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David: It’s a nice story, but in classic Parsha Experiment style, why are we hearing about it now? Last week, in Parshat Beshalach, we had the Splitting of the Sea, and in this week’s Parsha, Parshat Yitro, we hear about the next major event: receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. But in between the exodus and Sinai, we get a few vignettes that seem disconnected from the story. And this Yitro story is one of them. Why would these epic events --- in which God shows his Power with Egypt and then reveals Himself to Israel --- be interrupted by this seemingly insignificant story about Yitro? Let’s explore this story and figure out why it’s here, this week, on the Parsha Experiment. Hi, I’m David Block.
Immanuel: And I’m Imu Shalev, and welcome to the Parsha Experiment. Let’s pull up our 20-second Parsha recap.
Yitro brings Moses’ family, and hears all about what God did for them
Yitro sees what he thinks is an ineffective judicial process, and suggests a new process
The people arrive at Sinai, prepare for 3 days, and are warned not to touch the mountain
Israel gets the Ten Commandments…but the direct contact with God is too much, and they ask Moses to continue talking to them instead
Then people get warnings against idolatry and how to properly build an altar
David: So why do we hear about Yitro’s journey, especially right before the epic moment of revelation? Let’s take a look at the text itself and see what we can make of it. The story begins: “וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרוֹ כֹהֵן מִדְיָן, חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה - Yitro, Moses’ father in law, heard, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אֱלֹהִים לְמֹשֶׁה, וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עַמּוֹ - everything that God did to Moses and to Israel, כִּי-הוֹצִיא יְהוָה אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִמִּצְרָיִם - in that God took Israel out of Egypt.” So Yitro knows about what happened. Yet, when he gets to Moses a few verses later, Moses tells him everything… again. וַיְסַפֵּר מֹשֶׁה, לְחֹתְנוֹ, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה לְפַרְעֹה וּלְמִצְרַיִם, - Moses told his father-in-law everything that God had done to Pharaoh and to Egypt, עַל אוֹדֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל- on account of Israel, אֵת כָּל-הַתְּלָאָה אֲשֶׁר מְצָאָתַם בַּדֶּרֶךְ, וַיַּצִּלֵם יְהוָה - about all the harshsips that they faced on their journey… and God saved them. So Yitro hears it for a second time.
Immanuel: Which makes the next part of the story hard to believe. Put yourself in Yitro’s shoes. Imagine Moses was retelling the story, how would you respond? “Moses, lemme stop you there- I heard this already!” But that’s not what happens. Instead, he’s blown away. עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-גָדוֹל יְהוָה מִכָּל-הָאֱלֹהִים - Now I know that God is greater than all other powers. Only now he knows? He knew all this already! So what’s going on? If Yitro had heard everything, what could Moses possibly have told him to make him react like this?
David: If you look carefully, what Yitro originally hears and what Moses tells him are not the same.
Originally, Yitro hears “אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אֱלֹהִים לְמֹשֶׁה, וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עַמּוֹ - all that God did to Moses and to Israel.” But Moses says: כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה לְפַרְעֹה וּלְמִצְרַיִם, עַל אוֹדֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל - all the God did to Pharaoh and Egypt on account of Israel. And, Moses adds another element: besides for God taking them out of Egypt, God also saved them from כָּל-הַתְּלָאָה אֲשֶׁר מְצָאָתַם בַּדֶּרֶךְ - “all the hardships they faced on their journey.” Yitro may have originally heard everything about the exodus itself, but perhaps he didn't know about how God’s continued protection in the desert. And, look at the verb used in each account to describe God’s actions. Yitro first heard “כִּי-הוֹצִיא יְהוָה אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִמִּצְרָיִם - that God took them out Egypt. ” But when Moses retells the story, it’s “וַיַּצִּלֵם יְהוָה” - And God saved them. So what are we to make of these differences between the first time Yitro hears and 2nd time?
Immanuel: The key to understanding this may lie in one final difference between the 2 --- not in what Yitro hears, but in how he responds. Originally, Yitro responds by bringing Moses’s family. וַיִּקַּח, יִתְרוֹ חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה, אֶת-צִפֹּרָה, אֵשֶׁת מֹשֶׁה... וְאֵת, שְׁנֵי בָנֶיהָ - Yitro took Moses’ wife and her two sons, וַיָּבֹא יִתְרוֹ חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה, וּבָנָיו וְאִשְׁתּוֹ--אֶל-מֹשֶׁה - and he brought them to Moses. But after hearing the story from Moses, he responds by celebrating. “וַיִּחַדְּ יִתְרוֹ” - Yitro rejoiced!... “וַיֹּאמֶר, יִתְרוֹ, בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה” - and he said, Blessed is God! “וַיִּקַּח יִתְרוֹ חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה, עֹלָה וּזְבָחִים--לֵאלֹהִים” - Yitro offered sacrifices to God!” In the first story, Yitro heard what God did for Israel --- he took them out of Egypt. He sees God’s amazing power and realizes what God can do. And, he wants to align himself with that. So he responds by rounding up his family and brings them to meet up with Moses - to join Israel under this powerful God.
