For the week ending 22 January 2022 / 20 Shvat 5782

Parashat Yitro

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Hearing of the miracles that Hashem 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 Rabbeinu, Yitro suggests that subsidiary judges be appointed to adjudicate smaller matters, leaving Moshe free to attend to larger issues. Moshe accepts his advice.

The Jewish People arrive at Mount Sinai, where Hashem offers them the Torah. Once they accept, Hashem 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, Hashem's voice emanates from the smoke-enshrouded mountain, and He speaks to the Jewish People, giving them the Ten Commandments:

  1. Believe in Hashem.
  2. Do not worship other "gods".
  3. Do not use Hashem's name in vain.
  4. Observe Shabbat.
  5. Honor your parents.
  6. Do not murder.
  7. Do not commit adultery.
  8. Do not kidnap.
  9. Do not testify falsely.
  10. Do not covet.

After receiving the first two commandments, the Jewish People, overwhelmed by this experience of the Divine, request that Moshe relay Hashem's word to them. Hashem instructs Moshe to caution the Jewish People not to draw close to the mountain or touch any part of it.


Does Shabbat Like You?

"Remember the day of Shabbat to make it holy."

May I ask you a personal question? How’s your Shabbat? Does every Shabbat make you feel suffused with holiness? Does every rock and building and tree whisper to you "Shabbat!" Do you feel so much closer to G-d than on the rest of the week?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is no, then you should know you are part of a very large majority.

Many people find Shabbat a burden: You cannot watch the TV. You cannot go to the ball game. You cannot go shopping. You cannot do this. You cannot do that. When is it going to be dark already?

And even if Shabbat is not a burden, and we enjoy the food, the company, the Shabbat nap — do we feel that we have left one reality and entered another world?

Why don’t we feel that kedusha, that holiness? Why don’t we feel Shabbat?

Many years ago I remember a magic Shabbat. I prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and had the Friday night meal at some friends’ in the Old City. After the meal, as I was walking back to my apartment, I don’t know why, but I stopped for a moment, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and said very quietly to myself, "Ahh, Shabbat!" And then I said it again and again and again. I walked through the magical streets of Meah Shearim. I came upon a small synagogue. I went in and opened up a Talmudic tractate and started to learn. I had never been in that synagogue before, and I am pretty sure that I could not find it again. Maybe it only existed for that one night. Who knows?

I learned for a while. It could have been a few minutes or an hour. Then I got up and walked home. I got into bed and my last words before sleep overtook me were "Shabbat, Shabbat!"

You might think that Shabbat is a day in the week. You might think that Shabbat is a 24-hour period of time between Friday afternoon and Saturday night.

But you would be wrong. It is not.

Shabbat is a being. Shabbat is an existence with feelings and likes and dislikes. Shabbat can choose to come to you once in your life, or every week or never. Because if you never felt Shabbat, that is because it never came to you.

It did not feel comfortable with you. Because you do not feel comfortable with it.

Shabbat is very sensitive and very picky. If it senses that your commitment to it is shaky, then it will not come to you. You can light your Shabbat lights and make Kiddush and eat your cholent to your heart’s content, but if you are not really there for it, Shabbat knows that, it senses that, and passes on down the block.

"Remember the day of Shabbat to make it holy."

Every week we have to remember to make Shabbat holy, to exert ourselves and infuse those precious hours with Torah, with spirituality, enthusiasm and kedusha, for if we make it holy, then the Shabbatqueen will arrive with all her retinue of blessings to crown our week.

  • Sources: Based on Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz in Daat Chochma UMussar

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