Two incredibly important things happen in this week’s parsha.

The first is the invention of a system of judging.

Jethro (or Yitro), Moses’ father-in-law, watches Moses as he judges all the people.  Anyone who has a problem or a dispute of any kind, comes before Moses and Moses makes a decision.  Imagine if there were only one judge in the US to decide who inherits what, whose land is whose, who hit whom or who swiped whose stuff.  One person! 

Well, Jethro is not concerned so much about how long that would take. (Though it would take an awfully long time!)  He’s worried about how much it would tire Moses out.  So he suggests that Moses appoint “men of truth, hating gain” and have them be judges.  He even suggests a ranking: “chiefs of thousands, chiefs of hundreds, chiefs of fifties and chiefs of tens.”  Moses would then act as sort of the Supreme Court.

Moses thinks this is a great idea, and so he follows Jethro’s advice and sets up a judicial system.

 The Ten Commandments

The second important thing that happens in Yitro is the giving of the Ten Commandments.  Pretty much one of the biggies.

First, God warns the people (through Moses) not to go up on Mount Sinai.  Twice he warns them.

Sure enough, there’s this thunder and lightning, a thick cloud covers the mountain, and there’s a sound like a huge shofar. 

Moses, however, goes up the mountain.  When he comes back, these are the words he speaks to the People of Israel:

  1. I am God, your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt.  You are not to have any other gods.
  2. You are not to make yourself a carved-image or any figure that is in the heavens above, that is on the earth beneath, that is in the waters beneath the earth.  You are not to bow down to them.
    You are not to serve them.
  3. You are not to take up the name of God for emptiness
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to make it holy…You are not to do any kind of work, not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid nor your beast.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You are not to murder.
  7. You are not to cheat on your spouse.
  8. You are not to steal.
  9. You are not to testify against your fellow as a false witness.
  10. You are not to desire the house, the wife, the servant or the animal of your neighbor.

The people see all the thunder and lightning and they say “We will listen, but don’t let God speak with us, lest we die!”

And Moses says “Do not be afraid!”

Food for Thought

Did you know that Jewish tradition believes that the souls of all Jews, across time, were present in this moment of revelation (Midrash Shemot Rabbah 28:6). Each of us is a recipient of God’s word.

Sara Nabih, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons