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Parashat Yitro: Various Teachings From Netivyah Staff

by Netivyah

In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.

Joseph Shulam: The Principle of Delegation [2020]

The Torah reading next Shabbat is Yitro (“Jethro”) (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23). The reading of this portion is of great importance to me. It teaches us a principal that ought to be embraced by all men. Jethro was the father-in-law of Moses, and the father of Zipporah the Midianite wife of Moses.

Jethro, a priest of Midian, observed how hard Moses is working to lead the children of Israel through the Sinai Desert to the land of promise, to Canaan. Jethro observes how hard Moses is working, trying all alone to lead Israel.

“So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?’ And Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.’ So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do.’” – Exodus 18:14–20 [NKJV]

This text of Exodus contains a great lesson that we all ought to accept and learn, that even a Gentile pagan priest like Jethro can have worth, even from him we can gain wisdom. This point is of great worth in the battle against religious prejudice and the gaining of respect and practical wisdom that is evaluated on the basis of its wisdom, and not on the basis of racial and ethnic prejudice.

Moses received Jethro’s advice and learned from his Midianite father-in-law. It is a Jewish proverb that says: “Receive the truth from the mouth of the one who speaks it.” In other words, you judge truth for its own value, and it does not make a difference from whose mouth it came out.

This is a valuable lesson. I wish that I would have learned it 40 years ago, and not now when I am 74 years old. Of course it is not too late for me to gain this wisdom and put it to practice.

Here is what the Psalmist wrote long ago about the value of the Word of God for our life and success, now and for eternity:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” – Psalms 19:7-10 [NKJV]

I wish that I would have learned the principle of delegation 40 years ago. Now that I am 74 years old it is still not too late to put this principle to work.

Note this text from Psalm 19 and consider the true benefit and wisdom that one can get from the Word of God: The Law of the Lord can make us wise, make our heart rejoice. It is pure and clean, it enlightens our eyes. What we can get from the Word of the Lord is better than gold, and sweeter than honey. How much we miss and how much we lose from our quality of life because we don’t take these gifts of life that the Word of God can give us.

Joseph Shulam: Ancient Wisdom and God’s Wisdom [2019]

The reading of this week in every synagogue around the world is Parashat Yitro (“Jethro”), Exodus 18:1-20:23. Of course the main story in this reading of the Torah is the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the Ten Commandments. However, there are some other very important issues raised in this portion of the Torah that are important for today and for the relationship between Jews and non-Jews.

First, I would like to discuss the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are not the first basic code of law in the history of mankind.

We have The Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100-2050 BC), then the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (c. 1760 BC). These two are some of the earliest. I believe that it would be good for us to know what is in common and what is different between these two Mesopotamian cuneiform codes, that came before the Ten Commandments (given by the Creator God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), and these earlier pagan codes of law.

The Ur-Nammu (c.2100-2050 B.C.E.) this code of law is dedicated and attributed to the following Sumerian and Akkadian gods, Nanna and Otu.

