This week’s sedra contains many difficulties. I shall discuss just two - the reading of the Aseret HaDibrot, and the division of the Commandments. The first time the Aseret HaDibrot, The Ten Commandments, are read is in the sedra of Yitro. The other two times are on Shavuot and in the sedra of Ve’etchanan in Devarim. The Ten Commandments used to be read every day at Shacharit but this custom was dropped by the early rabbis.
Yitro - Thunder, lightning, billows of smoke, the blast of the shofar, the Ten Commandments and a lesson in leadership
Most people associate the Sedra Yitro with the covenant that Hashem makes with the Israelites at Mount Sinai in an unprecedented epiphany. It’s the only time that HaShem appears to an entire people, giving them the Ten Commandments. At first glance it seems strange that the Sedra is not therefore called ‘The Commandments’, or even ‘Sinai’, but instead it’s named after Moses’ non-Jewish Father-in-law, a Midianite high priest.
In this week’s sedra, the Israelites camp together around Mount Sinai and the stage is set for the giving of the Ten Commandments. Usually they are portrayed as two sets of five, the first dealing with relationships between us and God, and the second with our relationship between our fellow humans. However, Rabbi Lord Sacks believes it also makes sense to see them as three groups of three. The first three are about God. The second set (keep Shabbat, honour parents, do not murder) are about createdness.
Yitro, the world's first recorded Management Consultant, father-in-law to Moshe, one-time Priest of Midian, and convert to Judaism, was clearly a great man. His wise advice to Moshe on managing the concerns of the people was endorsed by God, and the Torah speaks of him at all times with the utmost respect and honour, culminating in the eternal association of his name with the events of Matan Torah - the Giving of the Torah.
The first section of the Sidra tells the story of Jethro’s visit to the Israelite camp. The Torah says that Jethro came when he heard what the Almighty did to Moses and to Israel, his people. The question arises: Why was Moses singled out for special mention? What outstanding things did God perform for Moses personally? It would have been enough to say that Jethro had heard what Had happened to Israel.
In this week’s Sidrah, besides the climatic giving of the 10 Commandments,we are also properly introduced to Moshe’s father-in-law Yitro.
Only five Sidrot are named after a Biblical personality. Three of those personalities, No’ach, Yitro and Pinchas, were greatly admired. The other two, Korach and Balak, became famous for their evil conduct. It is possible that Yitro was given the honour of having a Sidra named after him because he was one of the greatest gentiles in the ancient world who became attached to our people.
This Sidra of Yitro lists the 10 Commandments. Subsequently, a justice system was established by Moshe, where people could come and bring their queries/disputes before him for settlement. When Yitro saw that it was taking a long time for judgements to be given, due to the amount of people, he advised Moshe to set up a hierarchal system, whereby simpler cases could be heard by regular judges, and more difficult cases would be presented to Moshe. This made this system run smoother, quicker and prevented Moshe from becoming ‘burnt out’.
Rashi teaches us that after joining the Jewish people, Yisro saw Moshe sitting like a king whilst the people were standing. This bothered Yisro because it appeared as if Moshe was not showing respect to the people by treating them in this manner. Therefore, Yisro rebuked Moshe for this.