Gustav Dore
Marc Chagall

2023-02-11 - Parashah Yitro — “Jethro”

Torah: Shemot 18:1 – 20:23 ; Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1 — 7:6, 9:5-6

"The Ten Commandments"

The title of this Parashah bears the name of Moshe’s father in-law, Yitro. This is because, in general, the Parashot are named after the first word in the reading. But these man-made designated titles probably elevated Yitro's name to a status unwarranted by the Bible. In the beginning of the Parashah, Yitro gives Moshe the advice on how to distribute his responsibilities as judge to other trustworthy leaders of the people. Even though this system of “supreme” and “lower” courts of judges became the basis of our western judicial system, it has its controversy. Some sees it as a brilliant division of authority — which may work in our 21st century culture, but others see it as an infusion of human wisdom in God’s affairs; they say that true justice can only be achieved based on God's ethics. They argue that if this was such a good idea why didn't God instruct Moshe to do it in the first place? — granted, God did not object to it. They see it as an establishment of an authoritative body, namely the Sanhedrin, removed from the connection with God and thus making rulings based on human understanding, such as the ones that formed the basis of Talmudic Judaism. Also, ironically, it was the Sanhedrin who tried and convicted Yeshua the Messiah, the One of whom Moshe prophesied that will come and to whom the Jewish people should listen. And, indeed, a great number of people listened, but not the leaders. The leaders did not listen because they were blinded by what the Sanhedrin gave them, power over the people, and they were afraid of losing it.

But the main focus of this Parashah is the giving of the Ten Commandments, which form the Magna Carta of the western civilization. Torah was the first mindset to recognize the worth of ordinary people, to champion human rights, public education, environmental responsibility, freedom of information, medical ethics, social action — the whole concept of progress and hope for the future. No other teaching from any other culture has had a comparative impact on our way of thinking to this day.

Torah is as valid today for its ethical teachings as it was when it was given. The apostle Shaul tells Timothy before even one verse of the Brit Chadashah was written: All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

No person living in the pre-Yeshua era was ever saved — received in heaven in the presence of God — by observing the commandments of the Torah, but he, or she, was trained in righteousness by them. To be saved from our sinful nature is only a function of the grace of God. Moshe himself was received in heaven by grace. God's righteousness required a just punishment for sin, and all animal sacrifices were images of what was required. Nothing tainted could enter the presence of a Holy God, and only the blood of a sacrifice, with its horrific expression and symbolism, could cover the filth of sin. And God loved us so much that He sent His Son Yeshua to die according to the requirements of Torah for an atoning sacrifice and to take upon Himself the punishment due us for disobeying God's commandments; He covered us, symbolically, with His atoning blood so we may be able to appear clean in front of a just God and have again fellowship with Him as in the beginning.

The apostles taught us that the Torah is about the Messiah, thus Torah is a tutor for us to come to know Him and His righteousness. Torah's commandments are teaching us how to live a godly life, to be equipped to enter in the good works that God prepared for us from the eternity past. Thus, even though we live in an era free of the fear of the punishment for not obeying all these commandments, it is for our benefit to heed their teaching, because they are for our correction and for our training in righteousness. By obeying Torah, we show God that we are sincere in our desire to make teshuvah, to repent of our sins. This obeying comes as a response to the love that God showed us by sending His Son to die as a substitutionary sacrifice.

The Ten Commandments are divided into two parts, the first five refer to man’s relationship with God, and the next five refer to relationships among people.

Shemot 20:2-17:

1) I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. A positive commandment to believe in God, stated as a fact, as a prerequisite to any commandment that will follow. If the author of the commandments is not acknowledged, the commandment itself is meaningless. The moral decay in our society is in direct correlation with the increase unbelief in a supreme being. God does not identify Himself as the God of Creation because neither of us, nor any Israeli, was present at creation, but, just as the Israelis experienced the physical bondage, we all experienced the spiritual one, thus He is to be known as the God who-takes-you-out-of-bondage. He is the only one who can lift us up from the absolute lowest possible level of spiritual bondage and contamination.

2) You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon children, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing loving-kindness for thousands, to those who love Me and observe My commandments.” A negative commandment against idolatry and a statement of mercy. Of mercy because even though the behavior of the parents may affect many generations to come, God will have mercy on them and punish only to the third and fourth generation if the children carry on the sinful legacy of their parents. But God will reward to thousands of generations for the good deeds of parents even if the children will not always carry on the legacy of their parents.

3) You shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His Name in vain.” A negative commandment against vain oaths, against using God’s Name to validate a statement or to use God’s Name for no valid purpose, thus, showing disrespect.

