Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #17: Yitro (Jethro) Sh’mot (Exodus) 18:1-20:23
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 6:1-13
B’rit Chadashah: James 2:8-13
Yitro is the focus in this week’s parashah; a man who played a major role in Moshe’s life, even though he was not an indigenous Israelite. One of the first important points about this man is that although he was a Midianite priest, he respected the G-d of Israel and followed the sacrificial laws (Ex. 18:12). We don’t know if Yitro worshipped the G-d of Israel after that because we read in Ex. 18:27 that Moshe let his father-in-law leave and return to his own country.
There is a Talmudic dispute over the time of Yitro’s arrival to the Israelite camp. According to some, he arrived before the Torah was given, because he had heard the news of the sea being parted and of the Amalekite attack which is thought to have prompted him to join Israel. Others maintain that he arrived after the Torah was given and was convinced to come by the news that the Ten Commands had been given (Zevachim 116a).
Explaining the plain meaning of the text, Ibn Eza , who was one of the most respected commentators and philosophers in the Middle Ages, explains that Yitro arrived after the Torah was given because G-d wanted to draw our attention to the contrast between good and evil through a comparison between Yitro and Amalek. Yitro was an outsider whose council was of the utmost benefit to Israel (18:17:26), while Amalek was an outsider who attacked Israel without provocation (17:8-13). Centuries later, the descendants of Yitro lived in territory occupied by Amalek which would have put them in harms way when the Israelites fought Amalek. This prompted King Saul to warn Yitro’s descendants to evacuate the area of impending warfare. This was an act of gratitude. (1 Samuel 15:6).
Yitro heard about the miracle of the parting sea and of the victory over Amalek. Again, the juxtaposition of Yitro and Amalek provides and illustration between good and evil people. Both had heard of the Exodus. Yitro, chose to cast his lot with Israel while Amalek chose to defy G-d and attack Israel without provocation (Deut. 25:17-18). Miracles are not enough to bring people to repentance and this fact is described throughout the Torah even to the last book of Revelation. Those who continue to choose to rebel against G-d will always seek a secular explanation for miraculous or otherwise unusual events.
It is important to note that Yitro is said to have “heard everything that G-d did to Moshe and to Israel…” (Ex. 18:1). The Chumash maintains that Yitro’s coming to the Israelite camp was precipitated by the hearing of both events because hearing of only one would not have been enough to bring him to the camp. The Exodus by itself could have been interpreted as punishments for Pharaoh’s rebellion against G-d but they did not prove conclusively that G-d would be so benevolent for Israel’s sake alone. Amalek’s defeat proved that G-d would intervene for Israel as well (Or Chaim). However, I submit that G-d’s benevolence is written all over the way the plagues were inflicted on Egypt without affecting the Israelites and that Yitro was aware of this as part of “everything that G-d did to Moshe and to Israel” (Ex.18:1).
Yitro fulfilled G-d’s plan to establish judges to assist Moshe in leading the people on through the desert. The crux of this event is to teach us that no man is an island. A chain-of-command is established for settling disputes and for teaching and explaining G-d’s laws and teachings (Ex. 18:16). Note that the people chosen to help him are to be G-d -fearing people, incorruptible, and honest. This is critical, for if a leader allows anyone to teach people what they don’t fully understand themselves, incorrect teaching will be perpetuated throughout the body. This is why it is so important to check out sources for anything we believe to be from G-d’s Torah and check with the leader of wherever you attend services for correctness and consistency. Leaders may be incorrect at times and it is important for everyone to prayerfully and humbly study G-d’s Word and compare it to what is taught. Just because something is done in a synagogue or a church, does not mean it is commanded or even permitted in G-d’s Torah. We must be very careful not to confuse tradition with G-d’s instructions. There are many religious institutions Christian and Jewish who have added to and/or subtracted from G-d’s Torah. We will all be accountable for this sin when we stand before the True and Righteous One.
Yitro makes another valid point in explaining to Moshe that he (Moshe) is a representative of the people before G-d and that disputes and other issues should be brought before G-d for His decision, not necessarily Moshe’s (Ex. 18:17-20). Yitro assures Moshe that G-d will guide him as he teaches G-d’s laws, teachings, and shows them how to live their lives, and the work they should do as G-d leads. Ex. 18:23 reminds us that if G-d directs our path, we will be successful to endure all things. Yitro’s honesty and humility in this matter is revealed in his actions. He was a Midianite priest, a man of reputation. He could have suggested that Moshe choose him as a “right hand man” and be given authority to help rule the people, but he did not ask for any authority. Rather, he instructed Moshe rightly, according to G-d’s plan. We can learn from this interaction between Moshe and Yitro. There is something to be learned from every encounter with others. Perhaps we will observe something we want to incorporate in our behaviour, or something we want to make sure we avoid in the way we act or speak toward others. The encounter between Moshe and Yitro is another example of Jew and Gentile working together to glorify and make known the Name of Adonai.
Contrary to our current social philosophy and what is taught in Christianity today about G-d’s laws, there are limits; the boundaries of which are defined by G-d’s laws, statutes, and rulings. Although this parashah is the first place we see the giving of the 10 Commands, G-d made some of His perpetual commands long before the 10 commands were given; (Ex. 15:25), redemption of the first-born (Ex. 13:11-16), Pesach observance (Ex. 12:14), circumcision (Gen. 17:11), and Shabbat (Gen. 2:3). Interestingly, the first command is one that is seldom acknowledged: “I am Adonai your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the abode of slavery.” The second command expounds on the first commanding us not to worship any other in any form, for He is a jealous G-d. Like so many other words and verses in the Bible, the commands have been distorted, changed, omitted, mistranslated, and misunderstood by individuals who have an agenda that is not in keeping with G-d’s Torah. This has been done by some sects of Judaism and Christianity; on “both side of the isle.”