David: But Yitro responds very differently when he hears the story from Moses. Moses doesn’t only provide new details… he offers a new perspective. Yes, God is all-powerful. But God didn’t just do all this to flex His muscle. Look at how God saved us! He destroyed the most powerful nation in the world - על אודות ישראל --- all for our sake! And that’s not all. God watched out for us in the desert too! And the verb Moses uses is “הציל - saved.” It’s not just that God took them out, הוציא - like the first time. “Taking them out” focuses on the end - what God did. But “Saved” adds purpose - it’s the means to that end: it implies a carefully constructed intervention. God cares so deeply for His people. He’s a very loving personal God, constantly looking out for his children.
Immanuel: And when Yitro understands that, he’s blown away. He blesses God, “בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה, אֲשֶׁר הִצִּיל אֶתְכֶם מִיַּד מִצְרַיִם” - Blessed is God who saved you from Egypt - הציל, saved. He adopts Moses’ perspective. Yitro knew of God’s Might when he first heard about it, but he only now understands that Israel’s God is not just as an all-powerful deity... He begins to see God as Creator. As a parent who wants a relationship with His children. As one who deeply loves and provides and sustains and cares for His children. It’s a story of Yitro's personal transformation in his understanding of God.
David: It’s actually the perfect continuation of last week's parsha, Beshalach. There, Israel struggled with the same thing that Yitro deals with here. Throughout the exodus, all they’d ever seen was a God who focused only on a big picture agenda, showing His unrivaled strength to huge nations like Egypt. Maybe their freedom was only byproduct of God’s dealings with Egypt. They were freed because Egypt was destroyed.They wondered if God cared about the small nation of Israel on a personal level. And God responded by providing for them in the desert - showing them that God really does care in an intimate way. Just as Moses describes to his father-in-law, here, in Parshat Yitro.
Immanuel: And now we can finally pull back the zoom lens and understand why this story is here - after the exodus, before revelation. What’s the purpose of Divine Revelation? Is it just so that God could convey the Ten Commandments? Hardly… God conveyed plenty of things to the people through Moses. Revelation was about something more. Believing --- or knowing --- that God is with you is one thing... But experiencing it-- that’s different-- that’s revelation. You think God is only in the big picture? That he doesn’t care on the micro level?? He’s right here… talking with you! No middle man. For the first time, the people interact directly with God.
David: And you know why that was so significant? After the people left Egypt, they didn’t know if God was with them. And it wasn't just Israel… Outsiders - like Yitro - struggled with the same thing. Before the 7th plague in Egypt, God said that the reason for the plagues was: בַּעֲבוּר, הַרְאֹתְךָ אֶת-כֹּחִי; וּלְמַעַן סַפֵּר שְׁמִי, בְּכָל-הָאָרֶץ - so that I can show you my strength, and so that my name will be spoken about throughout the world. Yitro is a testament to that - he did hear what God did! He heard about God’s strength - His Koach. But that’s all he - or the people - knew. Is God just a powerful force who occasionally intervenes only when things get really bad?
Immanuel: The complaints last week, and Yitros’s story this week present the problem that revelation comes to solve. Revelation is watershed moment in the history of mankind. It’s the foundation for having a close, intimate relationship with God. Yes, God can try to convince the people, through Moses, that He’s there. Moses can try to convince Yitro. But revelation is God’s way of saying: You don’t have to believe anyone else to know that I’m with you, that I care about you on a personal level… you’ll see it - you’ll feel it - for yourself.
