Parashat Yitro: Exodus 18:1 to 20:23

Week of Friday, February 2, 2024

Our Torah portion is named after Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, who assists Moses in developing a coherent system for dealing with daily legal and administrative matters of the Israelite nation. Jethro observes that the people bring all their troubles to Moses, which is an overwhelming burden. Jethro advises him to choose trustworthy souls who will share the leadership responsibilities.

This Torah sedrah also includes the statement of the Decalogue, the ten “words.” Even as the sound of thunder fades from Mt. Sinai, the Torah adds three more commandments to the ten just given, and only after these does our Torah portion Yitro conclude.

These are the additional commandments: “you shall not make with Me gods of gold or silver. When you eventually build a stone altar for Me, do not build it out of hewn stone for if you lift up your sword against it, you have profaned it.” The third one is: “you shall not climb up My altar with steps, so that your nakedness will not be revealed on it.” (Exodus 20:20-23) The first commandment prohibits idolatry; the second suggests the sin of murder because the same iron sword also kills; and the third is an allusion to sexual immorality. Rabbi Samson Hirsch, the Torah commentator from the early 20th century, explains that these three commandments are unified by the fact that they allude to the three central prohibitions in Jewish law. In another words, a person should die rather than violate these three actions: idolatry, murder, and adultery.

If you would like to understand the deeper implications of these three additional prescriptions, please join us for Torah study this Shabbat morning. 

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