Parashat Yitro (Jethro) contains the amazing Theophany and the pronouncement of the Ten Commandments from God’s mouth to all Israel. There rises thus the question, why is the Parashah named after Yitro the Midianite? How is Yitro’s appearance related to receiving the Ten Commandments? And since his names “Yitro” (יתרו) and “Yeter” (יתר) are related to “yitron” (יתרון, advantage), we may ask what advantage did he have over Mosheh? Certainly his name was not greater.
Qohelet, who knows that all is vanity, asks “What advantage (Yitron) hath man of all his labour wherein he laboureth under the sun?”, and answers: “Then I saw that wisdom excelleth (sic: has advantage – יתרון – over) folly, as far as light excelleth darkness” (Eccl. 2:13). Yitro came to organize the camping of Israel, so that eventually Israel would be able to be “Light onto the Nations”, spreading the Light of Wisdom and Understanding.
At first, Mosheh tried to take care of the entire people all by himself, until Yitro cautioned him: “Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee; for the thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone” (Ex. 18:18), and suggested to form an organization that would assist Moshe (somewhat like the Genesis solution for “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him” (Gen. 2:18).) Indeed an organization offers tremendous advantage – but also a danger, like contemporary organizations (which are not humans but “legal entities”, and in fact, “Golems”) that overcome the humans, their makers.
Also Yehudah haLevi, in huis Book The Kozari, suggests an advantage that derives from this Parashah: The advantage of the faith of Israel over that of Christianity, Islam and other religions, the proof of its veracity derives from the Sinai Epiphany, where there was a divine revelation for an entire large nation and not just to a lone prophet. In any case, this public appearance also serves as guide to the future, to days when ” for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:33).
The organization of the Epiphany described in Parashat Yitro is based upon a tremendous Sound and Light/Multimedia event that took place at and around Mount Sinai. Its ultimate aim was to form “Mine own treasure from among all peoples… a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” that would be a model and “Light onto the Nations”. Therefore also the epiphany took place in the desert, a place that is ownerless and open for all people and nations, and not in Jerusalem , which is identified with Israel. The Torah that issues from Sinai is meant to advance all of humankind.
“Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee” (19:9). Till now the pillars of smoke and cloud of Glory had practical goals of guidance and of separating the forces. Now they are serving the spectacular multimedia vision that has the aim of opening the hearts and minds of the children of Israel to receive the Torah in practice.
Organizational steps for the Sinai Epiphany
- Staging the people facing the mountain: “(the children of Israel) were come to the wilderness of Sinai, they encamped in the wilderness; and there Israel encamped before the mount. And Moses went up unto God” (19:2-3). Moshe thereby returned to the place of the first, personal, epiphany and in this the proof for the fulfillment of the original promise; “this shall be the token unto thee, , that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain” (3:12).
- Summon: ” And Mosheh went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain”, The calling voice instructed Mosheh to propose to the children of Israel the ultimate transaction. The divine offer has two conditions: “if ye will hearken unto My voice indeed, and keep My covenant”; in exchange for meeting the conditions, the people will merit to become: (1) “God’s own Treasure (Segulah סגולה); (2) a Kingdom of Priests, – a special status for Israel but within a global context: the Children of Israel receive a role of service for all humankind – and (3) a Holy Nation.
“These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (19:5-6). With these stops the role of Mosheh as intermediary. God intends at the next stage to talk with the people by Himself.
- Acceptance of the transaction by the people: “And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the Lord commanded him. 8 And all the people answered together, and said: ‘All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses reported the words of the people unto the LORD (19:7-8).
- Definition of the performance and its aim: “And the Lord said unto Mosheh: ‘Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and may also believe thee for ever.’ And Moses told the words of the people unto the Lord” (19:9). The Sinai Epiphany was not just an appearance of the Divine Glory (Kavod) – the Lord YHWH Himself is about to appear, for two aims: to sound his saying directly and to bring secure belief in Mosheh.
- Setting conditions for the presence of the people: Two days of preparations, including limiting access to the mountain, sanctifying the people, washing their garments, and abstention. In the sequel there is also check whether these have been performed.
- Warm Up Act: “And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightning and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. Now Mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the horn waxed louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice. And the Lord came down upon mount Sinai, to the top of the mount; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mount; and Moses went up” (19:16-20). This is a regular pattern of thee meeting of heaven and earth, between God and man: 1. The descent from above and landing on a mountaintop; 2. The calling, which is an event between two parties; and 3. The ascent of Mosheh, which is prototypical of the general “Ascent of Man”.