David: And look at the verses that introduce the revelation itself: אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם, אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְמִצְרָיִם --- you, yourselves, have seen what I did to Egypt. וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל-כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים, And I lifted you onto wings of eagles, וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָי, and I brought you to me. Look at that, God doesn’t say that He brought them to the desert, or eventually to the land of Israel. God’s not talking geographically. וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָי - I brought you close to me. Into a relationship! And God continues: וְעַתָּה, אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, אֶת-בְּרִיתִי, If you follow in my ways and keep the covenant, וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל-הָעַמִּים, you’ll be my treasure among all the other nations. God Himself says that the exodus wasn’t just about a show of power, it was about forming an intimate relationship with the people. That’s precisely what God wanted to show the people with revelation - by interacting with them face to face. But there’s actually one more major thing that happens at Sinai. Not only do the people experience God and realize the potential of a relationship with Him, but they’re also charged with a mission. Join us next week, and we’ll explore that together on the Parsha Experiment.
1. The Parsha Experiment - Bereishit: Is The Torah One Big Story?
2. The Parsha Experiment - Noach: The Failure of Humanity
3. The Parsha Experiment - Lech Lecha: Was Abraham The First Wandering Jew?
4. The Parsha Experiment - Vayeira: the Power of Abraham's Influence
5. The Parsha Experiment - Chayei Sarah: Find Me A Find, Catch Me A Catch!
6. The Parsha Experiment - Toldot: All's Well That Ends Well
7. The Parsha Experiment - Vayeitzei: To Deceive Or Not To Deceive, That Is The Question
8. The Parsha Experiment - Vayishlach: Difficult Conversations
9. The Parsha Experiment - Vayeishev: Harlots & Coats & Goats, Oh My!
10. The Parsha Experiment - Miketz: Hello From The Other Side
11. The Parsha Experiment - Vayigash: A Speech That Turns The Tide
12. The Parsha Experiment - Vayechi: We Are Family - Culmination of Abrahamic Legacy
13. The Parsha Experiment - Shmot - Every Saga Has A Beginning: Meeting Moses
14. The Parsha Experiment - Va'era: The Exodus and Babe Ruth
15. The Parsha Experiment - Bo: The Flight of the Firstborn Nation
16. The Parsha Experiment - Beshalach: Are We An Ungrateful Nation?
17. The Parsha Experiment - Yitro: Does God Care About ME?
18. The Parsha Experiment - Mishpatim: Can Laws Be Meaningful?
19. The Parsha Experiment - Terumah: Is God Talking To Me Through The Laws of the Mishkan?
20. The Parsha Experiment - Tetzaveh: The Hidden Secrets In The Walls Of The Mishkan
21. The Parsha Experiment - Ki Tisa: Will God Always Forgive Me?
22. The Parsha Experiment - Vayakhel: How Can I Take A Step Towards God?
23. The Parsha Experiment - Pekudei: God Choosing Man, Man Choosing God
24. The Parsha Experiment - Vayikra: How To Read the Book of Vayikra
25. The Parsha Experiment - Shemini: Is There Meaning Behind The Laws of Kashrut?
26. The Parsha Experiment - Tzav: How Can I Confront Sacrifices?
27. The Parsha Experiment - Tazria: What do Tumah and Tahara Mean Today? Part I
28. The Parsha Experiment - Metzora: What Do Tumah And Tahara Mean Today? Part II
29. The Parsha Experiment - Kedoshim: How Can We Achieve Holiness?
30. The Parsha Experiment - Emor: Holiness In Space and Time
31. The Parsha Experiment - Behar: A Spiritual Economy
32. The Parsha Experiment - Bechukotai: The Epic Conclusion To Leviticus
33. The Parsha Experiment - Bamidbar: How Can We Transmit God's Values?
34. The Parsha Experiment - Naso: Adding Godliness To Our Lives
35. The Parsha Experiment - Beha'alotecha: Can I Be Vulnerable With God?
36. The Parsha Experiment - Shelach: How Can I Trust God When I Don't See Him?
37. The Parsha Experiment - Korach: Rejecting Israel's Leaders
38. The Parsha Experiment - Chukat: A Turning Point In Israel's Relationship With God
39. The Parsha Experiment - Balak: What Is Israel's National Mission?
40. The Parsha Experiment - Pinchas: Intimacy and Holiness
41. The Parsha Experiment - Matot-Masei: Israel's Psychological Journey
42. The Parsha Experiment - Devarim: Finding Inspiration From Our Past
43. The Parsha Experiment - Va'etchanan: Building An Intimate Relationship With God
44. The Parsha Experiment - Eikev: Appreciating Our Creators
45. The Parsha Experiment - Re'eh: Why Would Anyone Want to Worship Idols?
46. The Parsha Experiment - Shoftim: Is This Just A Boring Parsha?
47. The Parsha Experiment - Ki Teitzei: Is There Spiritual Guidance Within Our Legal System?
48. The Parsha Experiment - Ki Tavo: How To Make Sense Of The Terrible Curses
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