Handing Down of the Ten Commandments From Sinai: Parshat Yitro


Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro), who lives in Midian, hears the news of all the amazing miracles that G-d did for the Jewish people, and he decides to go visit. So together with his daughter, Moses’ wife Tzipporah, and their two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, they leave Midian and head for the desert, where they meet Moses.

“Moses Shows the Tablets of the Law,” anonymous oil on canvas, painted between 1600 and 1624 (Netherlands, Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht)

Now, Jethro sees that Moses is incredibly busy because anytime the Jews have a problem or they want to understand how to do a certain mitzvah, they come to Moses. And so every day, from morning until night, Moses sits and answers questions.

Jethro tells Moses that doing this is too hard for him and will wear him out. Instead, he suggests, Moses should appoint judges who will be in charge of smaller groups of people, and then if those judges don’t know the answers, they will go to the higher judges in charge of larger groups, and if those don’t know, they’ll go to the higher level judges — all the way up — until it reaches Moses.

This way, Moses will only get the hardest questions, and he’ll have time for other things. Moses does as his father-in-law suggests and appoints the judges. Then Jethro leaves to return to Midian, and Moses sees him off.

Next, the Jews travel to a part of the desert called Sinai, where G-d tells them that if they accept the Torah, they will be a chosen and special nation. The Jews respond: “Everything that G-d has said, we will do!” So they are told to prepare for three days for a very awesome event that will take place on Mount Sinai.

Also, they receive instructions about the mountain. Because it is so holy, no one is allowed to touch it; they must be very careful even not to come too close.

On the third day, there is booming thunder and flashes of lightning and the Jews all go to Mount Sinai.

There, they see a thick cloud lingering over the mountain, and soon they hear a long, powerful blast of a shofar. Then G-d comes down to the mountain and proclaims the Ten Commandments.

These Ten Commandments set the standard for goodness in the world.

Here they are:

1. Belief in G-d
2. Not to worship idols or other gods
3. Not to swear falsely in the name of G-d
4. Keep the Sabbath
5. Honor your parents
6. Do not kill
7. Be faithful to your spouse; do not engage in immoral behavior
8. Do not steal
9. Do not testify falsely against somebody else
10. Do not be jealous of what your friend or neighbor has

When G-d began to speak these commandments, it was just too powerful and overwhelming for the Jews to hear. They begged Moses to receive the Torah from G-d and then tell it to them. So Moses went up the mountain.

Copyright and reprinted with permission from Chabad.org. For more insights on the Torah portion, visit: Chabad.org/Parshah.

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