Numbers in [square brackets] are the Mitzva-count of Sefer HaChinuch AND Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot. A=ASEI (positive mitzva); L=LAV (prohibition). X:Y is the perek and pasuk from which the mitzva comes.
[P> X:Y (Z)] and [S> X:Y (Z)] indicate start of a parsha p’tucha or s’tuma respectively. X:Y is Perek:Pasuk of the beginning of the parsha; (Z) is the number of p'sukim in the parsha.
SDT The straight reading of this portion indicates that Yitro heard about the Crossing of the Sea and of the battle with Amalek. These are the events recorded in the previous sedra. Other commentaries point to certain textual references about Sinai and are of the opinion that Yitro came after Matan Torah, sometime during the almost one year that the People remained camped near Mt. Sinai. If the latter opinion is correct, then we have an example of "there is no set order in the Torah's account of what happen(ed/s)". And we can add the events of Sinai revelation to the list of what Yitro "heard and came".
VAYICHAD YITRO, Yitro was delighted with all of the good that G-d had done for the people of Israel. That’s the “plain” meaning of the word. Rashi mentions another possible meaning of the word – of the skin breaking out in “goosebumps”, perhaps a subconscious feeling of mortification for the downfall of his former colleagues. One has to be sensitive and careful with what one says to a convert or potential convert.
Moshe should teach the People what G-d requires of them, and he should also handle the most difficult questions and disputes. But the bulk of the daily judging should be assigned to qualified individuals who will be in charge of groups of ten, fifty, a hundred, and a thousand people. Yitro explains that this new system will not only make things easier for Moshe, but the people too will be benefited.
(This portion of the sedra definitely seems to have occurred after Matan Torah, even if you want to say that Yitro's original arrival was before.)
SDT "On the following day..." The plain meaning would be, on the day following Yitro's arrival. Rashi, however, quotes the Midrash in saying that the day was the morrow of Yom Kippur, that first Yom Kippur when Moshe came down from the mountain with the second set of Luchot. This makes an important statement, that not only is building the Mishkan an essential part of the "getting back to life following the Golden Calf disaster" period, but so is the every day social and civil functioning of the people.
In the big picture, we see that Parshat Yitro with the main description of Matan Torah precedes Mishpatim with its mundane, everyday, down-to-earth laws. Yet at the beginning of Yitro, we find this out-of- sequence portion of the Mishpatim idea. And at the end of Mishpatim, we have the rest of the story of Maamad Har Sinai. So which really comes first - the lofty, spiritual dimensions of Judaism, or everyday life. We can (and should) look at it as a package deal.
However you look at the first part of the sedra, the story of Yitro seems to be an interruption between the events of the Exodus and the Splitting of the Sea on the one hand, and Matan Torah on the other. It isn't an interruption - it is a prerequisite for Matan Torah. Moshe's view of the judging process, as he explains to Yitro who asks him what he's doing, is that the people come to him LIDROSH ET HA'ELOKIM, to seek G-d. Yitro's point is that there is a lack of civility among the disputing individuals which must be handled BEFORE they can pursue Knowledge of G-d. This interlude about civil justice can teach us that good interpersonal relations allows us to really benefit from Matan Torah. Similarly, DERECH ERETZ KODMA LATORAH.
Here's another way of looking at the "Yitro intro" to Matan Torah. Perhaps the Torah is telling us how to relive the experience of Matan Torah in our own lives. Its suggestion is "be like a convert". Take a fresh view of Jewish life. Marvel at all the things that G-d has done for Bnei Yisrael. Don't take things for granted. Approach your Judaism like Yitro did. Even if you are a Jew by birth, work on being a Jew by choice. G-d put the dramatic stories of the birth of the nation on hold, to let us take a close look at someone who doesn't have the Mountain poised above his head. Matan Torah was the mass conversion of a family-based group that is attaining nation- hood. But the individual still counts. This we can learn from Yitro, the individual.
Moshe sends Yitro off on his journey to Midyan (to convert his family, says Rashi).
Notice that the first three Aliyot are all part of a single parsha, the parsha of Yitro (not to be confused with weekly Parshat Yitro). Pull that parsha out of the Torah for a moment (don't worry, we'll put it back), and the next thing we read about is Israel traveling from Refidim towards Sinai. This follows smoothly from the battle with Amalek which took place in Refidim.
Sequentially, the removed parsha of the Yitro episode is not missed at all.
There- fore, it seems obvious that the Yitro portion is there for its lesson value alone. Which is fine, and is how we understand the EIN SEDER MUKDAM U'M'UCHAR BATORAH phenomenon. The Torah is not just going to put things out of chronological order for no good reason.
[P> 19:1 (25)] The Torah now returns to the sequence of Y'tzi'at Mitzrayim to Matan Torah. On Rosh Chodesh Sivan (six weeks after leaving Egypt) the Children of Israel arrive at Sinai.