  1. If a man commits a murder, that man must be killed.
  2. If a man commits a robbery, he will be killed.
  3. If a man commits a kidnapping, he is to be imprisoned and pay 15 shekels of silver.
  4. If a slave marries a slave, and that slave is set free, he does not leave the household.
  5. If a slave marries a native (i.e. free) person, he/she is to hand the firstborn son over to his owner.
  6. If a man violates the right of another and deflowers the virgin wife of a young man, they shall kill that male.
  7. If the wife of a man followed after another man and he slept with her, they shall slay that woman, but that male shall be set free.
  8. If a man proceeded by force, and deflowered the virgin female slave of another man, that man must pay five shekels of silver.
  9. If a man divorces his first-time wife, he shall pay (her) one mina of silver.
  10. If it is a (former) widow whom he divorces, he shall pay (her) half a mina of silver.
  11. If the man had slept with the widow without there having been any marriage contract, he need not pay any silver.
  12. If a man is accused of sorcery he must undergo ordeal by water; if he is proven innocent, his accuser must pay three shekels.
  13. If a man accused the wife of a man of adultery, and the river ordeal proved her innocent, then the man who had accused her must pay one-third of a mina of silver.
  14. If a prospective son-in-law enters the house of his prospective father-in-law, but his father-in-law later gives his daughter to another man, the father-in-law shall return to the rejected son-in-law twofold the amount of bridal presents he had brought.
  15. If [text destroyed…], he shall weigh and deliver to him two shekels of silver.
  16. If a slave escapes from the city limits, and someone returns him, the owner shall pay two shekels to the one who returned him.
  17. If a man knocks out the eye of another man, he shall weigh out half a mina of silver.
  18. If a man has cut off another man’s foot, he is to pay 10 shekels.
  19. If a man, in the course of a scuffle, smashed the limb of another man with a club, he shall pay one mina of silver.
  20. If someone severed the nose of another man with a copper knife, he must pay two-thirds of a mina of silver.
  21. If a man knocks out a tooth of another man, he shall pay two shekels of silver.
  22. [text destroyed…] If he does not have a slave, he is to pay 10 shekels of silver. If he does not have silver, he is to give another thing that belongs to him.
  23. If a man’s slave-woman, comparing herself to her mistress, speaks insolently to her, her mouth shall be scoured with one quart of salt.
  24. If a slave woman strikes someone acting with the authority of her mistress, [text destroyed…]
  25. If a man appeared as a witness, and was shown to be a perjurer, he must pay 15 shekels of silver.
  26. If a man appears as a witness, but withdraws his oath, he must make payment, to the extent of the value in litigation of the case.
  27. If a man stealthily cultivates the field of another man and he raises a complaint, this is however to be rejected, and this man will lose his expenses.
  28. If a man flooded the field of a man with water, he shall measure out three kur of barley per iku of field.
  29. If a man had let an arable field to a(nother) man for cultivation, but he did not cultivate it, turning it into wasteland, he shall measure out three kur of barley per iku of field.

The Code of Hammurabi, from the 1700’s B.C.E., is longer, so I will bring here a shorter summary. The laws covered such subjects as:

  1. Slander – ex. Law #127: “If any one “point the finger” at a sister of a god or the wife of any one, and can not prove it, this man shall be taken before the judges and his brow shall be marked (by cutting the skin, or perhaps hair).
  2. Trade – ex. Law #265: “If a herdsman, to whose care cattle or sheep have been entrusted, be guilty of fraud and make false returns of the natural increase, or sell them for money, then shall he be convicted and pay the owner ten times the loss.”
  3. Slavery and status of slaves as property – ex. Law #15: “If any one take a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he shall be put to death.”
  4. The duties of workers – ex. Law #42: “If any one take over a field to till it, and obtain no harvest therefrom, it must be proved that he did no work on the field, and he must deliver grain, just as his neighbor raised, to the owner of the field.”
  5. Theft – ex. Law #22: “If any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.”
  6. Trade – ex. Law #104: “If a merchant give an agent corn, wool, oil, or any other goods to transport, the agent shall give a receipt for the amount, and compensate the merchant therefore, he shall obtain a receipt from the merchant for the money that he gives the merchant.”
  7. Divorce – ex. Law #142: “If a woman quarrel with her husband, and say: “You are not congenial to me,” the reasons for her prejudice must be presented. If she is guiltless, and there is no fault on her part, but he leaves and neglects her, then no guilt attaches to this woman, she shall take her dowry and go back to her father’s house.”
  8. One of the best known laws from Hammurabi’s code – ex. Law #196: “If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one break a man’s bone, they shall break his bone. If one destroy the eye of a freeman or break the bone of a freeman he shall pay one gold mina. If one destroy the eye of a man’s slave or break a bone of a man’s slave he shall pay one-half his price.”
  9. Adultery – ex. Law #129: “If the wife of a man has been caught lying with another man, they shall bind them and throw them into the waters. If the owner of the wife would save his wife then in turn the king could save his servant.”
  10. Perjury – ex. Law #3: “If a man has borne false witness in a trial, or has not established the statement that he has made, if that case be a capital trial, that man shall be put to death.”

The Ten Commandments was delivered by God Himself to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai, and announced in public to all the children of Israel who were delivered from the slavery of Egypt (there are here 11 commandments because of the differences between Exodus and Deuteronomy in the order and commentary on the commandments):

  1. I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
  6. Thou shalt not kill.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  10. Thou shalt not covet (neighbor’s house) (neighbor’s wife) (neighbor’s slaves, animals, anything else)

All the three sets of commandments from Ur-Nammu, Hammurabi, and Sinai have a significant part dealing with morality, but the Mesopotamian laws, prior to Sinai, have no divine sanction or command to accept and recognize the Lord God, or the Oneness of God. The gods of the Mesopotamians and of the Akkadians don’t play a major role in the commandments.

