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Accepting Advice From Your Father-in-Law

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Yitrois remarkable. Only six Torah portions (out of a total of 54) are named for one of the individuals advancing the drama within its text. ...  And this portion is named for Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro) — a non-Israelite, Midianite priest. In the portion, Yitro offers sage advice and Moses accepts it.

D'var Torah By: 
The Notion of Being a Chosen People
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jenn Queen

“Oh my goodness, you’re Jewish? I love Jews. Y’all are God’s chosen people.” Spending my formative years in Texas, I often heard this from classmates, teachers, and others who happened to notice the colorful Star of David necklace I wore throughout high school. ... Growing up in Reform synagogues and summer camps, this notion of chosenness rarely came up. ... Yet, the notion of Jewish chosenness is there in its clearest iteration in Parashat Yitro. As the Israelites stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai, in the preamble to the smoke and fire and blaring of the shofar, the drama of Revelation, and of matan Torah, “the gift of Torah,” God speaks to the people through Moses, saying: 

Learning How to Respect the Covenant and Our Fellow Worshippers

The slogan for the Torah portion known as Yitro  should be “we’ve arrived.” The theophany on Mount Sinai – God’s Revelation of the Ten Commandments – is arguably the climax of the Torah (Exodus 20). But the story doesn’t end here – it is the post-Sinai textual journey where we learn that we exist in a perpetual state of arrival, constantly figuring out how to hear Torah as we walk through our daily lives.

D'var Torah By: 
Choosing to Be in a Covenantal Community
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jade Sank Ross

Worrying that because of their similarities, Harry Potter might be destined for the same evil darkness as the villain, Voldemort, Harry Potter’s beloved mentor, Dumbledore, assures him, “It is our choices, Harry, that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. We are defined by our choices: This is the central theme of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. Choice is also a defining theme of the story of the Jewish people, as we see  in Parashat Yitro. 

Radical Inclusion at Sinai

We have arrived. All of the stories; all the of the generations between Adam and Eve, and the matriarchs and patriarchs; and 400 years of slavery in Egypt now culminate in the Israelites’ triumphant redemption. They all lead to this singular moment: the Revelation at Sinai. In Parashat Yitro, Moses guides the Israelite people to Mt. Sinai where they encounter God, experiencing all the drama and glory of Revelation.

Biblical commentators consistently note that one of the exceptional aspects of the Revelation at Sinai is that it is a communal revelation. Every previous moment of revelation in the Torah consists of God speaking privately to an individual or two — Noah, Abraham, Moses, and so on. Private revelation is the most common in other religions as well: an individual experiences God and then shares that revelation more broadly.

D'var Torah By: 
Worthy Guardians for Years to Come
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Maurice A. Salth

At Mount Sinai God was pleased to hear the vast multitude of diverse Israelites say in one united voice: “All that the Eternal has spoken we will do!” (Exodus 19:8) and God wanted additional assurance that they would follow through on this commitment. God told them: “I require worthy guarantors that you will observe Torah.” And the people of Israel replied: “Sovereign of the Universe, our ancestors will be our guarantors.” God was unimpressed. “Your guarantors need guarantors themselves, for they have not been without fault,” said Adonai. And so they responded: “Our prophets will guarantee it.” God retorted: “I have found fault with them also.” Thus the people offered this pledge: “Let our children be our guarantors.” And with a smile God concurred: “These are excellent guarantors, because of them I will give it to you” (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:4). The b’rit, “covenant,” advances and Torah is revealed.

Beyond the Noise

The Revelation on Mt. Sinai . . . the giving of the Ten Commandments . . . our Torah portion, Yitro, describes the scene with great fanfare. The text has given cinematographers plenty of good material: thunder and lightning, smoke rising up into the sky, the whole mountain shaking violently, and the loud blaring of a horn, sometimes specifically called a shofar. Miraculous? Inspiring? Awesome? Yes, our Sages teach, but it was also really, really noisy.

When the medieval rabbis read about Sinai, they focus our attention on that seemingly unimportant detail of just how loud it all must have been. One medieval commentator, the French rabbi known as Rashbam, teaches that the description of God answering Moses "in thunder" is really a metaphor about the volume of God's voice—God had to shout to be heard over all of the other noise at Sinai! (see Rashbam on Exodus 19:19). And God was shouting for good reason. "The blast [of the shofar] was louder than any sound that had ever been heard before," Rashbam's contemporary, the Spanish sage Ibn Ezra writes on Exodus 19:16.

D'var Torah By: 
The Gift of Sinai Is in Our Standing Together
Davar Acher By: 
Jill Perlman

In Yitro, we find ourselves at the base of Sinai encountering God as one people, as we receive Torah. It is a sacred moment meant to reverberate down the generations. We were all there. We all stood at Sinai.

Revelation is a gift. It disrupts our senses and prepares us for something entirely new. However, revelation of any kind, especially the sacred kind, doesn't just fall in our laps. We come to Sinai; Sinai doesn't come to us. The story of Sinai teaches us to prepare ourselves—for Revelation could be around the corner at any moment if our eyes are open.

One of the most profound gifts of Sinai as a model is that it teaches us that we need not travel alone on our spiritual journeys. When we gathered at the base of the mountain, we didn't show up alone. We arrived as one community.

A Road Map

Hardly a day goes by that we don't see, hear, or read about the Ten Commandments.

D'var Torah By: 
Experiencing God
Davar Acher By: 
Evan Moffic

In her profound commentary, Professor Ochs demonstrates the way the "Ten Words,"which we usually call the Ten Commandments, can be understood as a reflection on and a response to our life exp

Sinai and Religious Pluralism

I learned about kavod habriyot (dignity for human beings) from my mother (of blessed memory).

D'var Torah By: 
Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself
Davar Acher By: 
Jessica Goodman

As Rabbi Zeplowitz states,"Openness to others is not an advocacy for there being no separation or distinction between us." Parashat Yitro explores the "openness" and wil

Advice from a Father-in-Law

There is, in Pirke Avot,1 the teaching of a rabbi named Ben Bag Bag. He said:

D'var Torah By: 
Humility: A Lost Virtue
Davar Acher By: 
Sally J. Priesand

The Ten Commandments were given on Mt. Sinai. Our Sages wondered why Sinai was chosen for this wondrous event. After all, it was not the highest mountain.

Do We Still Remember?

On Rosh HaShanah night we read the following in Gates of Repentance1:

D'var Torah By: 
Reliving Revelation Every Day
Davar Acher By: 
Cheryl Rosenstein

Despite our imaginative efforts to relive the drama of Sinai each time we read these verses, Revelation remains for most of us a distant memory.


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