Friday, February 24, 2023

Controversy and Disconcertedness

 Controversy and Disconcertedness

 Interesting word “controversy”, especially because it seems to define the underlying state and condition of the world we live in.

Can you imagine being sent to a congregation such as Ephesus, as was the case with Timothy who had to face those who disagreed with the “sound words of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah and the teaching that is accordance with godliness”? (1 Timothy 6:3).  How many in our society fall under the same category, of “disagreeing with the sound words of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah”, even to the uttermost? The following assessment and discernment concerning those individuals are quite amazing in their accuracy: They are “conceited, understanding nothing, and have a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth…” Wow! Pretty strong words” (1 Timothy 6:4-6 emphasis added).  SAY NO MORE!

Another word that comes to mind is “disconcertedness”.  What is so disconcerting?  It is when believers in the sovereignty of the Almighty and His right to bring justice and corrective measures to an unrighteous world, attribute these very means of justice and corrective measures as having their source in humanity rather than Elohim. The result of such a switch in one’s standpoint is to prevent the very ones who need to repent and turn back from having fear of man to the fear/awe of YHVH from doing so.  If one thinks that mankind or a few rich and powerful from among it, are somehow overriding YHVH’s supremacy, then he is deceived and that is very disconcerting/alarming indeed!   SAY NO MORE!  

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Trumah - Sh’mot (Exodus) 25-27:19

  Parashat Trumah introduces us to several new terms and concepts we have not encountered until now. "Truma", translated “contribution”, is derived from the root r.o.m  (resh, vav, mem) – meaning "high up, to lift up, to exalt". Having warranted such a term, this type of contribution was obviously held in high esteem by the Almighty. Furthermore, it also speaks of its Originator and His exalted position. The description of the potential “contributor” as a person whose "heart generously impels him" (25:2), reinforces the significance of this offering. "Yidvenu" is the verb used here, meaning to “cause one to be generous", stemming from the root n.d.v. (noon, dalet, bet/vet), which is also: "willing, noble, volunteer, freewill offering". Copious rain, for example, is "geshem n'davot" (Ps. 68:9). Other examples of the usage of this word are found in Hoshe’a (Hosea) 14:4 where YHVH declares: "I will love them [Yisrael] freely" (italics added), and in Shoftim (Judges) 5:9 D'vorah describes the lawgivers of Yisrael, as those who "freely offered themselves among the people" (italics added). The contribution, therefore, was to be given freely or generously and was to include gold and silver (undoubtedly the gifts the Egyptians gave to the Hebrew people). The articles of “trumah” were intended for the building of the “holy sanctuary - mikdash - for YHVH” (v. 8), so that He will "dwell among them" (v. 8; cf. Ezekiel 37:26-28; 43:9b) – although the Hebrew – b’to’cham - may be read “in them”. 

   The sanctuary in the desert is more often called "mishkan" (v. 9), meaning "a dwelling place". However, being its first-time mention, it may have been necessary to clarify that this place was to be set apart and dedicated to the presence of YHVH, hence "mikdash".  “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” - “ve’sha’chanti” - hence “mishkan” – dwelling place. “The text does not say 'that I may dwell in its midst,' but 'among them,' to teach you that the Divine Presence does not rest on the sanctuary by virtue of the sanctuary, but by virtue of Israel, 'for they are the temple of the Lord.’” To these words by the Zedah La-derekh Commentary, we add another. In referring to the same text, Malbim comments: "He commanded that each individual should build him a sanctuary in the recesses of his heart, that he should prepare himself to be a dwelling place for the Lord and a stronghold for the excellence of His Presence, as well as an altar on which to offer up every portion of his soul to the Lord until he gives himself for His glory at all times".[1] 


     The Almighty says of Himself in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 66:1: “The heaven is My throne and the earth My footstool - where is the house that you may build for me?" (cf. I Kings 8:27). This sanctuary, therefore, is a place where the “creature” could have a measure of access to its Creator and experience His love, justice, and forgiveness. The sanctuary is a tangible place of meeting (ref. Ex. 25:22) for the sake of human beings who are confined to time and space. 

    The first article to be built is the "aron" (25:10). We have already encountered this term (which means a “chest”, or an “ark”, and a sarcophagus – i.e. a stone coffin, in B’resheet 50:26, where reference was made to Yoseph's embalming and burial). This wooden case, overlaid with gold, was to be the Ark of the Testimony (25:16), bearing witness to YHVH's word, covenant, atonement, and forgiveness with and to the Israelites. Shlomo Ostrovski is of the opinion that in this unique and important article, two very distinct and different characteristics come together, as the acacia wood from which the ark was made originated from the plant world, while the precious metal of overlaid gold was derived from an altogether different source. The latter’s use was intended to magnify this special article, and thereby “elevate its status”.[2] Thus the ‘lesser’ is transformed by virtue of the ‘covering’ by the ‘greater’.  Interestingly, in the book of Hitgalut (Revelation) 11:19, there is also a reference to the ark, though in a different location: “And the temple of Elohim was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of his testament…” 

    "You are to make a cover for the ark out of pure gold" (25:17). This "cover", translated in English as “mercy seat”, is the familiar "kaporet" of the root k.f.r (from which stems "kippur" - "propitiation" and literally means “cover”). On this cover were to be placed two gold k'ruvim (cherubs). In the Assyrian language, "kruv" (singular) is “to be gracious or to bless", with its adjective meaning "great or mighty". In Shmuel Bet (2nd Samuel) 22:11, we read that YHVH "rode on a k'ruv, and did fly, and was seen on the wings of the wind". Likewise, the k'ruvim were also placed as guards preventing entry to the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24). Here, on the other hand, their presence signifies accessibility to the Most High. It will be “from between the two cherubim” that YHVH will “meet” and “speak… about everything which [He] will give… in commandment…” (25:22). The k'ruvim were to be situated in such a way that their faces – panim - would be turned toward each other (v. 20). In verse 30 we read about "the table of showbread" being the table of "lechem hapanim", literally "bread of the face". 

