Giving Voice: Parashat Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)


The Jewish Journal has published our own Rabbi Lisa’s commentary on this week’s torah portion, Yitro. Read it here.

Someone came to me in tears. “Too much yelling,” he said. “My boyfriend yells at me, my boss yells at me, even my father still yells at me.”

We talked about how yelling doesn’t achieve what the yellers want to achieve. We talked about the knot he gets in his stomach when the yelling starts, his initial inclination to give in, and how later his impulse is to shut down — not do what the yellers want, not respond at all.

Is yelling cultural? Instinctual? Does the impulse (or permission) to shout come in part from this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, in which the Israelites receive the dramatic verbal delivery of the Ten Commandments?

“On the third day, as morning dawned, there was thunder and lightning and a dense cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud blast of the horn; and all the people who were in the camp trembled. Moses led the people out of the camp toward God, and they took their places at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke, for God had come down upon it in fire; the smoke rose like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled violently. The blare of the horn grew louder and louder. As Moses spoke, God answered him in thunder” (Exodus 19:16-19).

After the commandments were delivered, “All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain all in smoke; and when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance. ‘You speak to us,’ they said to Moses, ‘and we will obey; but let not God speak to us, lest we die’ ” (Exodus 20:15-16).

I confess I do love the drama of this scene, and the image of the multitudes trembling there together at the mountain. One of the many midrashim (legends not in Torah) about this scene tells us that the multitude gathered there at the foot of the mountain includes all Jews who ever lived, those alive then, and not yet alive, Jews by birth and Jews by Choice. A sweet Jewish tradition comes from that midrash: If you ever meet someone who looks familiar, but you can’t remember where you’ve met, Jews will often say, “We must have met at Sinai.”

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