From Reform Judaism https://reformjudaism.org/torah/portion/yitro
Yitro (יִתְרוֹ — Jethro) – Exodus 18:1-20:23
Jethro, priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel, God’s people, how the Eternal had brought Israel out from Egypt. – Exodus 18:1
- Yitro brings his daughter Zipporah and her two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, to his son-in-law Moses. (18:1-12)
- Moses follows Yitro’s advice and appoints judges to help him lead the people. (18:13-27)
- The Children of Israel camp in front of Mount Sinai. Upon hearing the covenant, the Israelites respond, “All that God has spoken we will do.” (19:1-8)
- After three days of preparation, the Israelites encounter God at Mount Sinai. (19:9-25)
- God gives the Ten Commandments aloud directly to the people. (20:1-14)
- Frightened, the Children of Israel ask Moses to serve as an intermediary between God and them. Moses tells the people not to be afraid. (20:15-18)
Ashkenazim: Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6
Sefardim: Isaiah 6:1-13
From Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yitro_%28parsha%29
Connection to the Parashah
Both the parashah and the haftarah recount God’s revelation. Both the parashah and the haftarah describe Divine Beings as winged. Both the parashah and the haftarah report God’s presence accompanied by shaking and smoke. And both the parashah and the haftarah speak of making Israel a holy community.
STRUGGLING WITH TORAH
From Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yitro_%28parsha%29
Yitro (יִתְרוֹ — Hebrew for the name “Jethro”) – Exodus 18:1-20:23
The parashah tells of Jethro’s organizational counsel to Moses and God’s revelation of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. [In some traditions it is customary for listeners to stand while the reader chants the Ten Commandments in the synagogue, as if the listeners were themselves receiving the revelation at Sinai.] The parashah is the shortest of the weekly Torah portions in the Book of Exodus.
In Modern Interpretation
Noting that Jewish tradition has not preserved a tradition about Mount Sinai’s location, [the 20th century Reform Rabbi Gunther] Plaut observed that had the Israelites known the location in later centuries, Jerusalem and its Temple could never have become the center of Jewish life, for Jerusalem and the Temple would have been inferior in holiness to the God’s mountain. Plaut concluded that Sinai thus became in Judaism, either by design or happenstance, a concept rather than a place.
Although Jewish tradition came to consider the words “I am the Lord your God” in Exodus 20:1 the first of the Ten Commandments, many modern scholars saw not a command, but merely a proclamation announcing the Speaker.
From the D’var Torah By: Rabbi Hilly Haber
The revelation at Sinai was a radical act: our Sages understood it as such, and contemporary scholars are still grappling with its implications. Its radical nature was apparent not only in the public and communal nature of the revelation, but also in the ways in which God’s presence was described, and in the strikingly novel relationship that God creates with Israel.
From “The Torah / A Women’s Commentary” edited by Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss, Ph.D.
יתרו Yitro – Exodus 18:1-20:23
Contemporary Reflection by Judith Plaskow, pp.423-424
Read from a feminist perspective, Yitro contains one of the most painful verses in the Torah. At the formative moment in Jewish history, when presumably the whole people of Israel stands in awe and trembling at the base of Mount Sinai waiting for God to descend upon the mountain and establish the covenant, Moses turns to the assembled community and says, “Be ready for the third day: do not go near a woman” (19:15). Moses wants to ensure that the people are ritually prepared to receive God’s presence, and an emission of semen renders both a man and his female partner temporarily unfit to approach the sacred (see Leviticus 15:16-18). But Moses does not say, “Men and women do not go near each other.” Instead, at this central juncture in the Jewish saga, he renders women invisible as part of the congregation about to enter into the covenant.
These words are deeply troubling for at least two reasons. First, they are a paradigm of the treatment of women as “other,” both elsewhere in this portion and throughout the Torah. Again and again, the Torah seems to assume that the Israelite nation consists only of male heads of household. It records the experiences of men, but not the experiences of women. For example, the tenth commandment–“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (20:14)–presupposes a community of males hearers.
Second, entry into the covenant at Sinai is not just a one-time event, but an experience to be reappropriated by every generation (Deuteronomy 29:13-14). Every time the portion is chanted, whether as part of the annual cycle of Torah readings or as a special reading for Shavuot, women are thrust aside once again, eavesdropping on a conversation among men, and between men and God. The text thus potentially evokes a continuing sense of exclusion and disorientation in women. The whole Jewish people supposedly stood at Sinai. Were we there? Were we not there? If we were there, what did we hear when the men heard “do not go near a woman”? If we were not there originally, can we be there now? Since we are certainly part of the community now, how could we not have been there at the founding moment?
Given the seriousness of these questions, it is important to note the larger narrative context of Moses’ injunction to the men not to go near a woman. When the Israelites arrive at Sinai on the third new moon after leaving Egypt, Moses twice ascends the mountain to talk with God. After he brings God the report that the people have agreed to accept the covenant, God gives Moses careful instructions for readying everyone for the moment of revelation: “Go to the people and warn them to stay pure today and tomorrow,” God says. “Let them wash their clothes. Let them be ready for the third day; for on the third day יהוה will come down, in the sight of all the people, on Mount Sinai” (19:10-11). It is striking that God’s instructions to Moses are addressed to the whole community. It is Moses who changes them, who glosses God’s message, who assumes that the instructions are meant for only half the people. Thus, at this early stage in Jewish history, Moses filters and interprets God’s commands through a patriarchal lens. His words are a paradigm of the treatment of women, but a complex one. They show how Jewish tradition has repeatedly excluded women, but also the way in which that exclusion must be understood as a distortion of revelation.
