Torah Weekly

For the week ending 14 February 2009 / 20 Shevat 5769

Parshat Yitro

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Hearing of the miracles G-d performed forBnei 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 Yisraelarrive 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.


A Fish Out Of Water

“And G-d spoke all these words…” (20:1)

Chagall, Rothko, Modigliani, Pollock, Mahler, Kafka, Mendelssohn, Marx, Trotsky, Freud, and Einstein are but a small fraction of the Jewish contribution to creative invention.

Some 15 percent of all Nobel Prize nominees have been Jewish, while the Jewish People barely rise above a half a percent of the world’s population. The Jewish desire to light up the world, and their success in doing so, is very disproportionate to our numbers.

Mark Twain, in his now famous article in Harper’s Bazaar (March 1898), identified the Jew’s “alert and aggressive mind…”

Of all the anti-Semitic slogans lobbed our way throughout history, no one has ever accused the Jews of being stupid. What is referred to in the United States as a Polish joke, and becomes in England an Irish joke, has never transmuted anywhere in the world to a Jewish joke.

The aspiration of someone who delves deeply into the Torah is to author his own chidushim (novellae). How is it possible to say anything new after thousands of years and thousands of brilliant minds turning the Torah over and over? And yet, every generation produces its truly gifted Torah thinkers who manage to innovate and enlighten while nevertheless staying firmly within the parameters that the Torah itself defines.

We are a people of innovation.

The first mitzvah given to the Jewish People was Kiddush HaChodesh, the sanctification of the New Moon. It was the first mitzvah because it expresses the essence of the Jewish People; the new moon is both as old as the solar system and brand-spanking new. And the Jewish People are both as old as history and as new as tomorrow.

When Yaakov Avinu blessed Ephraim and Menashe, his blessing was that they should multiply like fish.

Something very interesting happens when rain falls on a lake. The fish come to the surface to drink the drops of rain. In spite of the fact that they are surrounded by water — they live in it; they drink it — nevertheless, fish always swim up to imbibe the new drops of rainwater.

Thus it is with the Jewish People. If a Jew is not connected to Torah he will still thirst for innovation as history amply demonstrates. And for those for whom Torah is life, though the Torah was given over three thousand years ago, the Jewish mind and soul longs to hear and drink in the words of the greatest Torah minds of the age.

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