Torah Weekly

For the week ending 15 February 2020 / 20 Shevat 5780

Parshat Yitro

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Wearing 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.


Task Master

“And G-d spoke all these statements, saying…” (20:1)

One of the cleverest little buttons on my computer is called “Tasks.” Tasks allows you to jot down quickly a list of all the things you need to do: Check bank online; Send out resume for your daughter’s shidduchim; Renew driving license; Buy food; Visit parents; etc.” But it’s all too easy for life to become a list of tasks. Get this done. Get this done. Get that done — and then go to bed. (And spend a quarter-hour thinking about what you’ve got to do tomorrow.) If you look at life this way, it’s possible to go through life spending most of your waking hours thinking — and often worrying — about what’s left to do. If you live like that you will finally get to the end of your life and your last list will read: “Task — Leave this world (don’t forget to turn out the lights!)”

I noticed that “Tasks” has a feature called “add details,” and I thought to myself that for every task I have there, I could put an “add details” reason for why I have to do this task. For example: “Check bank online…” Add details… I’m checking my bank account so I can make sure that I’m not charged ribit (interest), which might be an issue of a Torah prohibition. I’m checking my bank account to make sure that the money Hashem has entrusted me with is being put to good use. I’m renewing my driving license because the Torah teaches that the “law of the Land is the law” — if a Jew breaks the civil law of the state, he has also transgressed a Torah law. I’m buying food so that I and my family can be healthy to daven properly and do the mitzvahs. I’m visiting my parents to make them happy and to fulfill the Torah obligation to honor my parents…

Life doesn’t have to be dominated by the Task Master. You can turn your whole life from a series of tasks to a wealth of mitzvahs.

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