Parashat Yitro

I Know Who You Are

The image of God carrying the Israelites on eagles' wings, and the promise that they will be a treasured nation if they keep the commandments raise questions about our complex relationship with God.

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Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

  • Yitro brings his daughter Zipporah and her two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, to his son-in-law Moses. (Exodus 18:1-12)

  • Moses follows Yitro's advice and appoints judges to help him lead the people. (Exodus 18:13-27)

  • The Children of Israel camp in front of Mount Sinai. Upon hearing the covenant, the Israelites respond, "All that God has spoken we will do." (Exodus 19:1-8)

  • After three days of preparation, the Israelites encounter God at Mount Sinai. (Exodus 19:9-25)

  • God gives the Ten Commandments aloud directly to the people. (Exodus 20:1-14)

  • Frightened, the Children of Israel ask Moses to serve as an intermediary between God and them. Moses tells the people not to be afraid. (Exodus 20:15-18)

Focal Point

And Moses went up to God. Adonai called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus shall you say to the House of Jacob and declare to the Children of Israel: 'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Me. Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession [s'gulah] among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the Children of Israel." (Exodus 19:3-6)

Your Guide

How do the images and ideas in Exodus 19:3-6 set the stage for what is to come later in Parashat Yitro, namely, the Revelation at Sinai?

What are the implications of the metaphor "I bore you on eagles' wings"?

What do we learn from these verses about the relationship between Israel and God?

How would you describe God's language in this passage? Why did God choose this kind of language at this particular point in Israel's journey?

Compare Exodus 19:4, "how I bore you on eagles' wings" with Psalms 91:4, "Beneath His wings you will take refuge."

There are principles inherent in these verses that are central to the relationship between Israel and God as well as to the Bible's concepts of covenant and Revelation. What are they?

By the Way…

"You have seen what I did to the Egyptians." It is not merely a tradition in your hands; it is not in language that I transmit to you, nor through witnesses that I testify to you. But you yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt. How many wrongs they had committed before they fastened onto you! Yet I never punished them until it was you they tormented. (Rashi on Exodus 19:4)

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Rabbi Sheldon Marder

Rabbi Sheldon Marder is the spiritual leader of The Jewish Home, San Francisco, CA.