A famous point, worth repeating...
The Torah is a living guide for us, to be constantly rediscovered. Every day, each Jew should imagine him/herself at Sinai receiving the Torah anew.
Today we have come out of Egyptian bondage; today we stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai eagerly awaiting Divine Revelation and today we commit ourselves to G-d what He asks of us. Today is the first day of the rest of our lives. The words of Torah which we learn and live should never become stale. They should be in our eyes as if TODAY we have received them. We should learn Torah and do mitzvot with the freshness and enthusiasm of a first-time experience. This too fits well with the "Yitro model". The challenge: Be a true Torah Jew all your life, for as many years as G-d gives you, but have an enthusiasm that is more common with converts and Baalei T'shuva.
After settling in at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moshe ascends to G-d (whatever that really means) and G-d tells him what he is to say to the women and men (sequence is intentional and based on the analysis of the terms Beit Yaakov and and Bnei Yisrael). A clear connection is made between G-d's having taken us out of Egypt and His taking us to Him as His Chosen People - with the condition that we follow Him and His Torah. It is true that a Jew is a Jew regardless of his keeping the Torah or not, but it is clear that G-d has always demanded of us that we be committed to Torah and Mitzvot in order for our relationship with Him to be mutual and actively positive from both sides.
SDT G-d tells Moshe that the People should "sanctify themselves today AND tomorrow". It is relatively easy to sanctify oneself on the day of the great miraculous events of Matan Torah. The challenge to each of us is to sanctify ourselves on the many tomorrows that follow. The days after the wondrous events, the magnificent spiritual experiences. The days when our lives return to "normal".
This is what being Jewish is about. We sanctify the mundane. Therefore, there really is nothing that is mundane for us.
[S> 20:1 (1)] G-d (Elokim) speaks all the
following things, saying...
[S> 20:2 (5)] What we call the first two commandments (or sayings, statements) are combined in a single parsha of 5 p'sukim. They can be seen as two sides of the same coin. You must believe in G-d; you may not believe in other gods...
The second commandment contains several prohibitions related to idolatry. Specifically, not to believe in other gods [26,L1 20:3] (this mitzva includes the prohibition of having no belief at all - atheism), not making idols [27,L2 20:4], nor bowing to them (even without believing in them) [28,L5 20:5], nor worshiping idols in any manner [29,L6 20:5]. Note that this commandment deals with both the thought and actions of Avoda Zara (idolatry).
[S> 20:7 (1)] The third commandment prohibits swearing in vain [30,L62 20:7]. This is defined as (1) swearing to the truth of something that is obviously true and well-known - e.g. that the Sun is hot; (2) to swear in denial of an obvious truth - that the Moon is made of cheese (interestingly, this is not considered a lie or a false oath, since everyone (hopefully) knows that the Moon is not made of cheese. Only when the truth of a matter is unknown do we use the term lie and false oath. A vain oath is just as serious as a false one, so this distinction is largely academic, but it emphasizes the seriousness of being flippant in regard to swearing.); (3) to swear to violate the Torah - e.g. that one will eat pork. Such an oath is immediately void since we are considered to have taken a prior oath (at Sinai) to not eat pork. Hence, the oath is in vain and is a disrespectful use of G-d's name; (4) to swear to do something that is impossible - e.g. to stay awake for a full week. The common denominator of these types of vain oaths is that they all "cheapen" the use of G-d's name and threaten the smooth functioning of society which often must rely on the seriousness of a real oath.
In addition to actual vain oaths, this prohibition is considered by some authorities to include the saying of a BRACHA L'VATALA, and its partner in sin, a BRACHA SHE-EINO TZ'RICHA. Saying G-d's name in vain is forbidden but is not considered part of this Commandment #3. It falls under one or more other prohibitions.
[P> 20:8 (4)] Commandment #4 deals with Shabbat and contains the positive mitzva to remember the Shabbat with Kiddush [31,A155 20:8], and the prohibition of all manner of Melacha, specific categories of creative activities [32,L320 20:10]. The mitzva of ZACHOR includes saying Kiddush as Shabbat enters, and Havdala as Shabbat leaves. (Officially, K&H are said in davening as a fulfillment of the Torah command, and again with wine, in fulfillment of a Rabbinic command. It's a bit more complicated than that, but this is the basic idea.) The prohibitions of Melacha are divided into 39 categories, each of which contains other related activities, usually with the same goal. E.g., PLANTING is one of the 39 categories; watering, pruning, fertilizing all help the growth of plants and are TOLADOT of PLANTING, and are also considered Torah violations.
[S> 20:12 (1)] The fifth commandment is to honor one's parents [33,A210 20:12]. Grand-parents, in- laws, older (or possibly oldest) brother (maybe sister too), and teachers are included (with differences). Honor of parents is usually considered to refer to that which one does for one's parents, as opposed to reverence (fear) of parents which include that which should not be done because it would be disrespectful.
[S> 20:13 (2/11 of a pasuk)] #6 is the prohibition of MURDER [34,L289 20:13], which is considered the antithesis of Belief in G-d, since murder directly negates creation of human being in His image.
[S> 20:13 (2/11)] Commandment #7 against ADULTERY [35,L347 20:13] is the prohibition of having relations with a married woman, but as a "chapter heading" it also points to the other forbidden relations.
[S> 20:13 (2/11)] #8 is LO TIGNOV [36,L243 20:13], which, as mentioned earlier, is specifically defined as kidnapping, but is also the category header of many mitzvot in the Torah. Maybe they can all be summed up as indicating that the person who violates these kind of mitzvot puts himself above other human beings. It is obvious how this is harmful to society, and to the individual's striving for Kedusha.
[S> 20:13 (5/11 of a pasuk)] #9 is the prohibition of "bearing false witness" [37,L285 20:13]. We can see in this mitzva, as well as many others, how important it is to G-d, so to speak, that we be able to function as a society. Both oaths, and to a greater extent, perhaps, testimony, are necessary for the establishment of TRUTH, in the absence of having direct knowledge of the truth ourselves. So much of the dealings between people involves the trust we place in each other's word, especially when backed by an oath, and in the confidence we place in the testimony of witnesses. Without these elements of our inter- personal relationships, we would be incapable of functioning as a society.
[S> 20:14 (4/15 of a pasuk)] #10 is the commandment against COVETING [38,L265 20:14] sort of sums things up in that it focuses on the thought process that can lead to all types of sins. Being part of "The Big 10" points to the significance of thoughts in the whole picture, which usually consists of deeds.
This 10th commandment is contained in two
parshiyot, the first prohibits coveting the "house of your fellow", and the
Notice that one single pasuk, 20:13, contains 4 of the 10 Commandments, while the 4th commandment, for example, takes up four p'sukim. There are two sets of Torah-notes for the Aseret HaDibrot, known as Taamei HaElyon and Taamei HaTachton (upper and lower notes). Taamei HaTachton treats the Aseret HaDibrot as a set of p'sukim, no different from all the other p'sukim in the Torah. Taamei HaElyon "disregards" the p'sukim of the Aseret HaDibrot, and presents the Aseret HaDibrot as a set of Ten Commandments (which they are - but they are also p'sukim in the Torah). Most Jews around the world and in Israel, read Aseret HaDibrot on Shabbat Parshat Yitro, Shabbat Parshat Va-etchanan, and Shavuot morning, using Taamei HaElyon. It is Minhag Yerushalayim (followed by many Jerusalem shuls, but not all, and by some shuls in other cities) to reserve Taamei HaElyon for Shavuot morning, and to use the quieter, plainer, Taamei HaTachton for Yitro and Va-etchanan.
They ask Moshe to tell them what G-d wants rather than hearing His Voice directly. Some commentators say that this request came after the first two statements, "I Am..." and "There shall be no other...".Others suggest that G-d "spoke" all "Ten Sayings" first in an incomprehensible manner and then began "spelling them out" one at a time. After the second statement, the People panicked and requested that Moshe tell them what G-d wants, so that they would not hear "G-d's voice" directly. G-d agreed, so to speak, on the condition that we listen to the word of the prophet, with Moshe as the "chief" among the prophets, and his prophecy - the Torah - having the highest authority.
[S> 20:19 (5)] G-d tells Moshe to remind the People that they heard G-d speak; that they shall make no graven human images (even for art) [39,L4 20:20]; they shall make an altar and offer sacrifices upon it; if the altar be of stone, its stone shall not be cut with metal tools [40,L79 20:22]. Metal implements represent the sword, which shortens life; the Altar represents the lengthening of life. From this rule comes the custom to remove or cover the bread-knife during "benching", since our table is likened to the Altar. (Some authorities say that this minhag applies only during the week, not on Shabbat.) The Altar may not be approached with immodest steps [41, L80 20:23] but rather via its ramp.
Rashi points out that with one of the kohein’s 4
garments being pants, there really wouldn’t be actual immodesty in walking
on steps; nonetheless, it has the appearance of immodesty and is therefore
inappropriate as an approach to the Mizbei’ach (Altar). Rashi adds that if
the Torah showed concern for inappropriate behavior vis-a-vis stones, how
much more so must we be careful not to treat our fellow human beings, who
were created in the image of G-d, in a deprecating manner.
Another common theme between sedra and haftara is the concept of holiness. In the sedra, G-d tells us that we will be to Him a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation. As Rabbi Jacobs points out in his “A Haftara Companion”, it is important to remember the difference between the perfect holiness of angels and the Jews striving towards holiness, with their Free Will and imperfections.
He also points out that smoke is used to hide the Divine Presence from mortal eyes in both the sedra and the haftara.