Second, there is a clear difference in these pagan laws in the social structure of the community. Slaves have a different intrinsic value and their bodies and lives have a different value from the established elites of the society.

Third, everything is measured with payment of money and monetary value.

Fourth, the emphasis is on economics and tangible values. The commandments that God gave Israel and the world from Mount Sinai, in the hands of Moses, are much shorter and they have a different moral status. They are shorter, but they cover a much broader ground and give no different human value to the slave or freeman.

The moral standard, the divine standard, and the social standard are miles higher than these old but very important codes of human laws that Hammurabi and Ur-Nammu have provided for their populations about 1000 years before Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai.

We are living in a period that I can describe with the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you.” – Isaiah 60:2 [NKJV]

Yes, there are in the world so-called “Christian” leaders who undermine the importance of the Torah and of the bulk of the Word of God, that is so-called by some Christians as the Old Testament, and that includes the Ten Commandments. These Christian leaders are spread from screen to screen of Christian television and without shame speak against the Torah, and even say that we don’t need the Ten Commandments anymore, because we are under God’s grace.

Yes, we are under God’s grace, but there is no greater demonstration of God’s grace than in the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai – and throughout the history of the people of Israel. We still need the Ten Commandments!

Just a side note: the events that happened on the day of Pentecost and are recorded in Acts 2 – are happening on the day of Pentecost because the day of Pentecost is the day of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It was not an arbitrary day chosen in a lottery of the divine comedy.

The Holy Spirit filled the apostles and the 120 men, and I assume there were in that upper room on Mount Zion also women on that day, because it was the second giving of the Torah, as it was promised and predicted in Isaiah chapter 2, and in other texts. The signs and pyrotechnics that happened in that upper room were the same exact signs as in Exodus chapter 20:18.

To appreciate how much alike and connected these signs and wonders are, including the tongues that were understood by so many Jews who came from far and spoke different languages, you need to dig a bit deeper in the Hebrew meaning of the text in both Acts and Exodus.

Joseph Shulam: The Value of Jethro’s Advice [2017]

This week’s portion of reading from the Torah is called Yitro (“Jethro”). The same Jethro who was the father-in-law of Moses. I know that there are very few men who want to take advice from their fathers-in-law, but Moses needed this advice just like I need the same advice too. It is hard to be a leader that delegates authority in a healthy and organized way.

Here is the text:

“And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone [f]sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?’ And Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.’ So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.’” – Exodus 18:13–23 [NKJV]

Jethro gave Moses over 3000 years ago the best corporate advice that any manager would be wise to receive and practice. We have here a text that is near 3000 years old, given by a non-Jew, a gentile pagan priest, and Moses goes out and does his best to preform and put to practice the principles of leadership that Jethro gave him.

It is not easy to take advice from our fathers-in-law, but if you read the text in Exodus 18 you will see how many times the words “father-in-law” appear you will understand that the Holy Spirit specifically stresses this fact so that we all know that a good father-in-law can give you good advice that is worth learning. As Israelites, we are good in many things, but organization is not one of these areas that we are very strong.

Moses took Jethro’s advice and this was a great help, but at the same time later it was one of the causes of the Korahite rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Too much organization and too much of a pyramid structure can also be unbeneficial.

Joseph Shulam: Don’t Miss Your Opportunity to Stand Before God [2015]

The reading of this week in the Synagogues around the world is Yitro (“Jethro”). The text of this reading goes from Exodus 18:1 – 20:23. The core of this text is God calling Moses to come up the mountain, and there Moses stays 40 days and 40 nights and receives the Torah (The Law), the instructions from God, and the summary of the Torah in the Ten Commandments, written on two stones.

The giving of the Torah was not a private event, nor was it a private revelation, the whole nation was sanctified by washing and changing clothing and by abstaining from intercourse, and by other ceremonial activities. Three days before God spoke from the mountain the nation as a whole, including the mixed multitude of Gentiles that came out of Egypt together with the children of Israel, they were all there and there was no discrimination, all heard God’s voices and saw the mountain shake, and smoke, and the fire.

