Yitro (Exodus 18-20 )
GOOD MORNING! Did you ever hear someone say about a person arriving late that "He's on Jewish time"? Would it surprise you to know that there actually is a Jewish time?
Time plays an important role in Judaism and to a degree we control it. Through the testimony of witnesses before the Sanhedrin (the Rabbinical Supreme Court) in Jerusalem regarding the appearance of a new moon, they declared the beginning of the new month. This meant that the Almighty granted us control over time when the holidays would occur. For example, Passover and Succos are celebrated on the 15th of the month. If the witnesses came on the 29th day of the month instead of the 30th day -- and were certified -- then Passover and Succos would occur one day earlier than if they came on the 30th day.
From this declaration, messengers went out from Jerusalem to inform communities all the way to Babylonia of the new month. For a while we used fires built on mountain tops as a signaling device. From mountain top to mountain top from Jerusalem to Babylon, fires were lit to signal the new month. However, just to spite us (can you imagine such a thing?), our enemies decided to disrupt the communication by building their own "counterfeit signaling fires." About 1,600 years ago, in the 4th century CE, Hillel II created a perpetual calendar as he foresaw the ceasing of the Sanhedrin which then could no longer decree the beginning of the new month.
Perhaps you have heard people commenting that Rosh HaShanah comes out early this year? Ever wonder why the date shifts each year according to the Julian calendar? The Julian calendar is a solar calendar comprising 365.24 days. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar comprising 354.37 days -- which is adjusted to the solar year. Thus, there are roughly 11 days less in the lunar year than the solar year.
Why do we adjust our calendar with the solar calendar? The Torah commands the Sanhedrin to ensure that Passover comes out in the spring (Deut. 16:1). If the calendar was not adjusted, then Passover would continually be 11 days earlier each year -- thus occurring in the winter, then the fall, then the summer... Therefore, seven times in the nineteen year cycle, an additional month (Adar 2) is added to the usual twelve months of the year. The addition of this month (which we add this coming year, 5779) ensures that Passover will occur in the Spring. It also is the reason why Rosh HaShanah will come out later next year. (This year Rosh Hashana starts sundown on September 9th.) The Hebrew calendar is dated from the creation of mankind -- 5778 years ago.
Back to Jewish time. Believe it or not, the length of an hour is variable in Jewish time! The Talmud directs us to say the Shema by the end of the third hour of the day and to pray the morning (Shacharit) prayers by the end of the fourth hour of the day. The hour is calculated by dividing the hours of sunlight by 12. Hence, if there are 13 hours of sunlight in the day, then each Jewish hour is 65 minutes long. This would be important for knowing the final time for prayers or any other activity which has a time-based deadline.
It is also important to note that the "Jewish day" starts with the night. As it says in the Torah, "And there was evening and there was morning, ..." (Gen. 1:5). That is why each holiday starts with the "preceding night" and ends when the stars come out (between 40 and 72 minutes after sunset, depending on location).
Yisro/Yitro, Exodus 18:1 -20:23
This is the Torah portion containing the giving of the Ten Commandments. Did you know that there are differences in the Ten Commandments as stated here (Exodus 20:1 -14) and restated later in Deuteronomy 5:6 - 18? (Suggestion: have your children find the differences as a game at the Shabbat table during dinner).
Moses' father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro or Yisro in the Hebrew) joins the Jewish people in the desert, advises Moses on the best way to serve and judge the people -- by appointing a hierarchy of intermediaries -- and then returns home to Midian. The Ten Commandments are given, the first two were heard directly from God by every Jew and then the people begged Moses to be their intermediary for the remaining eight because the experience was too intense.
The portion concludes with the Almighty telling Moses to instruct the Jewish people not to make any images of God. They were then commanded to make an earthen altar; and eventually to make a stone altar, but without the use of a sword or metal tool.
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based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states regarding the preparation for receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, "And the Israelites encamped there near the mountain" (Exodus 19:2). The Hebrew word for "encamped" is "vayichan." What is particularly interesting is that "vayichan" is in the singular form; the grammatically correct form would be "vayachanu." What do we learn from the word "vayichan"?
Rashi, the great commentator, tells us that the singular form is used to tell us that they encamped "as one person with one heart." From here Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz commented that we see that love of our fellow man is a prerequisite for accepting the Torah.
Rabbi Yitzchok of Vorki noted that the word "vayichan" besides meaning "encamped" also comes from the word "khain," which means "finding favor." That is, the people found favor in the eyes of one another and therefore found favor in the eyes of the Almighty.
When you just see the faults and shortcomings of another person, you become distant from him. However, when you see the good and positive in other people, you become closer to them. This unity is a fundamental requirement for accepting the Torah.
How is this developed? We find in the book Nachal Kidumim that togetherness between people is possible only when there is humility. When the Israelites came to Mount Sinai, which is the symbol of humility, they internalized this attribute.
When you have humility, you do not feel a need to gain power over others or feel above them by focusing on their faults. When you have the trait of humility you can allow yourself to see the good in others. The traits of love for others, seeing the good in them, and having humility go hand in hand. By growing in these traits you make yourself into a more elevated person who is worthy of receiving the Torah.
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Guatemala 5:44 - Hong Kong 5:54 - Honolulu 6:04
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You cannot do a kindness too soon,
for you never know how soon
it will be too late.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson