Parashat Yitro – Erev Shabbat 10 February 2023 (5783)
Week of 5-11 February 2023  
Torah portion: Exodus 18:1-20:23   Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6
Theme: “I spoke with you from heaven” (Ex 20:22)

In thinking about the basic story of this parashah – the lord’s giving of the Law – there came to my mind a memory of myself at sixteen.   I was eating dinner at the house of a friend.  Her mother had prepared fried chicken.  I looked at my plate, perplexed as to whether I should use my knife and fork or simply pick the chicken up with my fingers. Which was acceptable here?  Seeing my hesitation, my friend’s mother said: “In this house, it is quite all right to pick up fried chicken and eat it.  We just wouldn’t do it in the presence of the Queen.” Why, I asked myself, should my mind have made a connection between Mount Sinai and a Canadian dinner table?   As I thought about this, two ideas came to my mind.  One was that every meal is a gift, even if you have prepared it yourself and paid for or raised all the ingredients.  That is why we give thanks to the lord for the food we are about to eat.  This dinner of fried chicken was a special gift, because it gave me not only food for my body but also a funny story to tell and a fond memory of a woman I met only that once. But why did this story come to mind when thinking of Sinai? True, the Law includes laws about food; even people who know very little about Judaism know this.  It seems to me, however, that this story came to mind not because it is about food but because it is about a gift and a giver. I wanted to know what to do and I was told in a way that acknowledged I had reason to be uncertain. I remember our conversation, in part because it was amusing, but also because of her kindness.  She could have made me feel like a social ignoramus, ‘badly brought up’ to use a phrase of my mother.  Instead, as soon as she recognized my uncertainty, she validated it with the phrase “in this house” – how would I know the rules about fried chicken in someone else’s home?  Descriptions of the giving of the Law, whether in the Torah itself (Ex 20:15-18) or in cinematic versions, can make it seem terrifying.  Yet the giving of the Law was an expression of the lord’s love and concern.  Here are two quotations found in Leibowitz.  The first, from Benno Jacob, is about anokhi (“I am”): “By anokhi He referred to the person of God.  He was not an impersonal idea one speaks about or believes in but the living God directing his “I” to the “Thou” of the hearer who can, by that same token address him as “Thou”.” (307) The second quotation, from Judah Halevi, teaches that “God is not a God of metaphysics [but] a God of religion who is concerned for the individual.” We approach God not by thinking about God but by yearning for God. (309)

For Reflection and Discussion: I have used my friend’s mother (“may her memory be for a blessing”) and her kindness as a ‘metaphor’ for God. Call to mind people who have given you advice in such a way that you felt grateful rather than ignorant.  Think about the way you give advice to others.

Bibliography Leibowitz, Nehama, New Studies in Shemot, Part I

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton
Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2010


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