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Yitro 5780

Yitro (Exodus 18-20 )

by Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig

GOOD MORNING!  If I asked you, "What is the one thing that all Christians, Muslims, and Jews believe, agree upon, and (quite surprisingly) have incorporated into their religious beliefs?" I bet you would be hard pressed to give the correct answer.

Would you believe that all three of these main world religions believe as part of their doctrine that God descended upon Mount Sinai and gave the Torah to the Jewish people? In fact, they all consider the prophets of the Old Testament to be authentic conveyers of God's truths.

Of course, Christians believe that Jesus then superseded and supplanted Jewish beliefs and traditional practices, while Muslims believe that Mohammed was the true and final prophet, who replaced both Christian and Jewish theology with a greater truth.

In fact, while Islam considers all those who don't accept Mohammed to be infidels whom have forfeited their right to life and possessions, Jews and Christians are in a different category as they are considered "People of the Book." Both religions fall under the category called Dhimmis, which basically means protected people. Thus, as long as they paid the obligatory jizya tax, they maintained certain basic rights. While this is a fascinating subject, we'll save a more complete and in-depth discussion of this concept for another time.

Have you ever wondered why so many hospitals, recovery centers, and medical facilities are named Mount Sinai? On the surface this seems to be a very random and rather odd name to associate with healthcare.

This week's Torah reading gives us a clue. In this week's portion we find the following verse, "God shall descend before the eyes of all the people on Mount Sinai" (Exodus 19:11).

The implication of this verse stating that everyone was able to see God descend is that even those who had been blind could actually physically see God descend. A two thousand year old Jewish tradition therefore concludes that an incredible miracle occurred prior to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai: Everyone was miraculously healed.

In other words, all the sick, infirm, and handicapped were cured at Mount Sinai. We can now understand why almost every large city has a hospital or medical facility named "Mount Sinai."

Yet, we must wonder why God deemed it necessary to perform such an incredible miracle. What was the purpose of healing everyone? Clearly, God wasn't just showing off. What was the message that we were meant to take away from this incredible revelation of God's power and the departure from the physical norm?

In a famous paraphrasing of Karl Marx, critics have called religion "the opiate of the masses." Marx believed that religion had certain practical functions in society that were similar to the function of opium in a sick or injured person. Opiates reduce people's immediate suffering and provides them with pleasant illusions, but have no meaningful long term benefits. So too, Marx thought, was the purpose of religion.

(By the way, Marx was referring to religion as an opiate for the sickness and suffering brought on by soulless rampant capitalism. Meaning, religion was a temporary respite from the evils of capitalism. But with his communist agenda there would be no need for religion. We all know how well his philosophy worked out for the communists; yet, Marx's criticism of religion persists even after his ideas for a new world order have been shown to be abject failures.)

This was EXACTLY why God delivered the incredible miracle of healing everyone prior to the gifting his law to Moses on Mount Sinai. The purpose was to teach us that religion isn't primarily a bromide to suffering; on the contrary, the optimal way to accept the Torah is when we are in perfect health, both physically and emotionally.

Of course, the Torah also has the answers when we are suffering and/or not operating at our ideal level, but we can only fully appreciate all that God wanted to gift us on a personal and communal level when we are completely healthy.

When a person is ill or otherwise distracted by the pain of physical or emotional issues, his focus becomes distracted as well. The Torah can be helpful in addressing those issues, but at that moment all he can see is a very limited perspective of the truths the Torah contains. This is because a person in a state of pain sees everything through the lens of that suffering.

However, when one is at 100% strength, both physically and emotionally, the Torah can be seen for what it is really meant to be; a blueprint of God's wisdom for the world and a guide for getting the most fulfillment out of the life that God has bestowed upon us. God cured everyone at Mount Sinai so that each person could fully appreciate the infinite wisdom that the Torah offers and connect to God's truths contained therein without the slightest distraction.


Torah Portion of the Week

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.


Candle Lighting Times

February 14
(or go to

Jerusalem 4:49
Guatemala 5:48 - Hong Kong 5:58 - Honolulu 6:02
J'Burg 6:33 - London 4:57 - Los Angeles 5:17
Melbourne 8:02 - Mexico City 6:17 - Miami 5:55 - Moscow 5:12
New York 5:11 - Singapore 7:02 - Toronto 5:27

Quote of the Week

My concern is not whether
God is on our side;
my greatest concern is
to be on God's side,
for He is always right.
--  Abraham Lincoln



In Loving Memory of

Yehuda Ben Ezra

Beloved husband,
father, grandfather, and
great grandfather



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