Yitro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23)

Busy week. Comments from 2018, wistfully:

“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 (2018) 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,



tph new org chart


I don’t have a problem with delegation. I love to delegate. I am either lazy enough, or busy enough, or trusting enough, or congenial enough, that the notion leaving tasks in someone else’s lap doesn’t just sound wise to me, it sounds attractive. John Ortberg

There is too much employer-employee relationship in America. I wish the musicians would feel that many decisions have to do with them and not delegate everything to management or to the board or to the committee. This is why you get a sense of pride in some of the European orchestras: because they are part of the decision-making. Daniel Barenboim

Delegating work works, provided the one delegating works, too. Robert Half



tph 10 commandments first draft



Moses opens his tablet.

The notification says, “You have 10 unread commandments.”


http://www.bangitout.com/articles/viewarticle.php?a=3032 [dead link from 2014]

(with light corrective editing)

Top Ten Things We’d Probably Complain about if Revelation at Sinai Happened This Week 
by Weekly Bang Staff Posted: 05-20-2010(Viewed 1708 times)
(with light corrective editing)

10. No cell-phone service at Sinai
9. Weather.com predicted sunny not thunder and lightning for Sinai desert
8.  No TIVO for the “Real Housewives of Egypt County” season finale
7.  Luchot* insurance ads don’t involve geckos or cavemen
6.  Not enough PortaPotties for 600,000 people
5.  GPS keeps saying “recalculating route” to Israel
4. Elena Kagan not able to participate in Yisro’s judicial system
3. BP oil spill ruined the drinking water
2. No hechsher** on the Manna
1. 3 days ain’t enough time to confirm all the “Maybes” on the Facebook invite

*The Tablets

** Kashrut supervision mark



Many modern 10 Commandments rewrites and parodies are just lists of 10 behavioral recommendations, often at least partly in 17th century English to sound “Biblical.” Or they are the originals but written in an amusing style (redneck, texting, etc.). The list below concerning modern dating actually matches up, commandment by commandment, without being overly cute. IGP

The 10 commandments of modern dating

Jessica Semaan Jan 3, 2017

  1. You shall treat your date as a human, and not as an object of instant gratification, in a sea of online dating matches. Get to know them, and take your time. [You shall have no other gods before Me]
  2. You shall not idealize your date, you still don’t know them. [You shall not make idols]
  3. You shall not bail on a date last minute. Especially not over text. Never take your date in vain. They made time for you. [You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain]
  4. Remember not to use your phone when on a date, especially don’t tinder when they are in the bathroom. (Tinder is a dating app) [Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy]
  5. Honor your mom and dad issues, aka figure your stuff out, before projecting all of it on them. It is called being an adult* [Honor your father and your mother]
  6. You shall not ghost. EVER. (Ghosting: breaking off communication with someone without notice.) [You shall not murder]
  7. You shall always disclose if you are married or in an open relationship. [You shall not commit adultery]
  8. You shall not pretend you are interested when you are not. You shall practice being vulnerable** before showing up on a date. [You shall not steal]
  9. You shall not deceive your date, by telling them you were busy instead of you’re just not into them. Don’t waste their time, because you are scared of looking bad. [You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor]
  10. You shall work your ex stuff out before you jump in another relationship, or promise one. Also you might want to work out any issues you might have with your ox or donkey. [You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s]

*How to be an adult
**How to be vulnerable

Commandments credit: God





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