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QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT OF PARASHAT YITRO
Who said to whom, and under what circumstances?
(a) Now I know that G-d is the greatest of all the gods.
(b) What you are doing is not good.
(c) This entire people shall arrive at its destination in peace.
(d) I have carried you on the wings of eagles.
(e) You shall be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.
(f) We shall do everything that G-d has said.
(g) So that they will… believe in you forever.
(h) Honor your father and mother.
(i) Do not let G-d speak to us, lest we die.
(j) For you will have raised your sword over it and desecrated it.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT OF PARASHAT YITRO
(a) Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, to Moses (18:11), on hearing from Moses about the miracles of the Exodus.
(b) Jethro to Moses (18:17), in telling him that he could not deal with all the disputes between the Israelites single-handed.
(c) Jethro to Moses (18:23), in assuring him that there would be peaceful relations between the Israelites were he to appoint assistants in settling their day-to-day disputes.
(d) G-d to Moses (19:4) - in reference to His supernatural leading of the Israelites from Egypt to Sinai.
(e) G-d to Moses (19:6) - in His telling Moses to urge the Israelites to keep His Commandments, by whose merits they would become His Chosen People.
(f) The Israelites to Moses (19:8), in accepting their side of the Covenant to be His Chosen People.
(g) G-d to Moses (19:9), impressing on him that the miracles within the Revelation at Sinai would make a lasting and permanent impression on the Israelite Nation.
(h) Unclear from the text whether it was G-d or Moses who related this Fifth Commandment to the Israelites (20:12). See answer to Question #3, in the 'Other Commentaries' section below.
(i) The Israelites to Moses (20:16), in begging him to act as an intermediary between themselves and G-d, and not continue to let them stand in the all-too-intense Presence of the Almighty Himself.
(j) G-d to Moses (20:22), in telling him to relate to the Israelites that the use of metal as a tool for cutting the stones of an altar invalidates it. For metal cutting implements have the negative association of swords and death.
QUESTIONS ON RASHI'S COMMENTARY ON PARASHAT YITRO.
From where may the following values and teachings be derived in Rashi's commentary in Parashat Yitro?
(a) A man going into danger should avoid dragging his wife and children into it if at all possible.
(b) Never say anything negative about a person's background, however righteous he might be.
(c) Those who partake of a meal with Torah Scholars are reckoned as having experienced the radiance of the Divine Presence.
(d) A person - however great he is - should avoid unnecessarily taking other people's time.
(e) Honest and worthy judges are regarded by the Torah as participants in the Creation.
(f) Different methods are applied when teaching males on one hand, and females, on the other.
(g) Those that honestly endeavor to keep the Torah will receive help from the Almighty.
(h) A person can only be reckoned as having received a true warning if it is delivered twice - once before the action, and a second time at when the action is about to take place.
(i) The Divine reward of keeping a Mitzva is five hundred times the magnitude of the punishment for a transgression.
(j) The full name of G-d should not be pronounced outside the Temple.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON RASHI'S COMMENTARY ON PARASHAT YITRO.
(a) This idea may be learnt from the tradition related on his comment to 18:2. Although the text states that Moses travelled with his family from Midian towards Egypt (4:20), the traditon relates that when Aaron met them, he urged Moses to send his family back to Midian (compare with 'after he sent her away': 18:2) because there was no reason why they should be added to the numbers of the suffering Israelites... The family were only re-united after the Exodus and the early trials and tribulations in the wilderness.
(b) The phrase 'vayichad Yitro' (18:9) has a double meaning according to the Midrashic tradition. It can mean 'Jethro rejoiced' and it can also mean 'Jethro suffered unease'. This means that despite his happiness for the Israelites, he was not altogether joyful about Egypt's suffering - even though he recognized G-d as the true Power, he could not forget his once closeness to the Egyptians...
(c) This is derived from the words: Aaron and all the Israelite elders came to eat bread with the father-in-law of Moses - before G-d (18:12). The words 'before G-d' suggest tha the assembly of such worthy individuals caused the Divine Presence to be with them.
(d) Jetho's questioning Moses about the long lines of people waiting for his attention (18:13) implied rebuke - he should devise a method of dispensing justice without wasting the time and encroaching on the personal dignity of those who needed guidance.
(e) Moses is implied to have been judging disputes between the Israelites 'from the morning until evening'. (18:13) Homiletically, this expression is linked up by the Talmud (Shabbat 10a) with the profuse use of 'morning' and 'evening' in the Torah's account of G-d's Creating the Heavens and the Earth.
(f) The text relating G-d's preparing Moses to teach the terms of the Covenant to become the Chosen People is phrased 'tomar' (say) to the House of Jacob and 'taged' (tell) to the Israelites (19:3). Rashi brings the tradition that the House of Jacob are the women and the Israelties are the men. 'Saying' implies gentleness and tenderness - in educating the women. 'Telling' is harsher and more direct - more effective with men...