The most wonderful and dramatic event, where a whole nation of 600,000 men between the age of 20-50, their wives and children, their handmaids and servants, the Gentile nations that accompanied them out of Egypt, the Kenites, the Mecherites, the Kahanites, and others all had the same privilege to hear God audibly, to see the flames of fire, and each according to his own language. I would have liked to be there, even if I was a fly on the wall, I would have liked to participate in this history-changing event.

I would have also liked to have been in Jerusalem on the day of Shavuot (Pentecost) in the year 30 AD, when Peter and the apostles, and a total of 120 Disciples of Yeshua in the upper room from Mount Zion experienced a similar experience like in Mount Sinai. A mighty wind, flames of fire, a shaking of the ground, and God spoke through them, and especially through Peter, and his voice was translated by the Holy Spirit to each man according to his own language.

I would have liked to have been there too and hear and see thousands of Jews confessing their sins and receiving Yeshua as Lord, being baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. I regret missing these events in Jerusalem and in the Sinai Desert, but I want to make sure that I don’t miss the next event of this kind. I want to encourage you and all of us to live in such a way that will insure our participation in the next event.

This next event is described in the book of Revelation:

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” – Revelation 7:9,10 [NKJV]

I just have to be there and take part in that grand occasion, dressed in white and together with all this multitude from all nations, tribes and peoples.

Long before I believed in God, while sitting on my mother’s lap, my mother told me of the grand old plan that Joseph Stalin had to unite all nations, all colors, and all ethnic groups, under one political system, with equality and justice for all. There was a poster that she showed me, of five races, white, yellow, black, red, and brown, standing muscular and proud, shoulder-to-shoulder, and behind them a big red flag was waving.

I loved that idea of unity and equality and justice for all, no Antisemitism, no racism, no exploitation of the weak, each will receive from the State according to his need, and not according to his appetite. Joseph Stalin’s dream became a nightmare.

My mother repented from all that she had done in her youth to make the false utopia of communism a reality in Bulgaria. She did however take the words of the book of Revelation very seriously, and with the same strong faith and even greater dedication, lived and worked to be there in that grand scene of Revelation chapter 7, from verse one to the last of the book.

I want to be there too, and I don’t want to miss the white clothes and the participation in that great multitude in front of the Throne and in front of the Lamb. In this same chapter 7 of the book of Revelation you have the repeated assurance that all of Israel will be saved and sealed and dressed in white together with the rest of the human race that have believed and lived in order to see the Lamb and sing His praises, the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.

Remember, even the Gentiles from all the tribes and nations will be singing the song of Moses – a song of victory of God and His children over the forces of oppression, enslavement, and abuse, the forces of the devil himself. Make sure that you will be there too! I would love to spend eternity with you as my brothers and sisters.

Joseph Shulam: The Meaning of the Tenth Commandment [2014]

This week’s reading in the Torah (the Law of Moses) is from the portion of Yitro (“Jethro”) that is from Exodus 18:1 – 20:23. This portion of the reading contains so many interesting and practical instructions for leadership management, and of course, the Ten Commandments.

Jethro is the father-in-law of Moses, a priest of Midian – not an Israelite – a Gentile if you wish. He is the only personage in the Bible that has several names, Jethro, Hobab, Reuel, and the Druze call him Nabi Shueib. When Moses was being inundated by the amount of work that he had dealing with hundreds of thousands of Israelites – Jethro comes with good advice to Moses:

“So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, bowed down, and kissed him. And they asked each other about their well-being, and they went into the tent.” – Exodus 18:7 [NKJV]

“And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?’ And Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.’ So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.’” – Exodus 18:13-23 [NKJV]

There are a few very important things that we can learn from this portion, especially we in Israel. We can learn that there are important things that we can learn from non-Jews, and even from someone like Jethro, who was not only a non-Israelite, but was a priest of Midian, a pagan priest.

The second thing that we can learn is that no matter how intelligent and gifted and anointed and inspired you are, you can’t do it all alone. We all need a team to work with us.

The third thing that we can learn from this idea of a team is that there has to be a hierarchy in the structure. The hierarchy has to be clear and the tasks of each also have to be clear. Each level of management has to bear the burden given to it. Only the big things – the hard things – need to reach the top.

