Exodus 18:1 – 20:23; Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1 – 7:6; 9:5 – 9:6

Synopsis –

Our parasha this week deals with time- and space-shifts, the Ten Commandments and with the person of Jethro (Yitro) after whom the parasha is named. Jethro is a fascinating figure and we study his character and try to answer why the parasha is named after him and not, for example “VaYishma” (and he heard) as would also have been a very appropriate title (and no other parasha has that name). We then begin our study of the Ten Commandments which we will continue into next week’s parasha, which is a mirror image of this week’s parasha. We devote time to studying the peculiar time- and space-shifts in this parasha (and the following) to try and understand their meaning. The study of these two parasha (this week and next) serves as a spring-board to the 2nd half of Exodus and the work of the Tabernacle.

Scripture references from the episode

Deuteronomy 1:9-18

“9 “At that time I said to you, ‘I am not able to bear you by myself. 10 The Lord your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are today as numerous as the stars of heaven. 11 May the Lord, the God of your fathers, make you a thousand times as many as you are and bless you, as he has promised you! 12 How can I bear by myself the weight and burden of you and your strife? 13 Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads.’ 14 And you answered me, ‘The thing that you have spoken is good for us to do.’ 15 So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and set them as heads over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officers, throughout your tribes. 16 And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. 17 You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.’ 18 And I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do.”

External Sources

(Ex 19:1) Seder Olam Rabbah 5:30-31

30. On Sundays, the 23rd of Iyar, they travelled from Alush and came to Rephidim. There the Well was given to them , they fought with Amaleq and observed there the second Sabbath . They travelled from Rephidim and came to the wilderness of Sinai and found its top in clouds of glory.

31. For the next five days Moses ascended the mountain, descended, told the people the words of the Omnipresent, and returned their answer to the Omnipresent. In the Third month, on the Sixth of the month, the Ten Commandments were given to them on a Sabbath day.

(Ex 19:6)  Ambrose – On the Christian Faith 3.11.86

How indeed but in his body did Christ expiate the sins of the people? In what did he suffer, save in his body—even as we said: “Christ having suffered in the flesh”? In what is he a priest, save in that which he took unto himself the vocation of a priestly nation? 

(Ex 19:19) Origen –  Commentary on the Song of Songs 3.15

But when she [the bride] has become worthy to have it said of her, as also it was said of Moses, that “Moses spoke, and God answered him,” then there is fulfilled in her that which he says: “Make me to hear your voice.”15 It is indeed high praise of her that is disclosed in that saying, “Sweet is your voice.”16 For thus also said the most wise prophet David: “Let my speech be sweet to him.”17 And the voice of the soul is sweet when it utters the word of God, when it expounds the faith and the doctrines of the truth, when it unfolds God’s dealings and his judgments.

(Ex 19:19) Philo of Alexandria – heir of Divine things 16-17

But the man who appeared to be endued with a thin voice, and with slowness of speech, and to be almost dumb, is nevertheless found to be talkative, so that in one place he is represented not merely as speaking, but even as crying out; and, in another, as exerting a ceaseless and uninterrupted flow of words; for, says the scripture, “Moses spoke, and God answered him with a voice.” He did not speak in brief periods or sentences, but in one continuously extended speech; and God also instructed him, not in brief sentences, but gave him one unbroken and continuous answer.

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