Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Parshat Yitro

Midyan, Amalek and Matan Torah

According to most commentaries (The Ramban being a notable exception), Yitro's arrival and his recommendations about the judicial system occurred after the giving of the Torah, despite the fact that it appears beforehand.

Why, if the story occurred after Matan Torah, was it then written beforehand? What message is the Torah trying to teach by switching the order of events?

One could argue that the institution of the judicial system and the law deserve to be inscribed side by side as they belong together, nevertheless, Yitro's advice could still have followed, rather than preceded Matan Torah.

In order to solve this issue, we must take a wholistic approach to the events recorded in the Torah and tryto understand the big picture.

At Matan Torah, God takes Israel and sets them apart to be a holy and treasured nation (see Shemot 19:5-6). It would not have beeen strange for the Jews to have thought that they were superior to other nations and had a right to treat them with disdain. This view would have been amplified had Matan Torah appeared immediately after the war with Amalek. There, we are told: "I will surely obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from ... [that there shall be] an eternal war for the Lord against Amalek" (ibid 17:14-16). The giving of the Torah would have lain side by side with the complete obliteration of a gentile nation. A lob-sided view of Israel and the nations would have been created.

Instead, the Torah inserts an episode of a gentile not only showing kindness and love for Israel but one who plays a definitive role in applying its system of laws. Israel's relationship with the nations was not to be one of superiority and hatred but of love and willingness to learn from to those who love them and all out war with those who try to destroy them.

Interestingly enough, when the time comes for King Sha'ul to fight Amalek, he first sends a message to the Kenim (the descendants of Yitro, according to Shoftim 4:11), warning them of impending danger: "...for you showed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt" (I Shmuel 15:6).

Therefore, the story of Yitro was inserted at this point to show that despite the fact that God chose Israel, He still loves all the nations and so must Israel.


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