Yitro – Exodus 18:1 to 20:23
The text tells of Moses receiving the 10 Commandments and the acceptance and blessing of God by Jethro, a non-Israelite… Both events tell us much about the future traditions of the Israelites.
“Jethro, priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel, God’s people, how the Eternal had brought Israel out of Egypt.” (Ex. 18:1) And so we begin a parsha that is a major turning point in the story of Moses and the Israelites.
* Moses and the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai. By doing so, Moses accomplishes his task of freeing the Israelites so that they can worship God at Mount Sinai.
- Revelation – In addition to the Ten Plagues, miracles of the Exodus, and the actions God takes to save the people during their journey; God now appears to Moses and the people at Mount Sinai.
- Covenant – Like the covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God now makes a covenant with the children of Israel…. God calls Moses to the mountain and commands him to say the following to the Children of Israel: “ ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to me. Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.’ Moses came and summoned the elders of the people and put before them all that the Eternal had commanded him. All the people answered as one, saying; ‘All that the Eternal has spoken we will do!’” (Ex. 19:4-8)
- Law – Moses receives the Ten Commandments. Also, in the final lines of this parsha, the first three of many, many laws covering all aspects of life for the Israelites are given to Moses.
* Also, with this parsha the text changes from an account of the journey of Moses and the Israelites to a recounting of the laws and commandments. Between now and the end of Leviticus, the Golden Calf incident is the only material that isn’t a presentation of laws or commandments.
The Israelites are now united by their covenant with God and the complex ritual and legal system that we will learn more about as we continue Exodus and Leviticus. This week the focus is on the Ten Commandments. These ten short devarim or “words” provide the essence of God’s commandments to the people. They can be seen as a preamble to the commandments and laws that will be revealed in the weeks to come.
But, with all the importance given to these commandments, the parsha is named after a single person – the father-in-law of Moses. Yes, the parsha titles are based on one of the first words of that week’s reading…. But, the title, most often, gives a hint to the content of a parsha. In fact, the events of this meeting between Moses and Jethro also have great impact upon the rest of Jewish history.
Let’s take a few moments to examine what transpired.
First, Jethro, a Midianite priest, is impressed with the events of the Exodus and all that God has done for the Israelites. This demonstrates that the power of God can be experienced and respected by both Israelite and non-Israelite. (Ex. 18:8-9)
Second, Jethro blesses God: “ ‘Blessed be the Eternal,’ Jethro said, ‘who delivered you from the Egyptians and Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Eternal is greater that all gods…’” Jethro and Moses than proceed to present an offering to the Eternal. Aaron and the elders of Israel join them as they all partake in the offering before God. (Ex. 18:10-12) Through this offering it is established that a non-Israelite can take part in the worship prossess. The Eternal is God of all the world. There may be other gods, but all can worship the Eternal.
Third, Jethro suggests how Moses can better judge disputes. (Ex. 18:13-24) Here we see that an important idea (a governing concept) can originate from the mind of a foreigner and be accepted. It verifies that Israel can and should learn from others to achieve the best outcome.
When the lessons gained from the meeting of Moses and Jethro are combined with the Ten Commandments, the teachings of this parsha reveal a great deal of what will be the future foundations of the nation of Israel and the Jewish faith.