Interestingly, the Rabbis seem to have been disturbed by the implication of women’s absence from Sinai, because they read women into the text in a variety of ways. B’reishit Rabbah 28.2 understands Exodus 19:3 (“Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and declare to the children of Israel”) to mean that “the house of Jacob” refers to the women and “the children of Israel” refers to the men. According to the midrash, the order of the verse suggests that God sent Moses to the women with the Torah first. Perhaps, the sages speculate, God regretted the mistake of not directly giving Eve the commandment concerning the forbidden fruit and so resolved not to repeat it. Besides, the Rabbis note, women are more careful in observing religious precepts, and they are the ones who will instruct their children. Rashi, commenting on the Mishnah (Shabbat 9:3; BT Shabbat 86a), interprets Exodus 19:15 (“Do not go near a woman”) as a stricture specifically designed to enable Israel’s women to be present at Sinai. Since semen loses its power to create impurity after three days, Moses’ instruction to the men guarantees that women will remain ritually pure, even if they discharge residual semen during the Revelation. In other words, without ever naming Moses’ distortion of God’s words directly, the Rabbis sought to reverse its effects.
Several lessons can be drawn from this. One is the inseparability of revelation and interpretation. There is no revelation without interpretation; the foundational experience of revelation also involves a crucial act of interpretation. Second, we learn that the process of interpretation is ongoing. What Moses does, the Rabbis in this case seek to undo. While they reiterate and reinforce the exclusion of women in many contexts, they mitigate it in others. Third, insofar as the task of interpretation is continuing, it now lies with us. If women’s absence from Sinai is unthinkable to the Rabbis–despite the fact that they repeatedly reenact that absence in their own work–how much more must it be unthinkable to women and men today who function in communities in which women are full Jews? We have the privilege and the burden of recovering the divine words reverberating behind the silences in the text, recreating women’s understandings of revelation throughout Jewish history.
From “Mishkan T’filah / A Reform Siddur”:
FOR OUR COUNTRY p.516
THUS SAYS ADONAI, This is what I desire: to unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of lawlessness; to let the oppressed go free, to break off every yoke. Share your bread with the hungry, and take the wretched poor into your home. When you see the naked, give clothing, and do not ignore your own kin.
O GUARDIAN of life and liberty, may our nation always merit Your protection. Teach us to give thanks for what we have by sharing it with those who are in need. Keep our eyes open to the wonders of creation, and alert to the care of the earth. May we never be lazy in the work of peace; may we honor those who have [served, suffered or] died in defense of our ideals. Grant our leaders wisdom and forbearance. May they govern with justice and compassion. Help us all to appreciate one another, and to respect the many ways that we may serve You. May our homes be safe from affliction and strife, and our country be sound in body and spirit. Amen.
We recite MI SHEBËRACH for the victims of abuse, brutality, conflicts, fear, natural disasters, pandemics, tragedies, violence of all kinds especially directed at individuals and specific communities including us, and war; for all those at home alone or lonely; for all those in need of physical, emotional, and mental healing. “R’fuah sh’lëmah” – a complete recovery!
We say KADDISH YATOM for those of our friends and families who have died and been buried this last week; those in the period of Sh’loshim (30 days since burial); those who have died in the last year; and those whose Yahrzeits/Anyos occur at this time; as well as the victims of brutality, conflict, disease, natural disasters, pandemics, tragedies, violence of all kinds, and war.
This coming week, 20 Shevat through 26 Shevat, we lovingly remember:
Temple Kol Hamidbar Memorial Board and an early Member
Friend of Jane Kolber
Friend of Temple Kol Hamidbar member
Donor of the Organ to Temple Kol Hamidbar
Those victims of the Sho’ah (Holocaust) who died at this time of year.
“ZICHRONAM LIV’RACHAH” – MAY THEIR MEMORIES BE FOR BLESSING.
TORAH STUDY AND SHAZOOM
We will meet as usual at the regular times for Torah Study and Shazoom this evening, Friday, January 21, 2022.
Zoom regularly updates its security and performance features. Making sure you have the latest version of Zoom, please join us online this Friday evening:
Topic: Torah Study – Yitro (triennial part) Ex 19:1-20:23
Time: Jan 21, 2022 06:00 PM Arizona
Shazoom – Erev Shabbat Service
Time: Jan 21, 2022 07:30 PM Arizona
To join Torah Study and/or Shazoom click on the following link [you may need to copy it into your browser]: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/72510500854?pwd=Z3VQZWF4U1BBZytNYmh3aHFTWkFDZz09
Meeting ID: 725 1050 0854
Hint: The last character of the password is the number zero.
Shabbat Shalom – Buen Shabbat!