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By Michael Chessen
The Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, both encapsules and symbolizes
the giving of the entire Torah at Mt. Sinai. In the midst of all of the
drama surrounding this event, however, we tend to overlook its
The fact that the Torah is given to Moses and the Jewish people
the reading of Yitro is most instructive. Yitro, Moses' father-in law,
a convert of great insight, and his appearance in the Torah could
be seen as foreshadowing the appearance of the renowned Rabbi Akiva, an
individual who also came to a recognition of the greatness of God at a
later stage of life but nevertheless made a considerable impression upon
Judaism as we know it.
Whereas we do not usually associate Yitro with the great prophets
scholars of our people, his contribution in our current reading is
indisputable. Upon witnessing the tremendous burden Moses bears as both
judge and teacher for all of the people of Israel, Yitro advises Moses
delegate authority. Before he delves into the specifics for this, Yitro
tells Moses that he first generally needs to inform the people of "the
in which they need to proceed and the deed they need to do." (Exodus
This statement has begotten a number of homiletic stories in the
Talmud which all come to demonstrate a single principle. This being that
person only truly observes the Torah if he or she adheres not only to
letter of the law, but fully to its spirit as well.
Rabbi Shalom Gold sees this principle reflected in God's
in preparation for the giving of the Torah. Moses is told that only he
to ascend Mt. Sinai, and then God goes on to strenuously warn him
anyone as much as touching the base of the mountain. Being that it was
certainly within God's powers to keep the people off the mountain if He
desired, His apparent "anxiety" here appears somewhat puzzling.
However, God is less concerned with the people's actions than what
in their hearts. Jewish law, the halacha, should not be seen as merely a
"fence", but a way of life. Rabbi Gold points out that in Yitro's
exhortation to Moses, his usage of the term "to do", "ya'asoon", in
carries an extra letter nun, and should actually be translated as
doers". Our choosing that which is good for both God and humanity should
not be dictated by either fear or the sake of appearance, but sincere
pursuit of truth and justice. And our conscientious adherence to this
principle will ultimately transform our very being.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!
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