Yisro’s Belief

parashas Yisro 5782

H’Shem had made a complete mockery of Egypt. This was demonstrated in its entirety by the culmination of the judgment upon Egypt: “Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath He cast into the sea” (Exodus 15:4, JPS 1917 Tanach). Measure for measure, H’Shem enacted judgment upon Egypt. Turning the Nile River into blood, reminded Pharaoh of his guilt, concerning his decree against male infants, that they be drowned in the Nile. The perishing of Pharaoh and his army at the Sea of Reeds was an expression of H’Shem’s judgment against Pharaoh.

Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, an ex-priest of Midian, “heard of all that G-d had done for Moses, and for Israel his people” (Exodus 18:1, JPS). He journeyed from Midian to the encampment at Sinai, and brought with him Zipporah, the wife of Moses, and also Gershon and Eliezer, the two sons of Moses. He proclaimed, “Now I know that the L-RD is greater than all gods” (Exodus 18:11, JPS). He continued, by implying that in the same manner that the Egyptians conspired against the Children of Israel, so was Pharaoh and his army destroyed. I.e., measure for measure, by means of water.

Yisro had worshipped many gods; and, according to Tanchuma, he had renounced idolatry many years ago. Yet, it was not until he heard of H’Shem’s plagues against Egypt – each one symbolizing H’Shem’s superiority over an Egyptian god – and the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, when Pharaoh was defeated, that he recognized H’Shem as “greater than all gods.”

Up until then, his belief was predicated upon rational inquiry; he had his doubts about the efficacy of the many deities that he used to worship. Yet, when he heard of H’Shem’s greatness being demonstrated in a tangible way through the plagues, and the splitting the sea, his belief was upgraded to the level of knowledge, because of H’Shem’s miraculous intervention for the sake of Israel’s Redemption. In other words, “seeing is believing;” although, in this case, it was enough for Yisro to “hear” “of all that G-d had done,” for his belief to become manifest.

Hidden Presence

parashas insights: Yisro 5782

“Search for the L-rd and His might, continually seek His countenance.”

– Psalm 105:4

G-d’s presence in this world (olam hazeh) is hidden. Yet, He yearns that we seek for Him. Our seeking is more than a hide-and-seek game; to seek G-d also includes preparing ourselves for the encounter, when we find Him. For, His “supernal holiness” (Zohar 3, 297a) may only fill a vessel that has emptied itself in surrender to G-d’s will. Thus, through sanctification, our lives may be sanctified as a preparation for encountering G-d’s Presence.

How may our lives be sanctified? Traditionally, our lives are sanctified through observance of the commandments. “Blessed are You, L-rd, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments…” Moreover, because the Torah and G-d are one, His light is revealed within the world through the observance of mitzvos (commandments). If divine light is brought into the world through our positive actions in this world, then we ourselves are a light unto the world (Isaiah 42:6). So, as we are sanctified through the observance of mitzvos, the world also receives the positive benefit of our observance.

In this week’s Torah reading, parashas Yisro, B’nei Yisrael assembles at the base of Mount Sinai. Moses is given a set of instructions, in order that the Children of Israel may prepare themselves: “And the L-RD said unto Moses: ‘Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow” (Exodus 19:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). This is in preparation for the third day, when the L-RD will descend upon Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:11). “O L-RD, bow Thy heavens, and come down; touch the mountains, that they may smoke” (Psalms 144:5, JPS).

How is it possible for H’Shem to descend on Sinai? Only inasmuch that the heavens were stretched like a bow, so that H’Shem could be simultaneously in Shomayim, and on the top of Mt. Sinai (Mechilta). Yet, this may also be explained through the metaphorical language of tzimtzum: that He descended on Sinai by way of the many levels of contractions, between heaven and earth, until His Presence, hidden within the cloud (Exodus 19:9), revealed itself to Moshe, while from the vantage point of the people, all that could be seen was the thunder, lightning, and smoke (Exodus 19:18, 20:15).

parashas Yisro 5781 – Mattan Torah

B”H

d’rash for parashas Yisro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23) 5781 – Mattan Torah

“And He said: ‘Certainly I shall be with thee; and this shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain.” 