(g) This is derived from the words 'im shamoa tishma-oo' (19:5) which may be rendered 'if you listen, you will listen' - if you make the serious commitment to observe the Commandments, 'you will be able to listen' - you will have help from the Almighty to perform what you have indeed committed yourself to do...
(h) This rule may be derived in the following manner. Although Moses had warned the Israelites not to set hand or foot on Mount Sinai, G-d told him to warn the Israelites a second time - just before the actual Revelation (19:24).
(i) This tradition is hinted at by the text of the Ten Commandments stating that transgressors will be only punished up to the fourth generation (20:5), [if the children after being duly warned follow in the negative footsteps of their parents - Sanhedrin 27b)]. But those who keep the Commandments will experience His kindness for 'thousands' (the plural implies a minimum of two thousand) - two thousand generations; five hundred times the time span of the four generations of the sinners.
(j) This is derived from the words: 'wherever I permit My Name to be mentioned, I shall come to you and bless you' (20:21). The 'blessing' is associated with the most intense manifestation of the Divine Presence - the Temple. Homiletically, Rashi brings the view that only were there is that intense Presence and blessing, may the Divine Name be pronounced.
OTHER COMMENTARIES TO PARASHAT YITRO
1. Rashi brings the tradition that Jethro's visit to the Israelites in the desert was because 'Jethro heard' (18:1) about the miracle at the Red Sea and the defeat of Amalek. Why were those miracles in particular specified, according to the Ohr Hachayim?
2. When G-d specified that the Israelites were to be the Chosen People, He added 'for all the world is Mine'. (19:5) What is the meaning of that phrase according to (a) Rashi and (b) the S'forno?
3. Which of the Ten Commandments did the Israelites hear directly from G-d, and which ones did they hear from Moses - according to (a) Rashi and the Ramban (b) the Rambam?
4. How, according to the Ramban, is the Shabbat 'blessed' and 'sanctified'? (20:11)
5. How do (a) Rashi and (b) the Ramban translate the words 'le-vaavur nasot etchem' in 20:17?
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON OTHER COMMENTARIES TO PARASHAT YITRO
1. The Ohr Hachayim states that the miracles of the crossing of the Red Sea may be seen as a demonstration of G-d's wrath against the Egyptians. but His intervention on the side of the Israelites when Amalek attacked showed that G-d's motives were that He would intervene on behalf of the Israelites.
2. 'For all the world is Mine' (19:5), means, according to Rashi, that He chose Israel for his special love and rejected the other nations. The Sforno takes a more universalist view: the entire world and all humanity is precious to Him, but Israel is the most loved by Him.
3. According to Rashi and the Ramban, the Israelites heard all the Tem Commandments from G-d (following 20:1), but since it was in one Divine utterance, they could not understand them or take them in. Then G-d repeated them word for word, and after they had heard the first two Commandments, they were no longer able to bear the intense direct Divine communication, and they begged Moses instead to teach them the rest. The Rambam (Guide 2:32) holds that they heard the first two only from G-d, but in the form of sounds they could not understand. Moses, however, did comprehend them, and thus taught the Torah to the Israelites.
4. According to the Ramban, the Shabbat is 'blessed' because it the source of blessing for the forthcoming week, and it it 'sanctified' as it draws its holiness from other spiritual spheres.
5. According to Rashi, G-d revealed Himself at Mount Sinai to 'raise' the Israelites to a greater spiritual height - so that they should not sin in the future. The Ramban translates 'lenasot' meaning 'to test' (as in Gen. 22:1). Having come close to G-d at first hand, would they be more able to resist the human temptation to sin?
MY FAVORITE COMMENT ON THIS PARASHA is from Rashi's opening comments to the Ten Commandments. The First Commandment states: 'I am the L-rd your G-d Who brought you out of... Egypt'. (20:2) Rashi explains why He identified Himself in that way at Sinai. In Egypt, and at the Red Sea, the Israelites saw Him as a powerful and mighty warrior (15:3), defending them against the overpowering strength of the Egyptians. At Sinai, they saw Him very differently - as an elderly and compassionate Father, Who had suffered with them in Egypt (see 24:10). Lest people might think that they were two separate gods, as was common at the time, G-d opened the Ten Commandments with the firm statement that He was the Almighty - both at the Red Sea, and at Sinai.
ITEMS FOR DISCUSSION ON PARASHAT YITRO
1. What was so special about Jethro's advice to Moses that earned it a place of merit in the Torah - and indeed why does the Torah give him great credit for his suggestion: 'Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all he said' (18:24)?
2. Why do the Ten Commandments so strongly emphasize the nature of the actual relationship between Man and G-d. and between Man and Man, but have relatively little focus on ritual observance?
*Please note - My own attempts to deal with the issues related in #1 and #2 may be found in the archives for 5762 and 5761 respectively in Shema Yisrael - on Parashat Yitro.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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