22 Shevat 5773 / Feb. 1-2, 2013
In this week’s portion, Yitro, we find Moses (and the Israelites) being greeted by Moses’s father-in-law Yitro (aka Jethro) after the Israelites managed to fight off the armies of the nation of Amalek. Yitro greets Moses, bringing along Moses’s wife and two sons. After telling his father-in-law all that God had done for the Israelites in Egypt, Yitro rejoices, praises God, and offers up a sacrifice.
Shortly thereafter, Yitro observes that the Israelites are approaching Moses to settle every little dispute. He advises Moses to empower a number of individuals to serve as judges (effectively, establishing the tiered court system that we still use today), thus allowing Moses to only adjudicate the major disputes, while relying on others to adjudicate minor ones. Once this new system of resolving disputes has been put in place, Yitro takes his leave.
The Israelites then enter the wilderness of Sinai, and approach the mountain contained within it. On the third day, amidst thunder, lightning, horn blasts, and what appears to mimic a volcano that is about to erupt, the 10 Commandments are given.
The traditional understanding of the text suggests that God actually spoke to the entire Israelite nation assembled at the foot of the mountain, as at the end of the portion we find God instructing Moses to say to the Israelites: “You yourselves saw that I spoke to you from the heavens.”
“Revelation at Sinai,” as this event is commonly known, is in many ways the central event of the entire Torah (it’s where tradition says that we received the Torah itself, after all).
One of the more intriguing pieces of this episode that the ancient rabbis picked up on is that the Israelites supposedly “saw” the thunder and “saw” that God spoke to them – as opposed to hearing these things. Revelation at Sinai was so significant and powerful in our narrative that it actually altered peoples’ senses.
For us today, I can’t help but think that before we could ever be in a position to have our senses altered again, that we’d need to be better at embracing our senses as they currently exist.
Do we savor our food, take pleasure in its odor and taste, and express our gratitude after consuming it?
When we hold the hand of or hug another, do we recognize the intense power and energy that physical connections create?
When we hear thunder and see lightning today, do we take a moment to reflect and be in awe of the power nature holds?
This Shabbat, let’s resolve to take a break from our mile-a-minute lives, and to make the time to both figuratively and literally stop and smell the roses. Because in addition to adding depth and quality to our lives, perhaps once we come to a fuller appreciation of the senses we’re blessed to have, we’ll be meritorious enough to have our senses altered in ways currently unimaginable, as tradition shares our ancestors before us did.