Posted on March 23, 2011
by Charlene Thrope
February 7, 2009/6 13 Shevat 5769
This week’s parsha, Yitro, is known for containing aseret hadibrot, more commonly known as The Ten Commandments. However, the narrative surrounding these laws is also important in the lives of the Israelites.
The parsha begins with Moshe’s father-in-law, Yitro, telling Moshe to stop working so hard. As the Israelite’s direct connection to God, Moshe is in high demand. Yitro recognizes what Moshe does not: his task is too great to do by himself. Following Yitro’s advice, Moshe appoints judges who will handle minor problems, while the major issues will still go to him. Yitro, a non-Israelite, completely changed the way their society functioned. This is not the first instance of the Israelites being influenced by another culture. Many people recognize the brit between God and the Israelites as a type of suzerainty treaty, a legal document used by the Hittites. Even some of the aseret hadibrot, such as the prohibitions of murder and theft, had previously existed in other law codes.
Despite some similarities, God makes it clear that we are different from other nations, saying, “V’atah im shamoah tishm’u b’koli ush’martem et b’riti vih’yitem li s’gulah mikol ha-amim,” (Exodus 19:5) which JPS translates as, “Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples.” The Israelites are a chosen people, but only if they choose to keep the covenant. The revelation at Sinai is often referred to as matan Torah, the giving of the Torah. God gave us the Torah, but the decision to receive it was up to the Israelites then and it is our decision now. By following mitzvot, we choose to accept and embrace the status of goi kadosh, a holy nation.