Shabbat Yitro January 25, 2019

Parashat Yitro, this week’s Torah portion recounts the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and God’s direct revelation to the people of Israel. “And God spoke all these words saying…”

Jewish tradition differs on just how much of the Ten Commandments was actually orally conveyed to the people. At some point the Israelites implored Moses, “You speak with us and we will hear, but let God not speak with us lest we die.” The generally held rabbinic teaching is that the Israelites heard only the first two commandments before terror induced them to pull the revelation-al plug.

Moses wanted and fully anticipated that his people would hear not only all ten of the Ten Commandments but the entire Torah as well. But that  was not to be. “Moses, you speak with us and we will hear, but let God not speak with us lest we die.

Was Moses overestimating the strength and character of the people? Did he simply expect too much from them? Or, conversely, had Moses accurately perceived the true spiritual potential of the Israelites, and as their leader wanted only to bring that potential  to the fore. In other words, had Moses accurately recognized in them talents and abilities they were yet to recognize in themselves? 

If you see more deeply into me than I am capable of seeing into myself, who has the better read on the real me? 

The week’s Torah portion takes its name from Yitro, Jethro the father-in-law of Moses. When Jethro enters the Israelite camp he comes upon Moses sitting – from dawn to dusk – arbitrating disputes brought to him by the people. Jethro says: “The thing you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out…for this matter is to heavy for you. You cannot do it alone.” Jethro then counsels a delegation of judicial authority.

Jethro could see the harm Moses was doing both to himself and to the people, even if Moses could not see it himself. Sometimes it takes a person standing outside the circle to accurately perceive what is going on within it. That’s how business consultants and mental health professionals make their living. That’s the value of a true friend and valued counselor. A prisoner cannot free himself.

In the Ethics of the Fathers, Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Yehoshua taught: (So) Get yourself a teacher (counselor); acquire for yourself a friend.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Whiman