Yitro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23)

“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me.”

That verse, Exodus 19:4, is in this week’s Torah reading, right before the Big Game.  Coincidence?  I think not. 

Lots of exciting stuff this week in both the Torah and haftarah readings.  But first, a mundane lesson in management and yet another dysfunctional (better, nonfunctional) Biblical family.  Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, having heard of the Exodus from Egypt, arrives along with his daughter Zipporah and grandsons Gershom and Eliezer, i.e., Moses’ wife and sons, with whom Moses apparently does not interact and whom we never hear of in the rest of the Torah.  Jethro observes the workings of the camp and sees Moses is trying to run it all himself, not out of a desire to be an autocrat but because people come to him and he tries to help.  Recognizing this is a fast path to burnout, Jethro introduces Moses to the concepts of delegation and a hierarchically organized judicial system.  Then he goes home.

The core of this week’s reading is Revelation, the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.  Actually, the phrase, “the ten commandments” (aseret hamitzvot) is never used.  Even “ten” isn’t used until Deuteronomy, where they’re referred to as “the ten statements/words/things” (aseret hadibrot).  You can find anywhere from 9 to 14 depending on how you parse the text.  The content is clearly modeled on the suzerain/vassal treaties in the ancient Near East, consisting of a preamble (the parties and their relationship, Ex. 20:1-2); stipulations (what the vassal has to do, 20:3-17); and what will happen to the vassal depending on whether or not the stipulations are met (blessings and curses, 20:5, 6, 7, and 12).  It’s a straightforward contract, or covenant. The text is not even currently in our liturgy. 

Moses and the Lord try to ease the people into Revelation.  They have had several weeks to absorb the end of the plagues, their escape from Egypt and the miracle at the sea.  The Lord sends them an inspiring message via Moses (19:4-6): ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me.  Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ 

Nechama Leibowitz reviews several commentators’ takes on the eagle’s wings imagery in Studies in Shemot, vol. 1, pp. 290-302.  It is an image of love and protection, an eagle carrying its fledglings on top of its wings, soaring beyond the earth.  But the eagle is also teaching the young, preparing them: ‘and (I) brought you unto Myself,’ from slavery in Egypt to the service of God.

Next, the people are to ready themselves over three days: wash their clothes, stay ritually pure, and don’t touch the border of the mountain.  But now we start to see that neither Moses nor the Lord really understands the psychology of the people.  Take 19:9, “I will come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.”  Ever after?  Their trust lasted at most 40 days, forget “ever after.”  More importantly, neither the Lord nor Moses anticipate how the people would respond to the phantasmagoria of the shofar and lightning and thunder and smoke and fire, so freaked out that they beg Moses to hear the Lord’s words for them.  He does, but their frightened refusal to hear for themselves introduces a flaw into their relationship with the Lord before it has yet solidified.

The haftarah is Isaiah 6:1-7:6, 9:5-6 (9:5 includes the famous “For a child has been born to us, a son has been given us.” Note the past tense.) which includes another theophany, a manifestation of God, this time only to Isaiah.   He sees the Lord enthroned in the Temple, served by six-winged seraphim calling to each other (6:3), “Holy, holy, holy (kadosh, kadosh, kadosh)!  The Lord of Hosts!  His presence fills all the earth!”  This is the source of both the Kedushah in Jewish liturgy and the Sanctus in the Christian Mass.  One seraph touches Isaiah’s lips with a live coal, to purify him (cf. the midrash of Moses and the coal, and he then responds “Send me!” when the Lord asks whom to send.  No reluctance, unlike Moses’ response to his call in Exodus 3:10.  Then again, Isaiah isn’t being given the task of leading an unruly and increasingly cantankerous people.

Shabbat shalom, 


Eagle Quotes

The eagle has no fear of adversity. We need to be like the eagle and have a fearless spirit of a conqueror! Joyce Meyer

You cannot fly like an eagle with the wings of a wren. William Henry Hudson

Fool that I was, upon my eagle’s wings I bore this wren, till I was tired with soaring, and now he mounts above me. John Dryden

Parallels between the Super Bowl and Yom Kippur (abridged)

Yom Kippur

The Super Bowl

Proceeded by ten days of repentance, during which you learn about the faults of people around you. Proceeded by two weeks of hype, during which you learn about the faults of obscure athletes.
Kol Nidre. Pre-Game Show.
Millions of Jews attend services only on this day. Millions of people watch football only on this day.
Five separate services, lasting from 9:30 AM to sunset. Pre-Game show, Game and Post-Game show, lasting from 9:30 AM to 10:00 PM.
Overpriced tickets. Overpriced tickets.
Key prayers repeated over and over. Key plays shown over and over using super slo-mo
Dropping Torah scroll — 40 days fast. Dropping football – 40 years as Super Scapegoat.
Wailing in agony over your misdeeds. Wailing in agony over referee’s miscalls
Follows New Year. Follows New Year.
Jews beat themselves on the chest. Players pat teammates on ass.

This article is Copyright 1992, 1995 by Noel Rappin and Ross Garmil. All Rights reserved. Do not reprint without this notice attached. Originally printed in GRAVITY: The Humor Magazine of Brandeis University, Volume 3 Issue 1, December 1992


tph Run the Commandments by Legal



tph dogbert delegating



Funny Story about Ten Commandments at SCOTUS…[Lawyers’ nickname for “Supreme Court of the United States”]  From 2010
Rabbi Saperstein tells the following story.

It seems the Rabbi was at the Supreme Court one day looking at the frieze on the wall that portrays Moses holding the Ten Commandments, and Muhammad and other “lawgivers,” when someone knowing him to be a Rabbi asks him to interpret the Hebrew that is written on the tablets that Moses is depicted as holding…something he had not bothered to do before, when he realizes something very unusual.

Whoever painted the mural depicting Moses holding the Ten Commandments either didn’t know Hebrew very well, or had a great sense of humor.

It seems that in that mural, Moses’ hair is hiding the Commandments on the first side of the tablet that would have the Commandments concerning humanity’s relationship to God. (No other Gods, Graven Images, etc.). Also, Moses’ hair is covering the first word of all the rest of the commandments, which translated into English would be the words: “Thou shalt not.”

In other words, the Commandments, as portrayed on the mural on the wall in the Supreme Court of the United States read only:

1. Kill [actually, Murder]
2. Commit Adultery
3. Steal
4. Lie
5. Covet
(actually, I see only Murder, Commit adultery, and Steal in the frieze. IGP)
For more on the friezes, see https://www.supremecourt.gov/about/northandsouthwalls.pdf  Moses is the 5th one from the left in the first frieze on the page.  The pic below is from


tph frieze section



Law Firm Marketing Organization Chart

tph hype org chart

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1 Response to Yitro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23)

  1. Miriam says:

    I like the comparison of the Super Bowl and Yom Kippur. Also loved the flow chart!

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