Jethro tells Moses that if God approves of this plan, everyone will be happy, Moses will not fall under the burden, and the people will go home in peace. I love this portion, because it shows a very important principle. You can learn something from anyone, or everyone has something to teach you.

The second thing that I would like to comment upon from this portion is that last commandment of the Ten Commandments:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” – Exodus 20:17 [NKJV]

Eight of the Ten Commandments above have to do mainly with what you are doing. This last commandment has to do with what you are thinking, i.e. coveting. Coveting is deeply desiring something that is not yours to the point that it makes you obsessive about it and might drive you to change your behavior and sin not only by thinking (coveting), but also by other grievous sins like theft or adultery.

I remember Jack Exum, one of my teachers in G.C.S., down in South Georgia. Jack had written a small book called “The Glory of the Ordinary”. In this he had some poems. The poem by the same name of the book, spoke of a person coveting someone’s beauty and wishing to be just like that very beautiful lady that was sitting in the bus, until she stood up and she had only one leg.

The secret of not coveting is accepting with joy what God gave you, and believing that God rewards justly all those who diligently serve Him (see Hebrews 11:6). The question is asked, why did God make this commandment the 10th commandment? One of the possible answers is that it is the most important commandment, and probably one of the hardest to keep.

Usually the punchline comes at the end of the book, letter, or joke. The way and the key to not coveting is faith that God knows what He is doing and in fact that God is in charge of every aspect of nature, life now and life eternal, and that God loves us and knows what is best for us.

This principle is true even when God gives us a lemon and we might have wished that he gave us a watermelon. In the parable of Yeshua of the talents, the one in which the master had given 10 talents to one of his servants, and five talents to another, and one talent to the third servant, God expected and still expects for us to do the best we can with what He has given us, and not to be bitter or covet what God has given to our neighbor.

Who knows if God did not give us a lemon because he was worried that we might get a hernia transporting that big watermelon with us all the daylong?

Muriel Stern: New Rules to Live in Freedom [2019]

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Yitro (Jethro), starts with Jethro bringing back Zipporah, Gershon, and Eliezer to Moses. They had been staying with him for a while and Jethro had decided that it was time for the family to be reunited.

Moses told his father-in-law all about what the Lord had done for the Israelites. Jethro was delighted and brought sacrifices to the Lord. Joined by Aaron and the leaders of Israel, they shared a meal in the presence of the Lord.

parashat-yitro-jethro-and-moses

Jethro and Moses.

Jethro noticed that it was a hard job for Moses, answering questions from the Israelites all day long. He himself was a religious leader, a priest of Midian, so he had some experience in the matter.

He advised Moses to teach the people the will of the Lord and to install competent and God fearing, incorruptible and honest men to help him lead the people. This way Moses would be able to just deal with the most difficult cases and not get burned out.

Moses followed the advice of his father-in-law. He installed leaders and began to teach the Israelites the instructions of the Lord.

It had been three months since the Israelites had left Egypt and they were camped out in the desert in front of the mountain of the Lord. Moses went up and the Lord spoke to him:

“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” – Exodus 19:4-6 [NIV]

Moses gave detailed instructions to the Israelites. The Lord was going to speak to them. They were to wash their clothes, refrain from sexual relations, the mountain was not to be touched on punishment of death. On the third day Moses brought the people out of the camp to the base of the mountain. They were to meet God.

The Lord descended on the mountain in fire. There was thunder and lightning, smoke, the loud sound of the shofar and the earth trembled.

The Lord sent Moses down to the people with again the warning that they were not to go up the mountain. Moses seemed to not take the warning too serious, but the Lord insisted. He went down, told the people, and together with his brother Aaron made his way back up.

The Lord God spoke, with a voice, famous words that later became known as the Ten Commandments. Of all the laws and instructions the Lord was going to give, these words were the most essential. These were the words the Lord spoke directly to the people of Israel. These were the words they heard with their own ears.

It had been three months since they left Egypt, the life of slavery, where the way to survive was to look out for yourself. And the Lord is giving them new instructions to live by. Words that were summarized later on.

“…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Luke 10:27b [NIV]

Honor the God that gave you your freedom and take care of those around you. It is no longer survival of the fittest. You are no longer slaves. You are free. Put aside whatever you used to survive, and start living life as free men.

