Strangers at a Revelation

Strangers at a Revelation

Jan 21, 2022 By Dr. Miriam Feldmann Kaye | Commentary | Yitro

Parashat Yitro is framed by the geographical and conceptual ideas of exile and homecoming. Against the backdrop of Bereishit, the notion of movement is critical in framing the experiences of biblical characters: the exile from Eden; the exile of Cain; the “calls” to Abraham, Jacob, and others to move, relocate, and find new homes.

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Can God Prohibit an Emotion?

Can God Prohibit an Emotion?

Feb 5, 2021 By Sarah Wolf | Commentary | Yitro

Part of my current research focuses on how human emotions are discussed and legislated in the Talmud and other ancient rabbinic texts, and so the last of the Ten Commandments (as counted in the Jewish tradition) raises for me some fundamental questions.

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Expanding the Circle of Revelation

Expanding the Circle of Revelation

Feb 12, 2020 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Yitro

Are women Jews? This shocking question, first phrased by the feminist scholar Rachel Adler, is linked by Judith Plaskow to our portion in her 1990 book, Standing Again at Sinai. When Moses descends from the mountain to prepare the people for revelation, he tells them, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman” (Exod. 19:15). Sexual contact makes one temporarily impure, and God wanted the people to receive the revelation in a state of purity. As Plaskow notes, Moses could have said, “men and women do not go near each other,” but instead he addresses only the men. She writes, “In this passage, the Otherness of women finds its way into the very center of Jewish experience.”

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The Confusion of Revelation

The Confusion of Revelation

Jan 25, 2019 By Barry Holtz | Commentary | Yitro

We have now come to Parashat Yitro in our annual Torah reading cycle, arguably the most significant sedra in the Humash. While Parashat Bereishit has the mythic power of the creation stories and Parashat Beshallah includes the narrative of the Exodus from Egypt and the miraculous crossing of the Sea, it is in Yitro that we see the culmination of that crossing, for here in Parashat Yitro we read about our first connection to the Torah, the single most significant element of Judaism as it later evolved.

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Where Do We Look to Find Our Center?

Where Do We Look to Find Our Center?

Feb 2, 2018 By Adam Berman | Commentary | Yitro

We Jews read the Torah bit by bit, or parashah by parashah, over the course of a year. As a result, traditional Jewish interpretation of the Bible tends to focus on small units such as individual verses or short passages. But the Torah sometimes uses overarching structures in longer units to convey key themes. An important example occurs in this week’s parashah.

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Why Did Moses Listen to Yitro’s Advice?

Why Did Moses Listen to Yitro’s Advice?

Feb 17, 2017 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Yitro

Yitro heard that God had done wonders for Moses and Israel and had redeemed them from Egypt. He journeyed from Midian with Moses’s wife and sons to the Israelites’ encampment at the mountain of God. We hear nothing of Moses’s reunion with his wife and children, but rather a detailed account of Yitro’s organizational advice to Moses.

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Power and Love

Power and Love

Feb 17, 2017 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Yitro

[P]ower without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

― Martin Luther King Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here?” (1967)

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Whose Revelation Is It, Anyway?

Whose Revelation Is It, Anyway?

Jan 29, 2016 By Stephen P. Garfinkel | Commentary | Yitro

Parashat Yitro is a Torah reading of monumental ideas, foundational concepts, and widely-recognized importance. By all measures, this week’s portion must be considered a highlight of the entire Torah, since it includes no less (and a lot more!) than the Ten Commandments. This seems to be the right place to explore questions such as these: what did the actual revelation (Exodus 20) include? What were God’s commandments? Why were these statements singled out, especially given the amount of law scattered throughout the Torah? What gives these brief pronouncements their distinctive importance? 

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Nothing Is Enough

Nothing Is Enough

Jan 29, 2016 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Yitro

sitting amid your litter, feet buried
by accumulated jars of buttons,
glasses lost beneath a decade of bank statements
and funny poems.

The obligation to honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12) is never simple, but it’s especially complicated when relations between parent and child are strained. In her moving poem “Mother,” Alicia Ostriker gives voice to the ethical challenge of caring for her mother when the conflicts of the past loom large.