     "Panim" stems from the root "pana" (p.n.h - pey, noon, hey), meaning "to turn". There are several other words (usually with an added preposition) connected to the same root, such as "in front of, before, toward, corner, attend to, undertake, take away, and clear". "Panim", as are several other Hebrew words, always occurs in the plural form. Thus, its very meaning and usage take into account the existence and presence of someone else, whom one is potentially facing (by turning one’s head). This is evident here in the description of the k'ruvim's position: “…and their faces [are turned] each toward its brother" (v. 20 literal translation). The "bread of the face" (v. 30) is a seemingly obscure term that requires an explanation. There are numerous instances where YHVH speaks of His Presence in terms of "panim" (although it may not be borne out by the English translations), as we saw for example in last week's Parasha, “…they shall not appear before Me [literally - My Face] empty-handed" (Ex. 23:15). The "bread of the face" therefore refers to YHVH's Presence which is turned toward His creatures, an image that clearly foreshadows the "Bread of Life" as epitomized in and by Yeshua.3 

      The way in which YHVH was to meet and speak between the cherubim remains the million and one dollar/euro (choose your currency) question. Our only clue is the meaning, respectively, of the terms “kaporert” and “panim”, which point not to the physical dimension, but rather to the qualitative and spiritual aspect of this awesome “meeting”. 

     Following the descriptions of the Ark and the “Table of the Bread of the Presence", we now move on to the “lampstand - Menorah" (stemming from "nur - fire, light, shine". Root: noon, vav, resh. 25:23-30). The Menorah’s components, quite curiously, are not merely functional. At least five of its elements seem to be directly connected to the botanical sphere: "calyxes, knobs, blossoms (or flowers), branches and almonds". These features are all part of the almond tree. Let us bear in mind that in the desert, where these instructions were given and where the Mishkan was to be set up, there was not an almond tree in sight! In other words, here, for the first time, we encounter elements characterizing the Land of Promise (the ultimate destination of these desert wanderers) as they are included in the most important of edifices - YHVH's sanctuary. The Menorah is not the only article that points to the Land and to its characteristics. The latter (i.e. the land's characteristics) are built right into the worship system and into the whole framework of the Israelites' relationship with YHVH (as we shall see in future Parashot/Parashas). 


     “The beautiful almond tree, whose white and pink blossoms are the first to emerge from winter dormancy, dominating the landscape of Israel at the end of the rainy season, passes very rapidly through several stages of growth”.4 What then is the connection of the Menorah to this plant? "Almond" in Hebrew is "sha'ked", related to the root sh.k.d (shin, kof, dalet), meaning "to watch, be diligent and insistent". In Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 1:11-12 we encounter the imagery of the almond tree as related to the above terms: "And the word of YHVH to me was, saying, Jeremiah, 'what do you see?' And I said, 'I see an almond rod. Then YHVH said to me, 'You have seen well; for I will watch over My word to perform it'”. We learn from Mishley (Proverbs) 8:34 that, "happy" is the person who is "watching – “lishkod” - daily at My threshold". Hareuveni points out that it is likely that "the knobs and the flowers of the Menorah were patterned after the cups of the almond flower or after the embryonic almond fruit still crowned with the calyx of the flower". Thus, the Menorah was to be a reminder of YHVH's faithfulness and steadfastness, as demonstrated by the natural phenomena of the Land of Yisrael. 

      There is yet another tree that is connected to the Menorah, one whose oil was to feed it, and that is the olive tree. In Yisrael the sight of the newly blossoming almonds in spring, strewn in the olive groves, is a reminder that YHVH "watches over His word to perform it", especially to the proverbial ‘olive tree’ - Yisrael (see Jer. 11:16; Rom. 11:17, 24). 

      As was already mentioned, the two k’ruvim above the kaporet (so-called mercy seat), and also those woven on the veil and the curtains of the Mishkan (Ex. 26:31, 1) recall the ones mentioned in B’resheet (Genesis) 3:24, whose function (with the flaming sword) was to guard the way to the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. But in addition to this feature, several other ones also recall the Garden. The entrance to the Garden as well as to the Mishkan was on the east side (Gen. 3:24; Ex. 26:22 - the far end of the Mishkan was to the west, thus the entrance would have been from the eastern side). We also saw above the Menorah’s similarity to a tree. Placed at the center of the Mishkan it may be linked to the Tree of Life “in the midst of the Garden” (Gen. 2:9). Man was put in the Garden to “work (la’avod) and keep (lishmor)” it (Gen. 2:15), while the Ko’hanim (priests) were also said to have to “keep” (tend) – lishmor – the Mishkan and its articles, and “to do the work of the Mishkan” (Num. 3:7-8). Lastly, Moshe was to make tunics for A’haron and his sons and then to clothe them (Ex. 28:40), with the same word for “tunics”  - ku’tanot - being used for the skin garments that YHVH made for man and woman, and with which He dressed them (Gen. 3:21). These associations point to the fact that in some way the Mishkan was a gate leading to a path that was to restore humanity back to the Garden. 