As the people heard thunder for the first time, saw the lightning and the sound of the shofar, they were extremely fearful as would be expected. Moshe tried to calm them and inform them that G-d was testing them and attempting to establish a relationship whereby the people will love, fear, and obey Him for their ultimate good (Ex. 20:17-18). I use a difference in language tense to illustrate the need for a continued love, fear, and obedience to G-d throughout the generations.
G-d can manifest himself in any form evidenced in His Torah. Listen intently for his voice. Remember, although He came to the Israelites in thunder, lightning, and a cloud when He gave them the commands, He was not found in the wind, the earthquake, or in the fire witnessed by Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13). This time G-d was in a quiet, subdued voice that reassured Elijah nowhere at the same time. Let he who has ears hear G-d’s voice in everything as the Ruach walks beside us to guide our every thought and deed.
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 6:1-13
This week’s haftarah discusses Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly Chariot (the merkavah), a revelation that all the Israelites experienced when G-d spoke the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Isaiah perceived sitting on a throne surrounded by angels. Isaiah describes the angels and their behavior in terms we can understand. During the course of his vision, Isaiah volunteers to be G-d’s emissary to transmit His message to the Israelites. He is immediately given a depressing prophecy regarding the exile the nation will suffer as punishment for their many sins and the Land of Israel will be left empty and desolate. An interesting comparison can be made between the scenario at Sinai and the vision of G-d’s throne Isaiah describes in Is. 6:1. The house is “filled with smoke, the s’rafim (guardian angels) are singing ‘Holy, holy, holy!’, and the doorposts shake “at the sound of their shouting” (Is. 6:2-4) Yahshua hears the voice of G-d and says, “Send me!” On Mount Sinai G-d surrounded the mountain with a thick cloud (Ex. 19:9). The mountain was smoking (Ex. 20:15). The thunder (Ex. 20:15) can be likened to the shouting of the s’rafim. Moshe can be compared to Yahshua in his willingness to be used by G-d.
An interesting point in Isaiah is found in reading Isaiah 9:7: “to the increase of His rulership and to completeness, there will be no end.” The Hebrew for increase begins with a mem sofit (final mem). This alludes to the fact that the whole peace of G-d is yet to come! We have not “arrived” yet; we are not “eternally saved” in one instantaneous moment. It is a process consistently described in the Bible in the Old and “New” Testaments.
B’rit Chadashah: James 2:8-13
“If you truly attain the goal of Kingdom Torah, in conformity with the passage that says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, your actions constitute sin, since you are convicted under the Torah as transgressors. 10 For a person who keeps the whole Torah, yet stumbles at one point, has become guilty of breaking them all. For the one who said, ‘Don’t commit adultery, also said ‘Don’t murder.’ Now if you don’t commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the Torah. Keep speaking and acting like people who will be judged by a Torah which gives freedom. 13 For judgment will be without mercy toward one who doesn’t show mercy; but mercy wins out over judgment.”
James was the brother of Yahshua, and he was well-grounded in the Old Testament. His teachings paralleled those of his brother and L-rd as we read in the above passage. James reminds us that we need take great care not to judge others lest we be judged. This parallels Yahshua’s teaching to those who wanted to stone the adulteress. Those without sin were invited to cast the first stone. We see examples of people judging others on a daily basis. We are quick in our religious circles to condemn those of other religions forgetting from where we may have come prior to the calling out of apostate religion. In the context of a synagogue, some people condemn others for dancing or not, smoking, wearing their hair too long or too short; practicing too much liturgy or not enough, etc. Yet many of these same people do not tithe, do not keep the festivals of G-d, or celebrate the New Moon. None of us are righteous. Yet, YHVH/Yahshua reserves the right to show us mercy or not. As people who profess to love and follow YHVH/Yahshua, we are to show mercy, allow and encourage people to grow into the faith and truth even as we grow. Sometimes encouragement takes the form of admonishment or rebuke. We will be judged as we judge. If we see someone teaching another or openly judging another in error, we have a responsibility to correct that individual, privately when possible (3 John).
We must give others an example to follow by our own lifestyle. That’s how Yahshua taught his disciples; one day and one mile at a time. That is a big order. However, if we realize we are to be a people set apart and act like it, we can assist others in their growth by leading a consistent lifestyle based on our continued learning and adherence/obedience to our new knowledge. Are we setting a good example as a representative of the Messianic Jewish faith? Are we glorifying Yahshua in our thoughts, speech and actions? “Don’t deceive yourselves by only hearing what the Word says, but do it! Whoever hears the Word but doesn’t do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in the mirror, who looks at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But if a person looks closely into the perfect Torah, which gives freedom and continues, becoming not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work it requires, then he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25).
“So everyone who hears these words of mine and act on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on bedrock. The rain fell, the rivers flooded, the winds blew and beat against that house, but it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does NOT act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the rivers flooded, the wind blew and beat against that house, and it collapsed- and its collapse was horrendous! (Matthew 7:24-27)
Sh’mah Israel! Adonai yimloch l’olam vaed.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart