Torah Weekly

For the week ending 2 February 2013 / 21 Shevat 5773

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 Price of Privilege

These are the words that you shall speak to the Children of Israel.” (19:6)

Rashi: These words - no less and no more.

We live in a world where inflation is an everyday part of life.

But there’s one thing that still costs the same as it always did. One thing that’s inflation proof. There’s one thing that costs exactly the same as it did three thousand years ago. Being Jewish.

You can join the Jewish People today for exactly the same price as it cost three thousand years ago: accepting the Kingdomof Heavenand the mitzvot.

Anyone can become Jewish if he wants to.

The enemies of the Jewish people have always accused the Torah of being racist, setting the Jewish People apart as a treasured people and a holy nation. But how can Judaism be racist and exclusivist if anyone can join?

It’s true the Jewish People are “privileged”. They have a special place in the purpose of Creation, to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.

There is no privilege, however, without responsibility.

Rashi tells us that the above command, to speak ‘these words’ to the Children of Israel, contains an implicit mandate not to add or subtract from G-d’s words. However, the Sages when commenting on another verse, “Thus you will say to the House of Yaakov,” tell us that G-d instructed Moshe to convey the Torah in different ways to the Jewish People. For example, when speaking to the women he was to use gentle words. When speaking to the men, however, he was to use language as tough as sinew.

So how could Moshe on the one hand not change one word - “These are the words that shall speak” – These and no other - and on the other hand vary his words to suit his audience?

When the Jewish People heard “And you will be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy people”, there were those who heard these as gentle words, words that allowed them to bask in the glory and the exaltation of such a mission.

Other people, however, heard these self-same words but understood that they bespoke a destiny as tough as sinew. For to be a holy nation and a treasured people is a responsibility of awesome proportions.

There is a price for privilege.

  • Source – S'fat Emet

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