     The edifice of the sanctuary was a tent, "ohel", with a primary meaning (in some of the ancient languages of the Middle East) of “to settle down and be inhabited, settlement, and city". This temporary and collapsible structure, which was essentially made of cloth, skins, and wooden poles, housing a number of articles that were made of a variety of materials for diverse purposes, illustrates a very central scriptural principle. Twice in the midst of instructions relating to the tent's several components we read, “and it shall be one - echad" (26:6,11). Thus it is a variety of components that make up the "whole", or the "one", as well as "oneness" and "unity”. 

     Most times “echad” is used to denote simply a singular “one” (e.g. Gen. 42:13), but undoubtedly the most well-known occurrence of this word is found in the “Sh’ma”: “Hear Oh Israel, YHVH our Elohim is one Elohim” (Deut. 6:4). This eternal injunction and tenet of faith actually points to a union of plurality, since the word “Elohim” is the plural form of “el”. Thus, “echad” is not just a singular “one”, as is verified by other expressions such as: “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24); “one people” (Gen. 11:6); “So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united together as one man” (Judges 20:11), and of course by our present example. However, “echad” also has a plural form: “achadim” found, for example, in Y’chezkel (Ezekiel) 37:17: “that they may become one (literally, “plural of one”, emphasis and italics added) in your hand”, speaking of the sticks of Yoseph and Yehudah. “Echad” also lends itself to “oneness”, as we see in Y’chezkel 21:16 (although, again, it may not show up in the English translation). However, the command there (addressing a sword): “hitachadi” – “unite yourself” - can also be read: “sharpen yourself”. This makes for a union between “one” (“echad”) and “sharpness” - “chad” - which is also a shortened form of “echad” (see Ez. 33:30), and indeed is the word for “one” in Aramaic. Finally, in the creation process, the first day was pronounced not as “first day”, but “one day” – yom echad (Gen. 1:5). In conclusion, true oneness is a pressed together, and compacted union of many in one, portraying a sword-like sharpness (e.g. Zechariah 9:13). In the Brit Chadasha (New Testament) the ‘one who is made up of many’ is exemplified by the many-membered Body of Messiah. The concept of Echad well represents integration and inclusion (into oneness and wholeness; remember "shalem"?) typical of the Hebrew language and Hebraic thought. 

      Adding to the oneness of the Mishkan is the description of joining the curtains and the loops (26:3,5,6). The word for “curtain” here is “y’ree’a”, and for “loop” - “loo’la’a”, both being in the feminine gender. In joining them “one to another” the Hebrew employs anthropomorphism (personification) and reads: “a befriending (“joining” being of the root ch.v.r meaning to bind together and “friend”) of one woman (one curtain/one loop) to her sister (i.e. to another identical curtain/loop)”. In this way, even the technical instructions for the Mishkan's construction exemplify oneness and relationship. 

      The boards that were to make up the structure of the Mishkan had to be held together with “tenons” (26:17): “binding one to the other…” Here again in Hebrew, it is: “one woman to her sister…” while the (silver) sockets (v. 19) being a masculine noun, are called “adanim”, stemming from the root a.d.n (alef, dalet, noon) which means “sustaining, providing a base”. It is from this root that the word “adon” – master – is derived and hence Adonai – the Sustainer and the One who has set up the foundations and who upholds everything. In verse 31 we encounter the veil that was to enclose the Kodesh Kodashim (“Holy of Holies”), called “parochet” – a divider, separator. Ironically, the Egyptians were described as “making the children of Israel serve with rigor” (Ex. 1:13 italics added), which is the translation for “perech” – labor that signified separation, that is the discrimination that was inflicted upon them. Now they are told to make the “parochet” - an element in an edifice in the making of which they are once again to labor, but now not as slaves but as those who have been separated as a unique people in order to have a special relationship with the Adon/Master of the universe with whom they were to meet in this structure. 

     Four times in this Parasha we read that Moshe is told to make the articles and the Mishkan, “according to that which you were shown on the mountain" (25:9,40; 26:30; 27:8). When and where was he shown "the pattern"? If we refer to the end of last week's Parasha we may find the answer: "And the glory of YHVH dwelt on the mountain of Sinai. And the cloud covered it for six days. And He called to Moses on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud… And Moses came into the midst of the cloud" (24:16, 18). Thus, the 'where' and 'when' are answered, but what was Moshe actually shown? “In six days the Lord made heaven and earth. The actual making of the Tabernacle and its furnishings He entrusted to man. Its design or pattern God similarly made in six days. On the seventh day, He called to Moses, and Moses was shown the design of the Tabernacle and its furnishings on the mount”. The commentator further demonstrates this point by comparing B’resheet (Genesis) 2:1,2 to Sh’mot (Exodus) 39:32 - 40:33, revealing a similarity of the terminology used in both accounts. Martin Buber, for example, discovered seven corresponding elements in keywords used in both accounts.5 Thus we may ask, does the pattern of the "Mishkan" in some microcosmic way reflect YHVH's creation, and if so, how? 

     This question will be answered partly in Parashat P’kudey, but also in our present   Parasha there are some notable parallels:

     Above were mentioned examples of the usage of “echad” (as we saw above), while  in B’resheet 1:5 it says (as we have already noted above): “Elohim called the light  Day, and the darkness He called Night. So, the evening and the morning were the (literally) one [echad] day.”

     B’resheet 1:7 - “Elohim made (va’ya’as) the firmament…”

     Sh’mot 25:8 - “And let them make (ve’a’su) Me a sanctuary”.

