Food For the Soul
The Ten Commandments
In the Parsha Yitro (Exodus 18:1–20:23) G-d gives the Ten Commandments. They were heard from G‑d by the entire Jewish people. Writes Dr. Tali Loewenthal:
“The first Command, “I am G‑d, your G‑d, who took you out of the Land of Egypt” is the basic statement of our special relationship with the Infinite. The first word, Anokhi, means, “I am.” G‑d is speaking of Himself, and communicating with us.
The Midrash is intriguing. It says this first word Anokhi is Egyptian, because G‑d wanted to speak with us in the language we had learned while we were in Egypt. This tells us something about the nature of Torah and of being a Jew. G‑d does not want to relate to us only on the sacred, spiritual level of our lives, represented by Hebrew, the holy language. He wants to reach the earthly “Egyptian” dimension as well.
The Sages tell us that every Jewish soul ever to be born was present at the giving of the Torah. This includes every single person who would ever become a true proselyte to Judaism. It was a moment of meeting of the entire Jewish people together, and a meeting of the Jewish people with G‑d. The recognition of G‑d which was experienced at Sinai remains in the heart of every Jew, and is the spark of his or her Jewish identity.
Further, during his forty days and nights on Mount Sinai the entire Torah was revealed to Moses. The Sages tell us that Every new idea which would ever be suggested by a scholar in discussion with his teacher – was told to Moses at Sinai.
Sinai was therefore the ultimate meeting point of G‑d, the entire Jewish people and the Torah.”
The Fourth Commandment
Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the L‑rd your G‑d. On it you shall not do any manner of work—you, your son, your daughter, your man-servant, your maid-servant, your cattle, and your stranger that is within your gates. For in six days the L‑rd made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day; wherefore the L‑rd blessed the Sabbath Day, and hallowed it.
The 4th of the 10 Commandments, from Chabad.org
Mind Over Matter
Humility and wisdom
In the Kabbalah, humility is synonymous with wisdom. That’s because the key ingredient to wisdom is the humility to recognize that our own perspective is not sufficient, that we must seek deeper and higher understanding. Every intellectual breakthrough is dependent on us having the courage to tell ourselves, “Although I have a deep-rooted perspective on this issue, I may be completely wrong.” Without this humility, no new wisdom is possible. This is true about all wisdom, and it’s even more true about divine wisdom, the wisdom of the Torah.
From an article by Rabbi Menachem Feldman
When G‑d gave the Torah to Israel, He told Moses to approach the women first. Of the exodus itself it is said that it occurred in the merit of the pious women of that generation. Thus, when it came to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the women were given precedence. The Messianic redemption, too, will come about in the merit of the righteous women of Israel, as stated in the Midrash: “All generations are redeemed by virtue of the pious women of their generation” (Yalkut Shimoni, Ruth: 606). Thus the women will once again be first to receive the wondrous teachings to be heard from Moshiach.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Jethro and me
On my first trip to Israel in 1978, my traveling companion wanted to climb Mount Sinai. It seemed like a fun Jewish adventure, so I went with her. I remember waking up way too early, that it was way too hot, and that the guide kept talking about Moses. What I remember now, so many years later, is that most everything he said went in one ear and out the other.
I often wonder: what message was playing so loudly that I couldn’t hear that G‑d gave the Torah to the entire Jewish nation on Mount Sinai? (I have since learned that we actually don’t know where the real Mount Sinai is, but I don’t think that was the problem.)
I’m fairly sure that the guide related the Sinai story pretty much like that—a story—but I am definitely sure that hearing it didn’t even raise a question in my mind about what it meant to be Jewish, other than being smart, funny and persecuted.
Clearly, it would have taken much more than a day trip up any mountain to free my head of all the information that had nothing to do with G‑d and Torah.
I was a pop-culture sponge, and my mind was packed with tidbits of trivia, much of it from my favorite childhood pastime: watching television. Cartoons, sitcoms, soap operas; nothing was too dumb. Watching TV was what Americans did, and I did it exceedingly well.
But, nine years later, when I was ready to listen and decided that I wanted to become observant, it was challenging not to be frustrated, even saddened, by the amount of pop-culture “stuff” that had hoarded precious storage space in my brain, never to be emptied. Instead of learning which way to turn during the Amidah prayer, I had been watching The Beverly Hillbillies. I can still remember the names of all the cast members, but when I go to the synagogue, I often need help.
This brings me to this week’s Torah portion, and what I learned from that television series in particular. The show’s creators probably didn’t intend to make the connection, but one of the main characters on The Beverly Hillbillies was named Jethro, which is also the English translation of the name of this week’s Parshah, Yitro. Which means that year after year, whether I like it or not, when it’s Parshat Yitro, that show’s theme song plays in my head.
This Torah-television connection may seem ironic, especially because Parshat Yitro contains the pivotal event for the Jewish people and the entire world—the moment when G‑d gave the Torah on Mount Sinai.
But it makes sense in light of the original Jethro/Yitro’s identity. He was Moses’ father-in-law, a Midianite priest who enjoyed tremendous status and high regard in the world, largely for his unparalleled expertise in the field of idol worship. When a maven like Jethro recognized that this G‑d was the One and Only, then chose to convert to follow Him, it sent a powerful spiritual message to the world for all time: Everything about a person, including the past, has the potential to be transformed into holiness.
That’s why this magnificent Parshah is named after a convert who once served as an idolatrous priest. And for me, that message is a priceless gift, although it took many years for me to be grateful for my history. Who knows what part the emptiness of entertainment played in igniting my desire for a life of meaning? The knowledge that my current effort in the realm of G‑dliness actually elevates my past is a great joy for me—one that allows me to laugh a little more about the things that feel like they will stay in my head forever.
By Lieba Rudolph in Chabad.org