Yitro -- Exodus 18:1-20:23

CoverDesign_YitroThe great American bard Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, once remarked:

A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.

It can be argued that the real hero of this week's parsha -- the one who takes the greatest risk and catalyzes the greatest shift in the narrative -- is actually the Priest of Midian, Jethro, because he is Moses’ greatest teacher as well as his father-in-law. When Jethro hears of the divine miracles performed for the Israelites, he is en route to the Israelite camp with Moses’ wife, Tzipporah, and two sons in tow. With prescience, Jethro advises Moses to delegate his growing work load as singular leader of the people by appointing magistrates and judges. This will distribute the workload more reasonably and assist Moses in providing his people with the necessary pillars of civil society -- governance and administered justice.

Encamping opposite Mount Sinai, the Israelites respond to the divine call:

All that God has spoken shall we do [na’asse].

This becomes the calling card of all future Jewish spiritual practice -- doing the practice is primary, understanding is secondary.

Amidst thunder, lightning, billowing smoke, and shofar blasts, there is a theophany; the divine presence descends the mountain while Moses is simultaneously summoned to ascend. The Sinaitic revelation, another pillar of Judaism, is proclaimed to all those gathered at the foot of the mountain. The intensity of the revelation is too much for the people to bear, and they beg Moses to receive the Torah directly from its divine source and only then reveal it to them.

Just what was revealed on Sinai remains a mystery, part of the ongoing process of revelation that encompasses everything from that dramatic moment to the exchange between a teacher and student today.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: Last week, CBS launched a new Shabbat pamphlet that features original cover art inspired by mid-20th century graphic design. The artwork that accompanies this post is an abstract representation of Mount Sinai. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.