4) Remember the Shabbat day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat of the LORD your God; you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Shabbat day and made it holy.” A positive and in the same time a negative commandment, “remember” and “do not do any work,” indicating that Shabbat must be honored through positive behavior and through avoidance of desecration. This is also because of the two different ways that this commandment is stated here and then is reiterated in Deuteronomy 5:12 with the words “Remember” and “Observe,” respectively. Much has been said and can be said about Shabbat. By remembering and observing the Shabbat we testify and proclaim that there is a God and that He is the Creator of the universe who blessed and sanctified this seventh day. The Shabbat is blessed in that it gives the world the spiritual energy to exist. There is no celestial body or anything in the universe that indicates the passing of the Shabbat, except this divine command.

5) Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” This is the only commandment with a promise. When people honor their parents, God regards it as if they honor Him. The honor due to parents is similar to that which the first three commandments render to God, They must acknowledge who their parents are, not do anything that might cause them to be disgraced or degraded, serve them unselfishly, not for any other ulterior motive, and not swear in their names. Respect for parents is a cornerstone of the Jewish faith because it is based on a chain of successive generations of parents and children from Avraham to present. Thus, this commandment is a guarantor of the previous commandments.

The next five commandments are an expression of the relation with other human beings and all are in the negative.

6) You shall not murder.” Murder was prohibited to all mankind before the Torah was given, and it is in the code of most societies. This first commandment from the second tablet, as it were, corresponds with the first commandment of having faith in God. Thus, the modern world’s accelerated loss of faith has been accompanied by an increasing cheapness of human life and murder.

7) You shall not commit adultery.” Someone who betrays the marital relationship can be expected to betray everything else including God.

8) You shall not steal.” Alludes to many forms of behavior that are morally related to theft, such as deceit. Stilling from one another in petty ways that are not subject to the authority of the law, it is most morally damaging, because thievery within the letter of the law weakens the conscience and corrupts the social fabric. Such is the progression of sin. It begins in private, when people still have a sense of right and wrong. But once people develop the habit of sinning, they gradually lose their shame, and immoral behavior becomes the accepted norm.

9) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” One who lies in court may well come to deny God too.

10) You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor." This commandment validates the author of all these instructions because if a human judge can legislate against such outwards acts as murder and theft, only God can judge an internal act as coveting. One who covets demonstrates a lack of faith in God, the provider of all things. God demands that people sanctify their thoughts and attitudes to the point where they purge themselves of covetousness tendencies.

The sages noted that some of these commandments were so obvious that they concluded that these commandments were only guideposts to more elevated behavior than the literal understanding of the words would indicate. Indeed, our Messiah Yeshua expanded with heavenly authority on the teaching of the Torah, unlike the Sanhedrin and the rabbis. Yeshua is the Word of God, He is the author of the Torah and He gave us that deeper meaning in one of the most astonishing sermons ever heard, the sermon on the mount.

Mattityahu 5:17-48:

Do not think that I came to misinterpret the Torah or the Neviim. I did not come to misinterpret but to interpret it correctly. For, omein, truly I say to you, until Shomayim and haAretz pass away, not one yod, not one tag, will pass from the Torah until everything is accomplished…
— You have heard that it was said to the ancients, Do not murder, and every murderer shall be liable to the Bet Din (Court). But I say to you that everyone who harbors anger against his brother shall be subject to judgment…
— You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone looking upon a woman with lust for her has already committed with her in his heart…
— You have heard that it was said to the ancients, you shall not break your vows, but you shall repay your vows to the LORD. But I say to you do not swear oaths at all, neither by Shomayim, for it is the throne of God, nor by haAretz, for it is the footstool of His feet, nor by Yerushalayim, for it is the city of the great king. Neither are you to swear by your head, for you are not able to make one hair turn white or black. But let your word be ken, ken (yes, yes) or lo, lo (no, no,), but anything beyond this is lashon horah (of evil).
— You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you do not set yourself against the evil person, but whoever hits you on your right cheek, turn to him also the other cheek. And the one wishing to sue you and take your tunic, give to him also your kaftan. And whoever will force you to go one mile, go with him two. And the one asking you to give and the one wishing to borrow from you, from these do not turn away.
— You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and you shall hate your enemy. But I say to you love your enemies and offer tefillos (prayers) for the ones bringing persecution upon you. Do this so that you may become sons of your Av shbaShomayim, for He makes His sun to rise on the evil ones and the good ones, and He sends His rain upon the righteous ones and the unrighteous ones. For if you have love for the ones who have love for you, what reward do you have? And if you give Shalom (hello) only to your brothers, what extraordinary thing are you doing?
Therefore, be complete, even as is your Av shbaShomayim (your Father in heaven).

May we all learn from our Master, study the Torah, become doers of it and strive to perfection for we serve a perfect God.

Shabbat Shalom.

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