Torah Weekly

For the week ending 10 February 2007 / 22 Shevat 5767

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.



It’s an almost universal Jewish custom to welcome Shabbat with the beautiful liturgical poem Lecha Dodi. In the chorus of Lecha Dodi it says, “Let us welcome the face of Shabbat.”

How can Shabbat have ‘a face’?

Nothing is merely poetic in Judaism. We can be sure that Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, the great Kabbalist who composed Lecha Dodi, hid many mystical layers behind the surface beauty of that idea.

What is the face of Shabbat?

Every face is unique.

From the first face that ever gazed at this world until the last one that turns out the lights, no two faces have ever been, or will ever be, identical.

And yet, if you think about it, the face contains too few variables to support this astounding diversity. Two eyes, two ears, a nose, a mouth, some hair; how is it possible that billions and billions of faces containing essentially the same few components be unique?

Another thing. The face is the only part of the body where you can recognize someone. You cannot positively identify a person by the hand or the foot; there’s little difference between one hand and another. Differences of gender age and race may contribute a few distinguishing factors, but a person’s identity — the personality — is expressed only in the face.

Why is the face the sole residence of our uniqueness and individuality?

A human being is a combination of a body and a soul; the place where you can see that connection, the place where the body and the soul meet, is the human face.

The radiance of the human face is quite literally the ‘interface’ between the flesh and the spirit.

The Talmud tells us that G-d told Moshe that He had a special gift in his treasury that He wanted to give to the Jewish People – Shabbat. What is so special about Shabbat? What makes it more of a gift than any of the many other ways G-d gave us to connect to Him?

One of the songs we sing on Shabbat calls Shabbat an experience that is m’ayn olam haba, “like the World-to-Come.” In fact the proportion of the Shabbat experience to the experience of the next world is 1:59. That proportion is the threshold of taste. At 1:60 one can no longer discern the taste of the one part in the mixture. Shabbat is such a special gift because some of its reward can be experienced here even while we are on this plane of existence. Usually, the reward for a mitzvah cannot be experienced in this world. This world is too small, its scope too limited to be able to give value for the currency of the next world. Shabbat is different. Even while we are still here in this world, restricted by our bodies and living a physical existence, Shabbat allows us to experience something beyond this world.

Our mystical sources say that G-d blessed the Seventh Day with the radiance of the face of man. How can we understand this comparison? What does Shabbat have to do with the radiance of the human face?

Just as the human face is the place where one can see the connection between the physical and the spiritual, so too Shabbat reveals the connection between the physical and the spiritual worlds.

The phrase in Lecha Dodi, “Let us welcome the ‘face’ of Shabbat”, hints to this interface between this world and the world beyond.

Shabbat is where you can see the connection between the body of the world and its spirit.

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