Yehuda Bachana: From “My God” to “Our God” [2018]

Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.

This Shabbat we read and learn from Parashat Yitro. This is an important Torah portion because it gives the account in which God gave the Ten Commandments to the nation of Israel, which of course, are the heart of the Torah.

In addition, in Parashat Yitro we bear witness to a big change in the Torah. There is a shift from a focus on individuals to a focus on the group. This is a huge change in how we perceive God. The importance of this point is where our focus lies. I think the focus must be on our nation, and on a smaller scale, our faith requires that we relate to those around us.

The question is serious: is my main focus on my personal connection with God, or on my connection to my nation and then on our connection as a nation with God?

The Ten Commandments and the Individual

parashat-yitro

Many of the Ten Commandments refer to how we relate with others in a group.

Let’s start with the Ten Commandments, the heart of the Torah, the very foundation of the Torah, the essence of the divine law for human beings. Eight of the Ten Commandments serve as the basis for a healthy and proper human society.

Our society could be safe, healthy, and strong if people would keep the commandments of “do not steal”, “do not murder”, and “do not envy”. And if we would all honor and care for our parents, instead of thinking only about ourselves. Even the day of rest is important for humanity. If we truly kept one day in which everyone was free, everyone was equal, there would be no work, no manager, no laborer, no slave, and no master – everyone would be equal, and everyone would rest once a week.

Indeed, the Ten Commandments are the main principles of the Torah.

The first commandment is much more personal:

You shall have no other gods before me. – Exodus 20:3 [NIV]

We live in a binary world. Yes or no, plus or minus, for or against. Our world is managed by ingenious computers and machines that operate on this simple principle. There is or there isn’t, true or false. Every coin has two sides and so does everything in life. If you support something then you oppose what is opposed to it. Every “yes” also defines a “no”.

God begins the Ten Commandments by telling us what is truth, what is right, and who is the Creator of the universe. “You shall have no other gods before me.” To the same extent that we believe in God, we must oppose idols, other gods, other doctrines. And no, Allah is not God, at least he is not the one who brought the people of Israel out of Egypt. So yes, we have to oppose Allah and every other idol.

A Shift in the Narrative

Our parasha stands out in that it has a turning point in the way in which the individual and the group are treated.

Before the Exodus from Egypt, we have a detailed description of the creation of the world, and we have a focus on the private lives of our forefathers. We enter into the most private aspects of Abraham’s life. We hear about the troubles with Hagar, we hear about the father who loves Esau and Mother who loves Jacob. We go deep into the details of Jacob’s life – there’s hate, love and jealousy, it’s a biblical soap opera.

All this happens before the Exodus from Egypt. After the Exodus from Egypt there is a change. This Shabbat we discover very interesting details about the private life of Moses:

Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel… After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her… Jethro had sent word to him, ‘I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.’ – Exodus 18:1,2,6 [NIV]

Only now, and in passing, do we learn about an important event in Moses’ life, his leaving of his wife Zipporah and his two sons… And we have a thousand questions, when did this happen? Why did this happen? Is this a commandment from God? Or Moses’ personal decision? What happened with Zipporah after this encounter? All these questions remain unanswered.

If this dramatic event happened before the Exodus, it is reasonable to assume that the Torah would provide us with many details. This silence is not coincidental. The Torah does not relate to this because we are talking about the private life of Moses and his family. From now on, what happens in Moses’ family is not our business.

From now on we are a nation – we are no longer a family. We used to be a family, metaphorically, we would sit by the fire at night and talk about what happens in the family, about our problems. Those days are over, we have grown and developed into a nation.

The giving of the Torah is also a national matter. It’s possible that the patriarchs did not need the Torah. Within the family unit, everything is determined by dialogue, and the patriarchs of the nation spoke directly to God, there was no need for an organized system of laws.

Now, after the Exodus from Egypt and the birth of a new nation, there is a need for an organized system of laws – the “Torah”.