     B’resheet 1:16 - “Then Elohim made (va’ya’s) two great lights…”

     Sh’mot 25:10 - “And they shall make (ve’a’su) an ark”.

     B’resheet 1:25 - “And Elohim made (va’ya’s) the beast of the earth…”

     Sh’mot  25:23  - “You shall also make (ve’a’sita) a table”. 

      Additionally, as already mentioned, at the end of last week’s Parasha (Mishpatim) we read: “Now the glory of YHVH rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud” (Ex. 24:16 italics added). In parallel it says in Sh’mot 20:11: “For in six days, YHVH made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day” (italics added). Additionally, above, reference was made to the Ark of the Testimony mentioned in Hitgalut (Revelation), while in 15:5, for example, the "temple in heaven" is cited. 

      We already saw the utilized anthropomorphism regarding the Mishkan's curtains and their clasps, as well as to the sockets, which share the same root with the word "master". But this is not the sum total of such usages. The very measurement – a cubit - which in Hebrew is "amah", means forearm. In 26:17 the tenons of the boards were to be interlinked "a woman to her sister" (i.e., "one to another"). Several times when the Mishkan's side is mentioned (e.g. 26:20) the word used is "tze'la", which is the same one that was used for "rib" in B'resheet 2:21 when YHVH brought forth woman out of man's rib. For "far side", in 26:22 for example, the word "yar'ketayim" is used, a plural of "yare'ch" which is the thigh, such as in B'resheet 24:2 and 47:29. Thus, in viewing the Mishkan, we saw that its work of construction was compared to the days of creation, while its design may be linked to the Garden of Eden, its articles of a closet, a chair, a table, and a lamp may be likened to a home, and beyond that – the terminology used for the description of its structural components also embodies the human body.   


   1 New Studies in Shmot Part 2, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman.

   Eliner  Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora.

   Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

   2 Moses on the Witness Stand, Shlomo Ostrovski, Keren Ahava Meshichit,   Jerusalem, 1976,           1999

   3 See blogspots for 2 related articles

  4 Nature in Our Biblical Heritage, Nogah Hareuveni, trans. Helen Frenkley, Neot    Kdumim  Ltd.    Lod, Israel, 1996

  5 New Studies in Shmot Part 2, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman.  Eliner Library,          Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora.    Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

 Most of the word definitions were extracted from: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius     Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson. Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.





Thursday, February 16, 2023


 I must confess that after fifty years of being a believer, I’m tired of hearing or reading the supposed Gog and Magog scenarios, which recently have been on the increase. It seems that the evangelical world is stuck, or obsessed with one prophetic chapter of the Bible, and that is Ezekiel 38.  Every time there is some kind of skirmish or rumors of war here in the Middle East, it obviously means that the Jews are going to experience the inevitable fulfillment of the Christians’ dispensational ideas and imagination.   However, the scripture is quite clear in regard to the timing of these events. There is an unmistakable hint, and thus one does not have to dig very far in order to discover the set timing. It actually appears in the very same chapter, in verse 8, that says the following: “After many days you shall be mustered [Gog and all the nations with them]; in the latter years you shall go against a land restored from war, a land where people were gathered from many nations on the mountains of Israel, which had long lain waste; its people were brought out from the nations and now are living in safety, all of them” (Ezekiel 38:8 emphases added).  

Let’s introduce some reality into the above scripture.  Rimona was born in 1950, two years after the Jewish State was founded. I asked her if she had ever experienced or known a time when the nation was restored from war and living safely.  Her response was, “war broke out upon the declaration of its founding and has continued ever since.” I came to Israel in 1978, and I can confirm that the land is still receiving the blood of its slain. I don’t have to be a prophet in order to predict the near future; there are many scriptures that still have to be fulfilled before we will find ourselves living securely in all the areas promised to our forefathers.  Islam cannot and will not allow Israel to exist as a sovereign state, even though it may use so-called peace accords for a temporary ceasefire (called “hudna” in Arabic. You may look up this Islamic concept in Wikipedia). 

What about the mountains of Israel?   The above-quoted verse states that many will come back from the nations and settle on those mountains.  There is a tendency to assume that we know where these ancient mountains are, but we need to realize that those mountains go up into Lebanon, Bashan, and Gilead, which are to be settled by the returning House of Joseph (see Zechariah 10:6-12).  Once Yeshua the Kinsman Redeemer of Jacob/Israel rejoins the two parts of the nation in all of the Promised Land, the peace and safety that Ezekiel 38:8 announces will be established.  Additionally, Ezekiel 37:25-28 and 34:25-29 also confirm YHVH’s finishing touches on the restoration of the whole house of Israel, by the covenant of peace which He will make with them (that is, Israel and Judah). 

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Mishpatim – Sh’mot (Exodus): 21- 24

 "This Parasha is extraordinarily rich in a variety of themes, and multiplicity of laws, judgments, and statutes governing every facet of human existence. This comprehensive legislation covers relations of man to their society, between members of the same community, between peoples, between man and man, man and his enemy, and even between man and the flora and fauna of his environment, not to mention the relationship with man to his Creator. The Torah therein regulates the life of the Hebrew person at work and at leisure, on Shabbat and festivals".[1] We will examine some of Parashat Mishpatim’s terms against the backdrop of this summary. Last week we noted that the Ten Words were presented in a progression, from the overriding theme of the relationship to the Creator, gradually breaking down into particulars (in human relationships, and finally to one’s own heart). This week the trend seems to go the other way. Thus, before the ‘national’ commandments regarding the times and seasons (in the land) – 23:10-19 - and the ‘big picture’ as described in 23:20-33, the people of Yisrael are presented with very detailed and specific instructions as to what is expected of a set-apart nation, even down to the individual.

