Parashat Yitro: Summary

Jethro, Moses' father-in-law suggests a system for establishing lower courts to settle disputes; God speaks the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel amidst fire, smoke, and the sound of the shofar.

Commentary on Parashat Yitro, Exodus 18:1 - 20:23

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law and the pagan priest of Midian, heard what God did for Moses and the Israelites. He took Moses’ wife and two sons and brings them to Moses in the wilderness. After a passionate reunion, Moses shared with Jethro the whole story of how the Lord rescued the Hebrews from bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt.

Jethro rejoiced, saying, “Blessed be the Lord. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods.”

Jethro then made sacrifices to God and everyone feasted.

The next day, Jethro watched Moses settle disputes between the people. “Why do you sit as judge, Moses, while the people stand about you from morning to night?”

“Because the people come to me to seek God. I decide between man and his neighbor and make known the laws of God.”

“But this is not right,” retorted his father-in-law. “You will tire yourself and the people out. Now heed my voice, I shall advise you. You be a representative to God and teach the people of the path God seeks of them. Then find capable men who fear God and trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these men over the people as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Let them exercise authority over the people at all times. They will decide the minor disputes and bring the major disputes to you.”

Moses followed his father-in-law’s advice and set up this system. Then Jethro returned to his own land.

Camping at the Mountain

The Israelites camped in front of the mountain in the wilderness at Sinai. God tells Moses to say to the Israelites, “You have seen what I, God, did to the Egyptians and how I brought you to Me. Now, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Moses relays God’s message to the people and they answer as one, saying “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do.”

God then says to Moses, “In three days, I will come to you in a thick cloud in order that the people may hear when I speak to you and so trust you ever after. Now, warn the people they must be clean and pure, for the Lord will soon appear at Mount Sinai.” And Moses told the people to prepare for God’s presence.

On the third day, as morning dawned, there was thunder and lightning and a dense cloud upon the mountain and a very loud blast of the shofar horn. All the people trembled. Moses led the people out of the camp toward God and they took their places at the foot of the mountain.

Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke, for the Lord had come down upon it in fire and the whole mountain trembled violently. The blare of the shofar grew louder and louder. The Lord said, “Go down, warn the people and priests not to try to come up or look at the Lord, less they perish.”

God spoke all these words, saying, “I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

“You shall have no other god beside Me. You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the guilt of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and observe My commandments.

“You shall not take in vain the name of the Lord your God; for the Lord will not clear one who swears falsely by His name.

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and accomplish all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord, your God; you shall not do any work–you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it.

“Honor your father and your mother that you may long endure on the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit sexual impropriety.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

“You shall not covet your fellow human’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female slave, or his ox or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

When the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the shofar and the mountain smoking, they fell back in fear. “You speak to us, Moses, and we shall hear. Let God not speak to us lest we die.”

Do Not Be Afraid

“Do not be afraid,” responded Moses. “God only spoke directly so that the fear of the Lord may forever be with you, so that you do not go astray.”

The people stood from afar while Moses approached God in the thick cloud.

“Tell the Israelites,” God said to Moses “you, yourselves, saw that I spoke to you from the very heavens. Therefore, never make any gods of silver or gold. Make an Altar of earth for Me and sacrifice offerings. In every place My name is mentioned, I will come to you and bless you.”

Parashat Yitro Discussion Questions

1) Why do you think God chose to give The Ten Commandments to all the people at the same time and not just have Moses relate them to the people?

2) Which Commandment do you feel is most important? Why?

3) The first commandment says: “I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Why is this a commandment?

4) The second commandment says: “You shall have no other god beside Me…” What other gods were available to worship? What other gods do people worship now?

5) Which is the hardest commandment to keep for you? Which is the easiest? Why?

Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!

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