We are Part of a People

If we return to the Ten Commandments, the opening statement of the foundation of divine law for man, God, who created the entire world and humanity, chooses to present himself not as the Creator of the world, but as God who brought the people of Israel out of Egypt. Note that God also does not present Himself as the God of our forefathers, or as the fulfiller of the promises to Abraham or Jacob. Instead, He presents Himself as the God who brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, and in doing so created the nation of Israel.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. – Exodus 20:2,3 [NIV]

This is a most important point. It’s actually a key point for us and for our children. God requires of us to remember the Exodus from Egypt, in many instances, like Passover, the Shabbat, and all of the feasts. Many verses command us to remember this day:

…so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt. – Deuteronomy 16:3 [NIV]

We, as believers in the Land of Israel, are a part of this people, whom God redeemed and brought out of Egypt. We are not detached from history, and we do not stand before God merely as individuals. Our right is under the right of the people, the people of Israel.

With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm God brought us out of Egypt, and into the Promised Land. The Torah requires of us that we remember this for our entire lives. God is the God of the people, of the group – God is not my own individual God, at least not as He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.

From now on – God dwells within the people, God dwells within the group and I am part of the whole.

Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God. – Exodus 29:45,46 [NIV]

The Importance of the Group

We started the conversation today with the understanding that there are several “key” passages in the Torah, such as Parashat Bereshit and Parashat Yitro. In Parashat Bereshit, we witness the creation of man and the fact that man is not meant to be alone:

…It is not good for the man to be alone. – Genesis 2:18b [NIV]

And in Parashat Yitro we see that a nation is born, the group, and once again man is not meant to be alone – even in connection with God.

What is the significance of the minyan in Judaism? The obligation to pray (certain prayers) with at least ten people. Nine people as righteous as they may be, do not create a minyan. The minyan was created by ten, and when they are together, according to Jewish understanding, the Divine Presence dwells among them. This means that this does not depend on the identity of the worshipers, but on their joining the general public.

I think Yeshua also guides us in this way:

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. – Matthew 18:20 [NIV]

Yeshua teaches us that it is not me and my God. Instead, I am part of a society, I am part of a family, I am part of a community, I am part of a nation – and God dwells in us, not only in me.

The biblical expression of the most severe punishment one could receive is:

…[He] will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant. – Genesis 17:14b [NIV] (amended)

…for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. – Exodus 12:15b [NIV]

Without going into a deep interpretation of the punishment, we can learn that the most severe punishment is excommunication, to exclude the person from the group.

It is not for nothing that we are called “the Body of Messiah”, the Apostle Paul calls us hands, feet, ears, and eyes (1 Corinthians 12:12).

We are one body, every person is different, each have different gifts, but we are all one body in the end.

In the Passover Haggadah, the wicked son is depicted as one who takes himself out of the community and asks, “What is this service to you?” He refers to “you” and not “us”.

Yeshua, on the other hand, shows us the heavy responsibility we have to find those who have left the group:

See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. – Matthew 18:10-14 [NIV]

Yeshua tells us about a person who left the group, left the community, left the straight path, a person who was lost. Yeshua teaches us about our duty to go and help that person. There is a deep message here about the social responsibility that a person has towards his fellow man. Yeshua’s teaching here expresses the full intent of the saying, “All of Israel are responsible for one another.”

parashat yitro

This matter can also include the property of the group, and the way in which we treat the property of the group, and I believe we should be more watchful. At home we do not leave a drinking glass on the floor, someone could accidentally knock it over and cause the drink to spill. At home we do not let leftover food fall on the floor and stay there. We also do not leave the plate we ate from on the chair for someone else to clean up. We care for our private matters more than for those of the community.

It is good for us to understand that God is not just inside me. Rather, He is found inside of us as a group, and we must be more careful in our attitude towards those around us.

In closing

After the Exodus from Egypt, we witness a change in perception, from the individual to the group and the presence of God is found in numbers.

We have a genuine need for society and social life, and in our faith there is a genuine need for friends in the faith, for friends in prayer. The main prayers of the Bible are in plural, and are meant for the group: and faith also has a real need for friends of faith, and members of prayer, the main prayers from the Bible and the New Testament are plural and intended for all:

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one…” “Our God” – the God of the people of Israel and of the entire world.

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done…” Again our Father is the Father of all of us and not just mine.

We have a collective responsibility, one towards the other, we have rights, but we also have obligations.

There is the need – let’s make that the duty – to volunteer and serve the group.

Click here to download a pdf version of this teaching.
Published February 4, 2018 | Updated February 12, 2020

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