"And these are the judgments which you shall put before them…" are the opening words of our Parasha.  The singular form of “mishpatim” (“judgments”) is “mishpat”, the root letters being sh.p/f.t (shin, pey, tet). Last week we noted that YHVH's instructions to His People were not to be defined simplistically as a set of rules of 'do's' and 'don'ts.'  “Mishpat” may be compared to last week's “chock” - "law" - which is also to “engrave", and to “pikudim” - "precepts" (a glimpse of which we had in Parashat Shmot,  in 3:16, where it appeared as the verb to “visit"). Likewise, “mishpat” also has a variety of meanings such as "just" (Deut. 32:4), and "justice" (Is. 16:5). In this Parasha “mishpat” is used several times as "arbitration" and "decision making" (21:31), as well as "legal right" (23:6) and "custom" (21:9). According to The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, this “word [which is] of broad meaning, is also to be understood as to “govern or rule". [2] Thus, although some of the “mishpatim” could be termed as "judgments" or “ordinances” in the stricter sense of the word, this judicial term is couched in a much larger social and spiritual framework, a framework that is rooted in YHVH's Torah, the latter (as already pointed out), being anything but a strictly official and legal codex.


Let us go back to our opening verse:  "And these are the judgments which you shall put before them".  Notice that Moshe is told to “put" or "place" the judgments before the Israelites. "Put", as used here, appears to be almost out of place, unless it is tied to some image such as we encounter in Ya’acov (James) 1:22-25: “…Become doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  Because if anyone is a hearer of the Word, and not a doer, this one is like a man studying his natural face in a mirror; for he studied himself and has gone away, and immediately he forgot of what kind he was. But the one looking into the perfect Torah of liberty, and continuing in it, this one not having become a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the word, this one will be blessed in his doing” (italics added).


Thus, the Torah, which is to reflect the new nature of the “am s'gula” (the “treasured People” as mentioned in last week’s Parashat Yitro), is likened to a mirror. "Placing the mishpatim before the people" becomes clear, therefore, especially when considering the Israelites' response last week: "All which YHVH has spoken we will do” (Ex. 19:8) and this week too (ref. 24:3). Incidentally, the same verb, "put"  -“sim” - is also used in Bamidbar (Numbers) 6:27, regarding the placing of the Priestly Blessing upon the Children of Yisrael (as well as in 6:26, where YHVH is said to “put” or “place” His peace on the recipients of this blessing).


These “mishpatim”, therefore, constitute one of the aspects reflecting and revealing the ‘new nature’ (and also ‘flesh’ and sin) of YHVH's special and holy people (ref. 22:31), which they see each time they look "into the perfect Torah of liberty". And what is it that they first see there? "When you buy a Hebrew slave (“eved” – “one who works”), he shall serve six years, and in the seventh, he shall go out free for nothing" (21:2). What could be more appropriate for the newly released slaves than to act with consideration and kindness toward their own brethren who will, in the future, meet with such a predicament? Is it any wonder then that, this is the first ruling they encounter as they look into the “mirror” which has been “placed before” them? Various dimensions of this topic are dealt with all the way through to 21:11. A variety of regulations ensue, mostly dealing with acts of violence, followed next by rules regarding damages caused specifically by one's livestock (chiefly oxen) to others.


Reparations for these damages proceed (chapter 22:1-17), leading to various moral and ethical issues and the treatment of the defenseless. But before we get to this point, let’s examine verses 5 and 6. The translation reads as follows: "If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed and lets loose his animal, and it feeds in another man's field... If a fire breaks out and catches in thorns, so that stacked grain, standing grain, or the field is consumed, he who kindled the fire shall surely make restitution” (emphases added). Notice the words: causing (a field) to be grazed, animal, feeds, he who kindles fire. In Hebrew, all these verbs and nouns stem from a single root, (bet, ayin, resh) with its primary meaning being “to consume, burn, destroy”. But as is illustrated in our text, this term is ‘stretched’ further to include grazing (in a sense of “removal”) and even animals, from which it morphs into “brutishness”.  The latter meaning is then applied to the “fools” and ones “without sense” or “knowledge” (e.g., Ps. 94:6a; Pro. 12:1; Jer. 10:21a, being just a few examples). “Removal” (mostly of evil) is another usage of this term (e.g., Deut. 17:12; 19:13). This is a typical illustration of associative Hebraic thinking.


Let us now return to the “treatment of the defenseless”. In 22:21 we read: "You shall not torment an alien. You shall not oppress him, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt". The word here for "alien" is “ger”, from the root “gur” (g.u.r, gimmel, vav, resh), to “live, reside, dwell, or sojourn”. According to The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, "this root means to live among people who are not blood relatives… thus, the ‘ger’ was dependent on the hospitality that played an important role in the ancient Near East”. [2] Interestingly, the verb “gur” also means “dread, fear”. This illustrates the fact that being a stranger meant vulnerability, therefore requiring protection by the local inhabitants. Moreover, if the many repeated lessons of sojourning will not have been sufficiently learned, the Israelites may find themselves aliens all over again (e.g., Deut. 28: 63ff.), as YHVH would judge them for unrighteousness as He did the Egyptians, and even more strictly, because of the higher standards expected from them. Some examples of the way this word is used are as follows:


· Avraham sojourned in Egypt during the famine in the Land of Yisrael (Gen. 12:10).

