Questions and Concepts for Parsha Yitro
(Exodus 18:1-20:23)

Jethro plays a vital role in assisting Moses in setting up a system of judges. This of course will be necessary for when they enter the Holy Land and no longer have Moses with them to settle all their disputes.

Although Jethro may have more "practical experience" in certain fields than Moses does, there is difference in "spiritual maturity" between them, that may be seen in 18:11 where Jethro remarks;

Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.

Although it is said that Jethro was not an idolater, he was not a monotheist either, as the above verse would indicate his belief that the God of the Hebrews was first among many gods.

Jethro's advice was a mixed blessing. In a sense it was a test for Israel. Rather than getting their counsel direct from Moses in all cases, they would now rely on others appointed by him. Although this new arrangement may have been a necessity, the people should have at least offered some measure of resistance or disappointment. Their being "too willing" to go along with this seems to be at the heart of Moses' rebuke that he expresses in the last days of his life, as found in Deuteronomy.

At the psychological/spiritual level, by freeing himself of having to deal with the "lesser" matters of the people (trusting the best men of Israel to handle this), Moses would be enabled to pursue the "greater" things of God. Jethro's words in 18:23 may be seen as implying that the very giving of the Torah at Sinai depends on this occurring.

In 19:2 we are told of Israel "leaving Rephidim." The term "rephidim" is associated by the sages with a lack of Torah learning, something they had been directed toward back at the bitter waters of Marah. Thus, the hidden meaning to this verse is that the people had improved in the area of Torah.

In 19:4, God tells Moses that He brought the people to Him "on the wings of eagles." This is a similar expression as used in Revelation 12:14, where Israel is protected by God from her enemies.

The warning in chapter 19, about not ascending too high up the mountain also go beyond the literal meaning. Moses not only ascended a physical mountain, he was also "elevated" spiritually. (One does not get "closer" to God by walking or climbing in the physical realm.) Thus, the limitations on how high the people could "ascend" were not only physical, but more importantly, spiritual. To go beyond what you are prepared for in the spiritual realm is cause for various calamities.

The first of the "Ten Commandments" is the most important. Simply put, we are to recognize the existence of God and put our trust ("faith") in Him. Unless one proceeds from this point, following the ensuing commandments will become an exercise in futility, "for the just will live by his faith" (Habbakuk 2:4).

The commandment regarding the Sabbath is expressed here as "remember" the Sabbath. Later, in Deuteronomy 5:12, the command is to "observe" the Sabbath. There are a number of ideas concerning the difference between "remember" and "observe." One is that to "remember" is a "positive" commandment, that being to make it a point to recall the importance and meaning of the Sabbath, even during the week. To "observe" is a "negative" commandment, reminding us to refrain from certain activities on this day. It is critical to note that however one defines these two aspects of the Sabbath, they are inseparable.