”? If marriage is a union under G-d’s blessing what is the purpose of separation in order to be consecrated?

Graeme Politanski

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