Torah Weekly

For the week ending 29 January 2005 / 19 Shevat 5765

Parshat Yitro

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Hearing of the miracles G-d performed for Bnei Yisrael, Moshe's father-in-law Yitro arrives with Moshe's wife and sons, reuniting the family in the wilderness. Yitro is so impressed by Moshe's detailing of the Exodus from Egypt that he converts to Judaism. Seeing that the only judicial authority for the entire Jewish nation is Moshe himself, Yitro suggests that subsidiary judges be appointed to adjudicate smaller matters, leaving Moshe free to attend to larger issues. Moshe accepts his advice. Bnei Yisrael arrive at Mt. Sinai where G-d offers them the Torah. After they accept, G-d charges Moshe to instruct the people not to approach the mountain, and to prepare for three days. On the third day, amidst thunder and lightning, G-d's voice emanates from the smoke-enshrouded mountain and He speaks to the Jewish People, giving them the Ten Commandments:

  1. Believe in G-d
  2. Don't worship other "gods"
  3. Don't use G-d's name in vain
  4. Observe Shabbat
  5. Honor your parents
  6. Don't murder
  7. Don't commit adultery
  8. Don't kidnap
  9. Don't testify falsely
  10. Don't covet.

After receiving the first two commandments, the Jewish People, overwhelmed by this experience of the Divine, request that Moshe relay G-d's word to them. G-d instructs Moshe to caution the Jewish People regarding their responsibility to be faithful to the One who spoke to them.


The House Of Fear

"I am Hashem, your G-d, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery." (20:2)

A bright sunny day at the beach; everything is quiet and peaceful. Suddenly in the distance you see a wall of water the height of a building rolling inexorably towards you.

One can only guess how it must have felt to be sitting in a deck chair seeing death approaching. A person who believes in G-d placed in suchcircumstances certainly understands what it is to fear G-d in a way that few of us will ever experience.

Our relationship with the Creator of the worldcan only be based on one of two things. Either fear or love. Those are the two channels that the Creator has chosen for us to relate to Him. Take it or leave it.

Nowadays fear is pretty much out of fashion. Its non-PC to fear G-d. G-d is a nice G-d. Hes my friend. We go for walks together. Nowadays we want to hang-out with God. We want to "chill" with Him. Were not even sure whether we should spell Him with a capital H anymore. After all, that puts a kind of barrier between us (or should it be Us.)

If a person has no fear of G-d, he also has no love for Him. By fear of G-d, I mean that a person is very careful with his relationship with Him. Any relationship where what I do has no consequences to that relationship is really no relationship at all. No marriage in the world can survive the total indifference of one partner to what the other wants. G-d told us what He wants. He wrote it down in the Torah. If we ignore what He wants, can we still claim to have a relationship with Him? What kind of relationship is that?

In Hebrew, one of the words for an idol is elil. Elil is the diminutive form of the word El (a name of G-d). In other words, idolatry is bringing G-d down to my level, to make "Him" into just "him".

Fear of G-d means living in a fashion that I understand that G-d can and will do anything He chooses and that what He chooses to do is in direct response to what I do. Thats called having a relationship.

But the relationship doesnt stop there. Fear of G-d is just the beginning of the relationship, but it is not its end. The end is love.

For when I introspect on the fact that all G-d wants is my good and no being understands what that good is better than Him the feeling that emerges from that contemplation is called love.

The whole time that the Jewish People were in Egypt, their relationship with G-d was one of fear. Their daily fear was that they would never escape the crushing oppression of Egypt. After they left, however, and that fear was removed, their relationship with G-d was one of love, for they recognized the great kindness that He had done in freeing them from their crushing enslavement.

Someone who serves G-d just out of fear is like a slave who fears his master. The relationship is real but it is lacking a higher level. Someone who serves G-d out of love, however, is like a son who loves his father.

"I am Hashem, your G-d, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from house of slavery." By taking the Jewish People out of Egypt, G-d also took them out of the "house of slavery." They became like sons who serve out of love, not just out of fear.

  • Based on Kedushat Levi

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