Torah Weekly - Parshat Yitro

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Parshat Yitro

For the week ending 22 Shevat Tevet 5760 / 28 & 29 January 2000

  • Summary
  • Insights:
  • The Sight Of Sound
  • Haftorah
  • Lest We Forget
  • Love of the Land
  • Ein Dor
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    Hearing of the miracles 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 himself, Yitro suggests that subsidiary judges be appointed to adjudicate the smaller matters, leaving Moshe free to attend to larger issues. Moshe accepts his advice. Bnei Yisrael arrive at Mt. Sinai where Hashem offers them the Torah. After 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. Don't worship other "gods"
    3. Don't use Hashem'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 Hashem's word to them. Hashem instructs Moshe to caution the Jewish People regarding their responsibility to be faithful to the One who spoke to them.



    The SIGHT of SOUND

    "And all the people saw the thunder (lit. the voices.)" (20:15)

    Twice a day, the Jewish People cover their eyes, meditate on the ineffable Unity of the Creator and intone, "Shema Yisrael - Hear! O Israel, Hashem our G-d, Hashem is One!"

    The Shema is the basic credo of the Jew, his first declaration of G-d's Unity and the last words to leave his mouth when he passes from this world.

    Why is it that we say "Hear! O Israel?" Why don't we say "Look! O Israel?"

    When the Jewish People stood at Sinai to receive the Torah, they underwent an experience which was literally out of this world. When G-d spoke, the Torah writes that the Jewish People "saw the voices." There was a dislocation of the natural perception of the senses. Kinesthesia. Seeing sound. What does it mean to see sound?

    Sight and sound are very different. Sight operates instantaneously. We see through the medium of light. Light is the fastest thing in the universe. It travels at 186,000 miles per second. Sound is relatively slow, moving at about 800 miles an hour.

    The difference between the speeds of light and sound symbolizes a fundamental difference between the two senses. With sight, we perceive a complete whole instantaneously. After this first sight, we may analyze what we are looking at in more detail, focusing on one element and then another, but the essence of vision is an instantaneous whole.

    Sound, on the other hand, is assimilated as a collage of different elements. We order these separate pieces of information, giving them substance and definition, and in the process, we understand what it is we are hearing. This process of assembly is not instantaneous. Our brain takes time to balance and evaluate what it is hearing.

    When you listen to a lecture on a tape recorder, it's amazing how much distracting ambient noise there seems to be on the tape. You think to yourself: "That's not the way it sounded!" When you listen to a lecturer in person, you aren't aware of the constant drone of the traffic in the background, the noise of the fans and the air-conditioner. However, when you listen to a tape, those extraneous sounds vie for your attention. The tape recorder is not the human ear. The tape recorder is an indiscriminate "vacuum cleaner" of reality. The human ear, however, takes the elements of what is available and it "hears" - it discriminates and balances.

    This world is like an assembly line. The Hebrew word for "world" is olam which means "hidden." You don't see G-d in this world. He is hidden behind the facade of the world. You can't see G-d in this world - but you can hear Him. If you tune your ears carefully, you can hear an unmistakable pattern in events. If you listen carefully to the un-historical history of the Jewish People, and weigh it in the balance of probability, you will hear G-d's Voice. If you listen to all the seemingly coincidental events in your life, you will hear Him.

    The reason we say "Hear! O Israel" is that, in this world, you cannot see G-d. You have to "hear" Him. You have to take the disparate, seemingly random elements of this world, and assemble them into a cogent whole.

    There was only one time in history that you didn't have to "hear" G-d's Unity; one moment when you could actually see it. At Mount Sinai. There the Jewish People "saw" the voices. They saw with an incontrovertible clarity those things that usually need to be "heard." Seeing is more than believing. When you see, you don't have to believe. It's in front of your eyes.


    Yehsaya 6:1 - 7:6, 9:5-6



    Yeshaya envisions G-d sitting on a Heavenly throne which stretches down and fills the Temple below. Administering angels surround this throne, calling to each other with those familiar words which we echo in our twice daily "kedusha" prayer: "Holy, holy, holy is G-d, Master of Legions, the whole world is filled with His glory." The pillars shook at their cry and the whole place filled with smoke.

    G-d tells Yeshaya to say to the people: "Surely you hear, but you fail to comprehend; and surely you see, but you fail to know." This is Yeshaya's message to the nation that once stood at Sinai, that witnessed a revelation of G-d's presence akin to that described by Yeshaya. But G-d gave us the power to forget. The power to forget is the power of free will. How can we keep the experience of Sinai alive? How can we stop ourselves from forgetting?

    When we recite the "kedusha" prayer twice daily, we are to picture the Divine presence, to imagine the administering angels constant proclamation of G-d's glory. When we recite the blessings on the Torah every morning, we are to think of Sinai, to think back to when G-d "chose us from all the nations and gave us His Torah."

    Without a strong reminder, we are bound to forget.

    Love of the Land
    Selections from classical Torah sources
    which express the special relationship between
    the People of Israel and Eretz Yisrael


    Following the death of the Prophet Shmuel, King Saul found himself facing a mighty force of Philistine invaders. When his efforts to gain Divine communication on how to proceed proved fruitless, he desperately sought to make contact with the spirit of Shmuel through a woman medium who lived in Ein Dor. The unhappy prophecy he received from this contact was that his army would be vanquished and that he and his sons would die in battle. (Shmuel I 28:3-19)

    Near this spot opposite Mount Tabor in the north of Israel is the modern kibbutz of Ein Dor.

    Love of the Land Archives

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Eli Ballon

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