· Lot was scornfully called a sojourner by the people of Sdom (ref. Gen. 19:9).

· Ya'acov described his stay with Lavan as that of a sojourner (ref. Gen. 32:4).

· Ya’acov’s sons defined their status in Egypt as that of sojourners (ref. Gen. 47:4).

· Hebrews 11:9,13 characterizes the Patriarchs as those who considered themselves pilgrims and aliens (not regarding themselves as members of this sin-ridden world).

· The Elohim of Yisrael is termed this way, when not welcome among His people (ref. Jer. 14:8).

· Finally, in the age to come the wolf will be the "protected citizen" of the lamb (Is. 11:6). [3]


The Torah’s cautions regarding all behavior towards the ‘stranger’ number no less than 36; more times than it deals with any other command![4] This fact powerfully speaks for itself. In 22:21 Yisrael is told to not “wrong or oppress“ the stranger, with the latter verb being “lo’chetz” ( lamed, chet tzadi) - literally “to restrict, squeeze”. YHVH used this very term when He was responding to Yisrael’s cry in Egypt: “I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them” (Ex. 3:9 italics added). This kind of repetition puts Yisrael ‘on the spot’ as to their treatment of the alien/stranger.  A similar theme is reiterated in 23:9, with the addition, “…you know [understand] the soul of an alien since you were aliens in the land of Egypt". The Israelites are most emphatically expected to empathize with the alien, having once been in that humbling station themselves. Remembering at all times that they have “come out of Egypt” leaves the people without an excuse to forget the conditions of the less fortunate and for lording it over them!  


Our text continues in verses 22:22-23 as follows: "You shall not afflict an orphan or a widow.  If afflicting you shall afflict him, if he crying cries to Me, hearing I will hear his cry" (literal translation). Notice the doubling of the verbs, stressing YHVH's concern for these needy ones. With this said, once again we turn in the Brit Chadasha (New Testament) to the Epistle of Ya'acov (James), where we read, “Pure and undefiled religion before Elohim and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their afflictions" (1:27). In the same vein, Sh’mot 23:3 and 6 read, respectively, "And you shall not favor the lowlydah’l - in his lawsuit" and, "You shall not pervert the judgment of your needy one – “evyon” in his lawsuit". And although “favor” and “pervert” are certainly not synonymous, according to the commentator Cassuto the way these two verbs are presented here makes for the similarity between the two ideas. He, therefore, tried to reconcile these two passages, which he deemed to be redundant if not explained in some other way. Hence Cassuto attaches to “ev'yon” (here) a meaning other than "needy", and connects it to the word “oyev” - “enemy” - thus making this a prohibition corresponding to the two preceding admonitions (23:4-5), that is, to mete out justice to the enemy. [5] Nevertheless, it does make perfect sense that YHVH would forbid favoring the needy in judgment, as a lowly social status, obviously, does not necessarily equal righteousness. At the same time, perverting the case of the needy in court is also a very severe violation of YHVH’s righteousness. Reflecting on the case of the stranger, widow, and orphan (22:21-23), the prohibition to mistreat them is stated in the second person singular, but the consequences are to befall on the nation as a whole, as verse 23 is written in the second person plural, and says the following: "And My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword, your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless".


YHVH’s expectation from the redeemed community’s attitudes is also illustrated in another way. In 22:25 we read: "If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest”. The preposition “if” (that the Torah presents here, rather than “when”), intrigued the Jewish commentators, since in their opinion there was no question that lending to the needy was a definite command. They resolved this by stating that if one does something compulsorily, it is not necessarily done as graciously as when doing it out of one’s own free will. Thus, YHVH expects His people to act as if given an option; that is from a generous heart that has elected to act, even if in reality there is no choice in the matter. Put differently, we are to delight in obedience and generosity.


Let us return now to 22:26-27 briefly, there to find included in the ordinance a reasoned appeal: "If you ever take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious” (italics added). This “neighbor” is possibly so poor that his cloak serves him as “his covering” – a sheet – “cloak for his body” – sleeping garment, and “for sleeping in” – it is his very mattress. YHVH is concerned with every detail, “for I am gracious”, and expects as much from His own.  


Verse 29 in our chapter (22) is unique in its (Hebrew) vocabulary. It is generally translated: “You shall not delay [to offer] the first of your ripe produce and your juices. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me”. But “the first of your ripe produce and your juices”, are rendered, literally, in Hebrew as: “your fullness – “m’le’at’cha” - and your tear/drop – “dim’a’cha”. Before we go any further, let us note that the “fullness” is in reference to the first fruit, while the “tear” connects to the free will offering. Interestingly, within “demah” or “dim’ah” is included the word for blood, “dam”. This gives an added meaning to Luke 22:44, where we read about Yeshua’s sweat that was like “drops of blood”. But what about the “fullness”? John 19:29 mentions the “full” jar of vinegar into which a sponge was dipped and held up to Yeshua’s thirsting lips. In the second part of verse 29 (in our chapter) YHVH continues, saying in the same breath with the “fullness” and “tear/blood” concept: “the firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me”. As we know, bloody sweat and the fullness of the cup of sorrows were both experienced by YHVH’s Firstborn, whom He gave “that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  If indeed the "tear" or "blood" offering is one of "free will", it is totally commensurate with Yeshua's attitude, as expressed by Him in the following words:  "I lay down my life… no one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself" (John 0:17,18).