The performance is, in today stems, multimedia show and more: Sounds and lightening, the thick cloud, the mountain covered in smoke like a furnace, and the sound of the Shofar (horn) responding to Mosheh’s words. “And when the voice of the horn waxed louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice” (19:19). Moshe would say a word, and the amplifiers sound the answer to the ears – and eyes – of all of Israel. As we shall see below, this was too much for the people to withstand.
- 7. Taking care of discipline and order: “And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish” (19:21), “And the Lord said unto him: ‘Go, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee; but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the Lord, lest He break forth upon them” (19:24). Here is organization of limiting access and forming the space for the performance at the stage of Mount Sinai. The people and the cattle are to stay at the foot of the mountain and leave backstage area for the priests. Another domain, of the slope and top of the mountain, as a holy of holies, reserved for the very ecstatic experience of Mosheh.
- 8. Pronouncement of the Ten Commandments
“And God spoke all these words, saying: (1) I am the Lord thy God (Anokhi YHWH Elohekha – אנכי יהו’ אלהיך), who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. (2) Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments. (3) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain. (4) Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto the Lord thy God, in it thou shalt not do any manner of work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (5) Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. (6) Thou shalt not murder. (7) Thou shalt not commit adultery. (8) Thou shalt not steal. (9) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. (10) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Ex. 20:2-14).
Let us make a few remarks concerning the structure of the Ten Commandments:
- The Ten Commandments were given to all the people who were actually there and to all the potential audience from all the world’s nations who accept the One God – the God of Israel. The rest of the commandments, given specifically for the Israelites, were written later between the Lord and Mosheh.
- From numerological-Gematria perspective, the Ten Commandments are characterized by the number 13, which is half of the Gematria (numerical) value of the Name of YHVH (שם הויה).
- The opening phrase “Anokhi YHWH Elohekha – אנכי יהו’ אלהיך” has 13 letters, and the entire passage has 13 sentences. The ten commandments contain eight prohibitions (“don’ts”) and two positive precepts: keeping the Shabbat and respect of parents. The word Shabbat (שבת) has Gematria value of 702 (13 X 54) and the precept Honor! (KaBeD – כבד) has Gematria value of 26 (13 X 2), both are thus also multiples of 26 – the Gematria of the Name of YHWH (יהו’).
- Also the word LO (לא – meaning Don’t!) appears in the passage 13 times. It might be claimed that in addition to the “Thirteen measures of Compassion” (where Gematria value of AHaVa – Love is 13) there are also “Thirteen Measures of Judgment (where the Gematria of EḤaD – One is 13) making together 26.
- In Summary: Inside the words and letters of the Ten Commandments there is coded also the presence of the giver – His Essence, His Name and Glory. This is like a signature inside the passage that is like a seal.
- Audience Response: In the sequel the event is told from the side of the audience, “And they said unto Moses: And all the people were seeing the sounds, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off. And they said to Mosheh, ‘Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (20:14-15). When the people saw the sounds of these Ten Commandments they could almost see the figure of God inherent in this divine Pronouncement. But as is written “And He said: ‘Thou canst not see My face, for man shall not see Me and live’” (Ex. 33:20) – not even Mosheh and certainly not the people. Their senses of sight and of hearing were inundated over their capacity. Seeing and hearing coalesced – “the people were seeing the sounds” (synesthesia) – to the degee that the people could not endure and were concerned for their life (or sanity).
- “The people stood afar off; but Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was” (20:17). At this stage, in which the Tablets have not yet been given, the divine Presence was liquid like melted lava flowing in tremendous power. Only later the Divine Speech solidified, christalized and got engraved in stone tablets, and only then could the people perceive it directly. Because the people could not endure it any longer, no commandments were given publicly, and after the direct gigantic event of the transaction of the Lord, there came a transaction with the people of Israel through Mosheh, concerning the possibility of receiving sacrifices of burnt offerings and peace offerings – and in exchange “in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come unto thee and bless thee”. Here comes the first clue concerning the Tabernacle and the Temple, a subject that will come to prominence in the next portions.
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 The name Yitro” appears nine times and “yitron” six times in the entire Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), compared with 32 mentions of the name “Mosheh” in this Parashah and hundreds of times in the Torah.
 “Yitron” (יתרון) has Gematria value of 666. We have already mentioned this number as a solar number. Its appearance in the Book of Revelation is well known.
 The descent is actually from the multidimensional space to three-dimensional reality.
 We may add that the entire passage has 172 words, and 172 = 2 X 68, where 86 is the Gematria value of ELoHIM אלהים – God.