This week’s reading introduces us to the Ten commandments and a man whom we haven’t heard about since parshat Shemot, Yitro. The Parshah actually starts off relating Moshe’s father in law, Yitro, how he left the land of Midiyan and joined the Jewish nation, converting by circumcising himself. (Gemara Sanhedrin 94a)
Yitro brought with him, his daughter Tzipporah and his grand children (Moshe’s children) Eliezer and Gershon. Yitro converted for the sake of Heaven and became a G-d fearing Jew, unlike the ‘Eiruv Rav’ who had converted deceitfully and went on to encourage the making of the Golden Calf.
The convert is regarded very highly in Jewish law, Hashem states that he has four children, they are, the orphan, poor person, Levite and also a convert! We should all respect anyone that has converted to Judaism (Devarim 10:19).
Yitro, despite being brought up in a life of idolatry, worshipping many idols in his past, gave it all up. After converting and going through the circumcision process (Sanhedrin 94a), he made a feast celebrating his conversion. Moshe stood up and ran around serving all the guests like a proper righteous man (Rashi Shemot 18:12), Moshe's actions teach us a lesson, one should always seek to do kindness all the time, just like Moshe utilised his time.
We also see Joshua, who was Moshe’s prime student, became the leader of the Jewish nation later on, not because he was the most learned of all Moshe’s students, it was because he treated all mitzvot importantly and was always doing the tasks such as serving everyone food, stacking up tables and chairs at the end of services and always honouring his Rabbi, Moshe. In fact the Talmud states that the countenance of Moshe was like that of the sun; the countenance of Yehoshua was like that of the moon. This shows how all of Joshua's actions were a reflection on Moshe himself! (Bava Batra 75a)
Yitro then gave crucial advice to Moshe, advising him on how to institute court systems, thus saving Moshe and the Jews a lot of time later on and giving them a proper court structure (Shemot 18: 17/23). Yitro was so great an entire parshah was named after him!!
The reading then continues to the event of the ’Ten Commandments.’ After spending more than a month in the wilderness, the Jews encamped around Mount Sinai and accepted the Torah! Mount Sinai was chosen as the mountain for the Torah to be put on, as it was the most ‘humblest’ of all mountains (Sota 5/ Megillah 29a), teaching that Hashem loves humility!!
The sages teach us (Sefer V'zot Haberacha) that Hashem offered the Torah to all the nations, the nations asked whats in the Torah? Hashem related to the Ishmaelite nation that the Torah said ‘Don’t Steal!’ the Ishmaelite’s answered, we can’t accept as our forefather Ishmael’s hand was on everyone else! Hashem asked Eisav’s descendants if they wanted to accepted it, they also asked what is in the ten commandments? Hashem replied ‘Don’t Murder,’ they answered they couldn’t accept as the forefather Eisav was steeped in to murder.
After they accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, G-d charged Moshe to instruct the people not to approach the mountain and to be prepared for the giving of the Torah for three days (Gemara Shabbat 86/87). On the third day, amidst thunder and lightning, G-d's voice emanated from the smoke-enshrouded mountain and He spoke to the Jewish People, giving them the Ten Commandments:
In fact, the first two commandments came directly from Hashem, however, they could not comprehend the almighty speaking to them, since the divine presence was so strong, they all died twice, after each of the first two commandments. However they were resurrected by the dew of revival after each time the passed out. This same 'dew' will also resurrect the dead in future times (Shabbat 88). After the second commandment, they requested of Moshe for him to say over the last 8 commandments, by him hearing it from G-d first.
The first five of the Ten Commandments represent more the man to G-d relationships, whereas the last five commandments are more Man to Man laws.
The first commandment related how to believe in Hashem’s existence and providence (Shemot 20:2). The second commandment, tells us not to have ‘other G-d’s (Shemot 20:3/6).’ The third teaches us not to pronounce Hashems name in vain (Shemot 20:7).
The forth commandment, orders us to observe Shabbat (Shemot 20:8/11), specifically by not doing any of the 39 Melachot which the Jews did in the Tabernacle. Also the sanctifying of the Shabbat and remembering it!! In modern day, desecration of Shabbat, includes, for example, driving the car, switching off/on lights directly and doing any form of creative activity.
The fifth, commands us to honour our parents (Shemot 20:12), in this commandment it relates how we should also honour older siblings and always do what is requested of our parents and to not do anything that upsets them.
The sixth commandment, states how one should not murder, included in this category is not to embarrass someone in public as that is a form of murder. In fact the Talmud states that one should rather throw themselves into a fiery furnace than to embaress his fellow in public (Bava Metzia 59).
The seventh commandment is not to commit adultery; the eighth is that one should not steal. The ninth commandment is not to bear false witness against a fellow man. The tenth commandment is not to be jealous of what others have. We all have to realize, Hashem awards an individual with what he should have in this world, and it is not our job to covet others possessions.
In the Tanach we see, a pure desecration of the last two of the Ten Commandments by King Achav, who coveted Nabot’s field. In order to gain possession of the field, he had him put on trial for something he didn’t do, and Nabot was put to death as a penalty for a crime he didn’t commit (Melachim 1:Chapter 21). Both jealousy and bearing false witness led to his murder!
The parshah finishes off relating the mitzvah of not building an alter of stones touched by iron (Shemot 20:22), as iron is used usually for destructive purposes, for example, sharp knives (which could be used to kill). The alter is used to promote peace and not violence!!
The Haftorah for this weeks reading comes from chapter 6 in the book of Isaiah, relating the prophet’s vision of the heavenly chariot.