Torah Weekly

For the week ending 18 February 2017 / 22 Shevat 5777

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 Mount 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 Servant of Two Masters

“And now, if you will surely listen to My voice…” (19:5)

Why is it only now after all the plagues and the Exodus that G-d asks the Jewish People to listen to His voice?

The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that a Canaanite slave is exempt from the mitzvah of saying “Shma” because he cannot honestly accept the yoke of Heaven (the purpose of this mitzvah) since he already has another yoke — that of his master.

A true servant cannot serve two masters. To the extent that he serves one, his dedicated service to the other is lacking.

Only now, after breaking the enslavement of Egypt, bringing the Children of Israel out of Egypt and raising them far above the Egyptians on eagles’ wings, G-d is the undisputed Master of the Jewish People; and thus only now does G-d seek from the Jewish People their acceptance of the Kingdom of Heaven.

This should give us pause.

How much of our own lives are spent serving “other masters”? The masters of honor, of wealth and prestige, of frivolous entertainment and needless worry?

To fly with the eagles a Jew can have no other master than G-d.

  • Sources: based on the Shem MiShmuel in Mayana shel Torah

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