BY STEPHEN P. GARFINKEL, JTS
Whose Revelation Is It, Anyway?
Parashat Yitro is a Torah reading of monumental ideas, foundational concepts, and widely-recognized importance. By all measures, this week’s portion must be considered a highlight of the entire Torah, since it includes no less (and a lot more!) than the Ten Commandments. This seems to be the right place to explore questions such as these: what did the actual revelation (Exodus 20) include? What were God’s commandments? Why were these statements singled out, especially given the amount of law scattered throughout the Torah? What gives these brief pronouncements their distinctive importance? There are so many crucial questions we could ponder with great benefit about the Commandments, their form, their content, and their meaning.
Shabbat Shira - Beshalach
BY HILLEL GRUENBERG, for JTS
Israel: Between Tears and Songs
Beshallah holds special importance for me and my family—it was the parashah of the week of my son Zeke’s bris three years ago, and that of the week of my wedding to Yael two years before that. Under the huppah, my rabbi (and brother-in-law) Aaron Brusso referenced the Zohar’s likening of the parting of the Red Sea to a wedding for having weeping on one side of the event and singing on the other (Zohar 2:170b). Between the tears and songs, however, lies the Children of Israel’s experience of actually traversing a supernaturally divided sea, one of immense physical insecurity as they walk in the sea knowing that at any moment, the “waters that were to them a wall from their right and their left” (Exod. 14:22, 27), והמים להם חומה מימינם ומשמאלם could come down, crash, literally liquidating everything in their midst. However, this physical insecurity is only one part of the equation.
BY JOEL ALTER, JTS
Miracles of Biblical and Everyday Proportions
Last week, God pummeled Egypt unprecedentedly with hail:
The LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire streamed down to the ground, as the LORD rained down hail upon the land of Egypt. The hail was very heavy—fire flashing in the midst of the hail—such as had not fallen on the land of Egypt since it had become a nation. (Exod. 9:23–24)
On the combination of fire and ice, Ibn Ezra comments that this was “a wonder within a wonder.”
As this week’s portion opens, Moses and Aaron announce:
BY MIRIAM LIEBMAN for JTS
REDEEMING THE PLAGUES
Every year at the Passover seder, there is a brief pause in the chaos when everyone dips a finger in their cup of wine and spills a single drop for each of the ten plagues. We are spilling wine to remind ourselves that although the plagues served as miracles for us, those miracles came at the expense of others. That moment of reflection comes to a quick end when so many seder tables begin to sing upbeat melodies listing each of the plagues and reminding ourselves of our own redemption and the miraculous acts God performed in order to take us out of Egypt. But what does it really mean for us that our redemption comes at the expense of others’ suffering?
BY ARNOLD M. EISEN, JTS
Summoning a People
Two very different stories about who we are as Jews are forcefully presented in the opening chapters of the Book of Exodus. One of them—captured in the Hebrew title of the book, Shemot or “Names”—declares that we are the Children of Israel: a nation, a people, defined in the first instance and forever after by our ancestors and the paths they travelled. The other story teaches that we are disciples of Moses, the human protagonist of the book, and, like him, are servants of the God Who called to Moses out of the Burning Bush and bound us in covenant at Sinai.