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See yourself there!

Parshat Yitro

Exodus 18:1-20:23

Who would have thought that after the miracle of the crossing of the Reed Sea that God would follow up with additional miracles? But miracles abound.  This week’s portion, Yitro, is the ultimate high point in the journey to freedom for the Israelites.  This week is the moment at Sinai when the Torah is revealed and the Children of Israel and God enter into an eternal relationship.  And the giving of the torah is a miracle that has sustained our people throughout millennia.


These newly freed slaves, encamped at the base of the Mt. Sinai bind themselves to God as God is bound to the Israelite nation through this revelation of Torah. This is the only time God speaks directly to the Israelites.  God communicates with prophets, with patriarchs, with Moses but here in this week’s portion God speaks to all the people gathered. The people witness the thunder and lightening, the smoke and heard the blasts of the horn.  They were aware that something special was happening and were awed and overwhelmed by the experience.  They turned to Moses to try and make sense of it for them.  “…they fell back and said to Moses, and we will obey; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.” (Ex. 20:16).  They were afraid of what they had heard and seen. Moses assures them that God is not to be feared.  But rather they should be in awe of God so that they will remember and stay loyal to the covenant.  In Hebrew awe and fear are similar words but the truth is God gave us the first breath –in spirited us.  And now at Sinai God inspires us with Torah and eternal trust.


The miracle of Sinai and the miracle of the crossing of the Reed Sea are moments of inspiration and trust. They could be moments of terror.  But God wants the experience to stay with us and wants these moments to keep us going just as the Torah has kept us going through the years.  We were entrusted at Sinai with a precious gift and instructions for living. And we have expanded and expounded upon that guide book. That inspirational moment at Mt. Sinai has shaped our experience as Jews.


The challenge now in our day and time is to continue to seek out that inspiration in its stories and words and teachings.  When you place yourself at Sinai, when you place yourself at that moment in this week’s portion at the base of the mountain, then you too can open yourself up to that inspiration.

Too many of us today don’t see ourselves there.  Too many don’t imagine our souls as part of that moment of transformation. Increasingly the mantle of heredity in Judaism is not a motif that motivates.  So it must be that the Sinai moment is one that transcends heredity.  You must place your self there.  Just as the freed slaves said we will obey. “Naaseh v’nishmah”  “We will do it and we will observe it.” We in our day and time must find a way to hold that promise of Torah close. So I challenge you to join the crowd at the base of the mountain.  Be awed. Be entrusted with Torah, see the miracle before you and be inspired by our traditions.