Overview of the Torah Portion Yitro (Exodus 18: 1-20: 23)
Moshe s’ father-in-law, Yitro, hears of the great miracles which G-d performed for the people of Israel, He hears about the splitting of the Red Sea and the war against Amalek. Meaning G-d’s mastery over nature and Man Yitro comes from Midian to the Israelite camp, bringing with him Tziporah Moshe’ wife and two sons.One son was called Gershom, because Moshe said, “I was a stranger in a foreign land( Ger Sham ) and the second who was named Eliezer, because Moshe said”The God of my father came to my aid and rescued me from Pharaoh’s sword.( Eli Ezer)
Yitro ,the man who was an important priest of idolatry declares the following dramatic and eternal statement “Blessed is the Lord, Who has rescued you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh, Who has rescued the people from beneath the hand of the Egyptians.” Yitro who has the benefit of seeing what is going on in the camp from the outside advises Moshe to appoint a hierarchy of magistrates and judges to assist him in the governance of his people. Yitro says”If you do this thing, and the Lord commands you, you will be able to survive, and also, all this people will come upon their place in peace.”
The Children of Israel camp opposite Mount Sinai, and the verse says “And when they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the wilderness ( THE MIDBAR) of Sinai, they encamped in the wilderness( THE MIDBAR) ; and there Israel encamped VAYichan before the mount. (19:1-2)
It is clear that they came truly unified because they are not called the “children of Israel” but rather simply Israel and the verb of their encamping is in the singular ( Vayichan) . That is to say that hey waited at the foot of Mount Sinai in the wilderness ‘ like one man with one heart..one people with one purpose”
Then they are told that G-d has chosen them to be His “kingdom of priests” and “a holy nation.” That is they are to be the tool or vessel that G-d will use to bring about G-d awareness throughout the world. That is the reason the torah was given in the wilderness…no man’s land.A gift to the world on a mountain in the middle of nowhere.
The people respond by proclaiming, “All that G-d has spoken, we shall do.”
So on the sixth day of the third month (Sivan), the entire nation of Israel assembles at the foot of Mount Sinai. It is not happenstance that “the entire nation”would experience that revelation. It was crucial that that would be so . the revelation had to be experienced by a multitude rather than Moshe receiving a private revelation or vision.
G-d descends on the mountain amidst thunder, lightning, billows of smoke and the blast of the shofar, and summons Moses to ascend.
G-d proclaims the Ten Commandments, commanding the people of Israel to believe in G-d, not to worship idols or take G-d’s name in vain, to keep the Shabbat, honor their parents, and not to murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness or covet another’s property.
The people experienced an awesome experience as we read:
And all the people saw the sounds ( kolot) and the torches, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain, and the people saw and trembled; so they stood from afar.” They saw the sounds which was clearly something that would be considered impossibility in our reality. Yet that too would be a great lesson for all time.
And then Hashem says to them:
The Lord said to Moses, “So shall you say to the children of Israel, You have seen that from the heavens I have spoken with you. ” but warns them “You shall not make [images of anything that is] with Me. Gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves. ( Exodus 20:19-20)
Instead G-d gives them instructions how to build an earthen altar and within those instructions are hidden simple rules which hint at great secrets regarding true worship of the G-d they had just all experienced.
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