Coming next in chapter 23, are commands to "do good to those who hate you" (see Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27), by taking care of their animals and livestock, if they are either lost or have met mishap (vs. 4-5). "If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it" (23:5), in its original form is one of the most curious and strangely worded commands in our Parasha. Let us try to decipher what the Hebrew says about what one ought to do to this animal lying under its burden: "cease from leaving it – leaving is azov – leaving it you shall leave it – azov ta'azov" (another one of those doubled verbs). How strange! The addressee, who was just charged with "cease from leaving it", is now told, "leaving you shall leave it"! How are we to understand this seeming contradiction? It seems that the Torah is more concerned with one's natural inclination, and thus "cease from leaving" refers to what one would have normally done upon seeing his enemy's animal in this condition. The second and double "leaving" or "letting go", again points to one's inner resistance to help out this animal, which belongs to a person who is known to be one's adversary. These strong commanding words, therefore, target the core of one's being and present an opportunity to be transformed at the heart level and do that which is right. Again, how commensurate is this with Yeshua's teaching (see Matt. 5:44)!


The next directive of "letting go" appears quite a bit easier to accomplish, as it is not as demanding (emotionally) as the previous one. "And you shall sow your land six years, and you shall gather its produce. And the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow" (23:10). After the seventh-year release of the slaves (referred to above), we encounter again a ‘seventh-year’ principle, this time regarding the land. "Let it rest and lie fallow" is designated by two verbs, “shamot” (sh.m.t. shin, mem, tet), and “natosh” ( noon, tet, shin); the first meaning to “let go", and the other to “forsake". This "letting go" and "forsaking" of the land and its husbandry is designed so that "the needy of your people shall eat. [Whatever] they leave behind, the animals of the field shall eat. So, you shall do to your vineyard, and to your olive grove" (v. 11). A similar theme is seen in the following verse, which speaks of seven days of labor, and of a seventh day in which "you shall rest, so that your ox and your ass may rest, and the son of your slave-girl and your alien may be refreshed". It is significant that the care of the poor, slaves and livestock is related to "resting" and "letting go", all of which point to trust, faith, and reliance on YHVH, while also having His heart of care and compassion toward the less fortunate. Similarly, we read in T’hilim (Psalms) 46:10 (literal translation): “Let go and know that I am Elohim”.


In verses 14-17 (still in 23) reference is made to the calendar, and its feasts, or rather, “pilgrimages” – “regalim”. The usage of "regel" (singular) which is "leg" lets us know that a pilgrimage is at hand, with this term also meaning a specified time or occasion (e.g. Num 22:28). This is indeed confirmed by v. 17:  "Three times in the year all your males shall appear before YHVH your Elohim". But whereas the month of Aviv, mentioned in verse 15, is to be the first of months (ref. Sh’mot 12:2), speaking of the “Feast of Ingathering”, in verse 16, as being at the “end of the year” appears to be problematic. Hence let us take a close look at the words used in verse 16. In Hebrew the “end of the year” is rendered “tzet ha’shana” – literally, the “going out of the year”. However, can the term “tzet” have a different meaning? In D’varim 14:22 there is mention of “the grain that the field produces year by year”. In Hebrew it says, "the produce of your seed that comes out – yotzeh - year by year”. Thus, the verb yotzeh – comes out – in its noun form - “tzet” - may be understood as the “produce” of a given year. Going back to our verse, 23, we may read, therefore: “The Feast of Ingathering at [the time of] the year’s produce…” Verse 18 deals with the blood and the fat of the sacrifices, and their proper handling. Some of the translations read: “nor shall the fat of My sacrifice remain until morning” for the second part of the verse (italics added). The Hebrew word used in this second reference to “sacrifice” is “chag, which literally means feast with the idea of circularity embedded in it (both in terms of the repetition or reoccurrence of the feast, and may also refer to the actual physical marching and/or procession connected with it. See Is. 40:22). Speaking of the Pesach sacrifice, it is interesting to note that YHVH emphasizes "My feast" (using the less common, "chag". Cf. Lev. 23:5).


In 23:19 (v. 18 in Hebrew) we encounter 10 words (5 in Hebrew) upon which rest most of the elaborate Jewish dietary laws: "You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk". It follows, "You shall bring the first of the fruit of your soil to the house of YHVH your Elohim". The word used for "boil" (“bashel” -, bet, shin, lamed) or "cook" also means "ripe" (e.g. Joel 3:13). Could this be a reminder, therefore, not to let the kid become too mature before offering it up to YHVH, especially if the context of the entire verse is taken into consideration, along with 22:30 (where mention is made of bringing to YHVH the firstlings of the sheep on the eighth day)?


According to the above examination of the term “mishpatim”, translated as “judgments”, it is not to be defined strictly by the letter of the law but more broadly as YHVH’s just arbitrations, which are to become standard and customary within the redeemed community of Yisrael (the italicized terms are all rendered “mishpat” or “mishpatim” in Hebrew). As a provision for making this lifestyle feasible, we read: “Behold, I send an Angel/Messenger before you, to keep you on the way and to bring you to a place which I have prepared” (Ex. 23:20 ff). Thus, protection is already provided, and the destination has also been prepared. “If you obey His voice and do as I say…” tells us that the Messenger’s voice and YHVH’s are synonymous. “And I will be an enemy to your enemies and I will be an adversary to your adversaries”. In the Hebrew “I will be an enemy”-  ve’a’ya’vti (le’oy’vecha”- “to your enemies”) appears here in verb form (to be found nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible), as it does too with “I will be an adversary” - “ve’tza’rarti (le’tza’re’cha” –  “to your adversaries”, v. 22). The usage of the verb form (and especially in the case where a verb is literally made up for the purpose of conveying this idea) underscores YHVH’s total identity with His People. It illustrates more vividly His active participation in their experiences. The presence of the Angel/Messenger, in whom abides YHVH’s name, in their midst adds to the closeness that YHVH is establishing with His people. More evidence of the direct presence of Elohim in issues pertaining to the everyday life of the people is the usage of the word Elohim (in Hebrew) in 21:6 (and in 22:7&8) when referring to the judges, who are to be His direct representatives. YHVH's sovereignty is also emphasized in 21:12-13, where it says about an unintentional killing that Elohim is the one who had delivered the unfortunate victim into the hand of the one who struck him.

