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Parashat Yitro (Exodus 18:1-2:23)

“Moses came and summoned the elders of the people,
and put before them all these words that God had commanded him.” (Exodus 19:7)

Parashat Yitro is the peak moment in the Torah: God reveals the Torah to the Israelites, who are camped around the base of Mt. Sinai. This revelation is not only the reason for the exodus from Egypt; it is the reason for the creation of the world. Indeed, had the Israelites not accepted the Torah at Sinai, the world would have ceased to exist (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 88a).

Since Yitro opens with the origins of the Israelite judicial system and continues with the giving of the Ten Commandments, it’s easy to assume rules and following them are the big ideas in the parasha, or portion. But the big idea in Yitro really is relationships. Yitro, a Midianite priest, advises Moses (his son-in-law) to set up a system of courts to resolve disputes so he doesn’t spend all day hearing every single case himself. The purpose of the courts, of course, is to resolve conflict so the parties can reconcile and repair their relationships. Similarly, the purpose of the Ten Commandments is to guide the Israelites in maintaining the relationships necessary for a prosperous community: relationships with God, and relationships with other human beings.

The rabbis connect those two connect these two types of relationships in Yitro. They wonder when Moses has time to learn the Torah if he is sitting as judge all day long (Ex. 18:13). Their answer is to declare resolving a case justly is equivalent to spending the entire day learning Torah. A judge who does that (Moses, in this case) becomes God’s partner in creation (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 10a). Yitro reminds us the world was created to foster partnerships and relationships.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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