There is a commandment given to Israel that once every 7 years, during the Festival of Sukkot, they should assemble ALL the people to hear the Torah read to them. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12). Chazal (a Hebrew acronym that means, “our sages of blessed memory”) instituted a continuous cycle of reading the Torah. They defined weekly sections so that Jews would be reading and hearing Torah every single week and complete the 5 Books of Moses in a set time. The teachers I learned under taught me to follow the yearly Torah cycle and I discovered that Chabad divides their Torah study into daily aliyot. When the Torah portion is read in its entirety on Shabbat in the synagogue, there are seven sections, seven aliyot. The Chabad tradition is to study one aliyah each day, starting Sunday and going through to Shabbat. One who does this can get a double dose of the same Torah Portion each week.
Additionally, the Ashkenazic and Sepharidc, that is Eastern European and Spanish or Iberian Peninsula communities sometime differ on how they divide the Torah Portions.
It’s time to explore Torah Portion Yitro, aliyah by aliyah.
Yitro Exodus 18:1–20:23
Aliyah 1 – Exodus 18:1-12
Exodus 18:1 Now Yitro the priest of Midyan, Moshe’s father-in-law, heard about all that G-d had done for Moshe and for Isra’el his people, how HaShem had brought Isra’el out of Egypt.
I wonder how that happened? I had speculated in a previous Aliyah by Aliyah that there would have been substantive economic effects on Egypt from the plagues. Jethro could have heard of all that from traders and travelers over the year or so that Egypt languished under the plagues. I suppose it was word of mouth, spread person to person as people traded goods.
Exodus 18:2 After Moshe had sent away his wife Tzipporah and her two sons, Yitro Moshe’s father-in-law had taken them back.
Do you recall when it says that Moshe sent Tziporrah and the children back to Jethro in Midyan? I do not recall that happening, but I do know they set out to go to Egypt as a family.
Exodus 18:4 he name of the other was Eli‘ezer [my G-d helps], “because the G-d of my father helped me by rescuing me from Pharaoh’s sword.”
The sons were born in Midyan and named before the events of the Exodus. Where does the Torah say that Moses was saved from the sword of Pharoah? He kills the Egyptian and flees the next day after he realizes there are witnesses to his deed. Exodus 2:14-15 do talk about this, but I would say this aside on Eliezer’s name adds detail to it. The original passage makes it sound to me as if Moses fled and Pharaoh failed to capture and kill him. This addition makes it sound a little more desperate, as if Moses was captured and then escaped.
Exodus 18:5 Yitro Moshe’s father-in-law brought Moshe’s sons and wife to him in the desert where he was encamped, at the mountain of G-d.
I wonder what the geography is. I have heard that from Egypt to Israel would have been an 11 day journey. How many days from Egypt is Midyan? When did Jethro and the rest set out for Horeb? How long were Moshe and the people camped at the mountain?
Exodus 18:6 He sent word to Moshe, “I, your father-in-law Yitro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.”
Why the formal announcement? Does this imply that Jethro had a retinue with him and he had a servant run along with the message? I ask to add context and point out that there are more people involved with these stories than the text explicitly states.
Exodus 18:7 Moshe went out to meet his father-in-law, prostrated himself and kissed him. Then, after inquiring of each other’s welfare, they entered the tent.
Does it seem odd that it mentions Moses and Jethro greeting, but not Moses greeting his wife and children? Is this another case of the Torah expecting us to know something, so it does not state it? Or, is that notion of mine wrong and we should take this to mean that Moses did not greet his wife and children at all opon their reunion?
Exodus 18:8 Moshe told his father-in-law all that HaShem had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Isra’el’s sake, all the hardships they had suffered while traveling and how HaShem had rescued them.
This implies to me that Jethro knew the broad strokes of what had happened from distant eyewitnesses, and Moses was able to clarify things with a first hand account.
9 Yitro rejoiced over all the good that HaShem had done for Isra’el by rescuing them from the Egyptians. 10 Yitro said, “Blessed be HaShem , who has rescued you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh, who has rescued the people from the harsh hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that HaShem is greater than all other gods, because he rescued those who were treated so arrogantly.”
This is really awesome. Part of the plan with rescuing Israel from Egypt was so that the whole world would recognize and acknowledge HaShem as the One True King.
Exodus 18:12 Yitro Moshe’s father-in-law brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to G-d, and Aharon came with all the leaders of Isra’el to share the meal before G-d with Moshe’s father-in-law.
I wonder how many people a single animal can feed. I am sure the answer is “it depends,” but running the numbers real quick I estimate that there might have been 14 to 28 people enjoying the meal from Jethro’s offerings to HaShem.
Moses, Aaron, Jethro, 11 princes, one from each tribe, makes 14. Including their wives would double it to 28. Adding in children would be a lot more difficult, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
Aliyah 2 – Exodus 18:13-23
Exodus 18:23 If you do this — and G-d is directing you to do it — you will be able to endure; and all these people too will arrive at their destination peacefully.”
Is Jethro correct that HaShem is telling Moses to do this? If so, why is HaShem telling this through Jethro?
Aliyah 3 – Exodus 18:24-27
Exodus 18:24 Moshe paid attention to his father-in-law’s counsel and did everything he said.
There is great wisdom in listening to the advice from our elders, even when they offer it unbidden as Jethro did.
Aliyah 4 – Exodus 19:1-6
Exodus 19:5 Now if you will pay careful attention to what I say and keep my covenant, then you will be my own treasure from among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine
The people of Israel will always be HaShem’s people and he calls for their obedience to bless them and have a beautiful relationship with them.
Aliyah 5 – Exodus 19:7-13
Exodus 19:12 You are to set limits for the people all around; and say, ‘Be careful not to go up on the mountain or even touch its base; whoever touches the mountain will surely be put to death.
It has been said that putting fences around Torah is bad. I offer you this passage where the Almighty tells Moses to put a fence around the base of the mountain, lest the people go to far and are killed for breaking a commandment.
Aliyah 6 – Exodus 19:14-19
Exodus 19:16 On the morning of the third day, there was thunder, lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain. Then a shofar blast sounded so loudly that all the people in the camp trembled.
HaShem is truly awesome.
Aliyah 7 – Exodus 19:20-20:23
Exodus 19:24 But HaShem answered him, “Go, get down! Then come back up, you and Aharon with you. But don’t let the cohanim and the people force their way through to come up to HaShem, or he will break out against them.”
This exchange is so intense. HaShem is implying that He knows the people might just break through the barriers He instructed be set for them so that they do not die by drawing too close to Him. They have been told that this is what will happen if they transgress and yet He has Moses and Aaron go back to tell them again not to break through. Why? What about the people, what about HaShem would make them want to, so to speak, throw away their lives just to get a bit closer to Him? The Israelites get a lot of criticism and flack from believers today, but how many of us would stay back far from the barrier at the foot of the mountain to keep on living in this world? I want to keep living, but they seemingly didn’t care, they were ready to trade their lives and be in the presence of HaShem right then and there, before taking their possession of the Promised Land, before becoming masters and owners and having their own way, they were ready to go from slavery to subordination to the One True King. That is amazing to me.
That concludes my journey through Yitro for the year 5782.
I hope these words have been a blessing to you.
May our Heavenly Father give you peace and joy.
This is Matthew and I am Walking In Liberty.