– Exodus 3:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

“I promise thee that when thou hast brought them forth from Egypt ye will serve Me upon this mountain — i.e. that ye will receive the Torah upon it.” – Rashi, sefaria.org

When G-d spoke to Moshe at the burning bush, Moshe asked, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11, JPS).  G-d assured Moshe, despite his own doubts, that he would know that he was chosen as the Redeemer of B’nei Yisrael, when he would “serve G-d on this mountain.” In other words, that B’nei Yisrael “would serve Him at the very spot Moses was standing on at that moment” (Or HaChayim, sefaria.org). For this was the culmination of the Exodus from Egypt – the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  “And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn [shofar] exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16, JPS). 

The impressive array of fireworks was more than a celebration of the liberation of a people from slavery.  Rashi explains that H’Shem preceded the people, by appearing on Mount Sinai first, even before Moshe went up to receive the commandments. He explains that usually a teacher does not wait for the pupil; however, H’Shem’s august Majesty preceded Him, and His Presence alighted on the mountaintop.  “Now mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the L-RD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:18, JPS).  “And the L-RD came down upon mount Sinai, to the top of the mount; and the L-RD called Moses to the top of the mount; and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:20, JPS 19 Tanach).

Moshe, who had previously “hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon G-d,” when H’Shem appeared to him at the burning bush, must have gained some confidence since that time.  Only Moshe was permitted to climb Mount Sinai, to speak with G-d.  Furthermore, he was told by H’Shem to “charge the people, lest they break through unto the L-RD to gaze, and many of them perish” (Exodus 19:21, JPS 1917 Tanach).  For as is written elsewhere, “G-d is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24).  He is to be approached with awe and respect. “Thou shalt fear the L-RD thy G-d; Him shalt thou serve; and to Him shalt thou cleave [deveykus]” (Deuteronomy 10:20, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The Torah given on Mount Sinai is eternal.  It was given to the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) as a ketubah (a marriage contract) between G-d and Israel.  This is why when a synagogue receives a new sefer Torah, it is placed under a chupah (a marriage canopy), and paraded around, while people celebrate.  At Sinai, the people entered the covenant with great awe and respect.  And, even before receiving the commandments, they said, “na’aseh v’nishmah,” we will do and we will understand. In other words, first we will do, then we will understand; only after performing the commandments, will we begin to fully understand their value, meaning, and intent. This was the commitment that B’nei Yisrael made, in regard to the commandments given by the L-RD our G-d, who redeemed us from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 20:2).

weekly reading: Yisro’s Belief

B”H

Shiur for parashas Yisro 5780

(Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

Measure for measure, H’Shem enacted judgment upon Egypt. Turning the Nile River into blood reminded Pharaoh of his guilt, concerning his decree against male infants, that they be drowned in the Nile. And, the perishing of Pharaoh and his army at the Sea of Reeds was an expression of H’Shem’s judgment against Pharaoh. As implied by Yisro’s words:

Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, “heard of all that G-d had done for Moses, and for Israel his people” (Exodus 18:1, JPS). “Now I know that the L-RD is greater than all gods” (Exodus 18:11, JPS). He continued, by making the implication that in the same manner that the Pharaoh conspired against the Children of Israel, so was his army destroyed. I.e., measure for measure, by means of water.

Although Yisro had worshipped many gods, according to Tanchuma, he had renounced idolatry. Yet, it was not until he heard of H’Shem’s plagues against Egypt – each one symbolizing H’Shem’s superiority over an Egyptian god – and the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, that he recognized H’ Shem as “greater than all gods.”

Up until then, his belief was predicated upon rational inquiry; he had his doubts about the efficacy of the many deities that he used to worship. Yet, when he heard of H’Shem’s greatness being demonstrated in a tangible way through the plagues, and the splitting of the sea, his belief was upgraded to the level of da’as (actual knowledge). So strong was his belief in H’Shem, that he chose to align himself with truth. Only H’Shem is the One true G-d. All other so-called deities are no-things.