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The Bite of Desire

The Bite of Desire

Feb 6, 2015 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Yitro

Do you covet? I do, and it makes me sad. Perhaps I’m too hard on myself. We all see things that we want, don’t have, and wish we did. There is too much in the world that is bright and shiny—offering pleasure and excitement—not to see it and feel the ache of its absence in my life. And I speak not only of the ephemeral delights that beckon. Even more difficult to contemplate are my fellow human beings whose personal and professional lives leave me despondent when measuring myself against them: scholars who have written books that I haven’t, friends who seem to be better spouses or more successful parents, people who have paid off their mortgages, men who still have all their hair. In short, the list is endless.

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Shabbat: A Model Of, and For, the World

Shabbat: A Model Of, and For, the World

Feb 6, 2015 By William Friedman | Commentary | Yitro

In Parashat Yitro, the command to “remember” Shabbat (Exod. 20:8) is observed in order to recognize the eternal sanctity of the day on which God rested on the seventh day of Creation. This command is recapitulated in Deuteronomy with significant revision: the Israelites are to “observe” Shabbat (Deut. 5:12) in order to ensure that slaves (i.e., workers) are given an opportunity for rest. What are we to make of these dual aspects of Shabbat, one in which we reenact God’s primordial resting; the other in which we attempt to achieve a measure of protection for the economically vulnerable?

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Exodus 18: The Proverbial Visit of the In-Laws

Exodus 18: The Proverbial Visit of the In-Laws

Jan 15, 2014 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Yitro

“Come and listen to my story ’bout a man named . . . Jethro!”

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A Lesson in Interreligious Dialogue

A Lesson in Interreligious Dialogue

Jan 15, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Yitro

If one were asked to identify the most central parashah to Israelite identity and to Judaism, one would certainly point to Parashat Yitro, which describes the moment of revelation at Sinai.

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How We Believe in God

How We Believe in God

Jan 30, 2013 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Yitro

The Mishnah and the two Talmuds mostly address details of Jewish observance; they rarely discuss the purpose of individual commandments, nor how the mitzvot mesh to create an integrated religious ethos.

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Torah and the Supreme Court

Torah and the Supreme Court

Feb 11, 2012 By Marc Wolf | Commentary | Yitro

These are all the essential ingredients for the recipe of how we interpret the Torah at JTS—language, history, tradition, precedent, purpose, and consequence. It is these very same principles that define our vision for study, law, and practice.

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The Resiliency and Faith of Youth

The Resiliency and Faith of Youth

Feb 11, 2012 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Yitro

Why do bad things happen to good people?

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Bearing Witness to Torah

Bearing Witness to Torah

Jan 22, 2011 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Yitro

Everything that precedes Sinai in the Torah’s narrative leads up to it. Everything that comes afterward—in the Torah, the Bible and Judaism as a whole—follows from the fact of Covenant and works out its consequences for Israel and the world. Your life and mine are shaped by the account presented in this week’s parashah. I would like to suggest two major ways in which that is so.

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Of God and Man

Of God and Man

Jan 16, 2011 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Yitro

When I was little, my best friend and I shared a favorite game of Barbie dolls.

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Awakening to the Divine Radiance

Awakening to the Divine Radiance

Feb 6, 2010 By Eitan Fishbane | Commentary | Yitro

This Shabbat we read the most pivotal narrative in all of scripture: the revelation of God to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai, the reception of the Torah as the divine word transmitted through Moses. From this moment forth, everything changes. The people enter into a covenantal relationship with God; they accept the life of mitzvot as their responsibility and the obligation of their descendents. At the heart of this narrative is the transmission of the Ten Commandments (or the Ten Statements [aseret ha-dibbrot]), the core principles understood by later Jewish tradition to be the root and foundation of all the mitzvot, the fabric of Jewish religious life.

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The Electricity of Awe

The Electricity of Awe

Feb 14, 2009 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Yitro

Parashat Yitro is a play in three acts, starting with Act I, a backstory in Exodus 18. Moses reunites with his family, notably his wise father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro), who rejoices at the miraculous reunion and then mentors his inexperienced son-in-law in the art of religious leadership. Yitro teaches Moses how to bless God, offer sacrifice, and administer justice among his restive and distressed people.

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