 Leaving YHVH’s Messenger and the 'inclusion' of His presence in all aspects of the life of the Hebrews, we now continue on and climb new heights, but not before the act of sprinkling the atonement blood (24:6), in the course of which the “young men of Israel” offer up burnt offerings and peace offerings (v. 5), while the seventy elders, “went up… and saw the Elohim of Israel… and did eat and drink” (24:9,10,11). In this way the covenant is seen to encompass the people as a whole; from the young men at the foot of the mountain (the foundations); to the elders at the top and in close proximity to YHVH, with the sprinkling of the atonement blood being at the heart of the event and literally over the ‘body’ of the nation. The twelve pillars and the altar, in 24:4, provide a graphic and physical illustration, again, of the total inclusion of every member of the household of Yisrael. In addition, in Hebrew the word for “pillars” is actually conveyed here in singular form, thus adding a unifying factor to the all-inclusive nature of the covenant and oneness of the people. The scene climaxes with Moshe being called up to YHVH on the seventh day of this season, during which YHVH’s glory appeared on the Mountain: “And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of YHVH was like a consuming fire on the mountain top” (24:17).  


YHVH summoned Moshe to come up to the Mountain, where he was to stay for forty days, as he was about to give “the tablets of stone, and the Torah and the commandment which [YHVH] has written to teach them" (24:12). The word for "teach them" is “(le)horotam”, of the root h.r.h (hey, resh, hey), which is also the root for "parent" – horeh – indicating that YHVH is the ultimate Parent. "Horeh", parent, is further rooted in "har", mountain, being a reference to pregnancy and its protruding belly. Thus, in 21:22, the "woman with child" is "isha hara" – a pregnant woman. Interestingly, the mountain is a place that is identified with Elohim's teaching and presence, not only here but also being His dwelling place in Jerusalem, as well as Yeshua's sermon on the mount, transfiguration, crucifixion, and return. This particular verse makes a clear connection between Torah and "parental teaching", and beyond, even to pregnancy.  Here we see again, as we observed in the beginning that, "the Torah is anything but a strictly official and legal codex”. On his way up the mountain with his assistant Yehoshua, Moshe tells the elders: "Wait here for us until we come back to you" (24:14), echoing words spoken many years hence when Avraham went up the mountain with his son and charged his young men: "Stay here… the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you" (Gen. 22:6). These words create a direct linkage between Mount Moriah and Mount Sinai.



[1] New Studies in Shmot Part 2, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

[2] Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 2, ed. R. Laird Harris,    Moody  Press, Chicago, 1980.

[3] Ibid.

[4] New Studies

[5] Ibid.



Thursday, February 9, 2023

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Yitro Sh’mot (Exodus): 18 – 20


This week we arrive at the foot of Mount Sinai to participate in a glorious and “epiphanic” scene of colossal scope, but not before attending to some personal and administrative matters. The touching and even intimate episode of Moshe's meeting with his father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro), eventually evolves into a strategic plan proffered by the latter (18:13-26).  However, to begin with, Yitro’s purpose for coming to his son-in-law was for another reason altogether, as is evidenced in 18:2-6. Yitro did not come alone. He brought with him his daughter, Tzipora, and her two sons, “after he [Moses] had sent her back”. Apparently, before Moshe could embark on the great task ahead of him, he had to take care of the wellbeing of his own family, because a nation, a people, especially a unique one such as Yisrael, is dependent on the soundness of its components, the families (see 1st Timothy 3:2-5).  Rather than be rid of his family, in order to be able to devote himself wholly to his duties, Moshe had to do quite the opposite.  After attending to these family matters, Yisrael’s leader was free to receive some instructions from his father-in-law in order to improve his organizational skills prior to the revelation of YHVH and His Torah. (Compare this interaction with Yitro with Bamidbar – Numbers – 10:29-32, where Moshe makes a significant request from Chovav, the son of Re’u’el-Yitro.)*

Moshe tells Yitro that he has been busy “making known the statutes of Elohim and His laws” to the people (18:16). These "statues and laws" are "chukot and torot" (plural of "chok" and "torah"). This is not the first time that these legal terms are used before the official 'giving of the Torah'. Their usage, as seen here, as well as in B’resheet (Gen.) 26:5 and in Sh’mot (Ex.) 16:4, may help lend these terms a more comprehensive meaning. Thus, instead of being perceived strictly as a set of rules of 'do's' and 'don'ts,’ YHVH's instructions to His People may be viewed as just that… instructions for life, for an abundant life. "Chok" - "law" - is from the root ch.k.k (chet, kof, kof), meaning "to engrave or imprint" (and by implication "to decree, inscribe and enact"). With this understanding, the "law" may be viewed as an "imprint", rather than only an imposition from without. YHVH desires to impress upon the hearts of His people His way of life and His character (with the "renewed covenant" being the final seal of that objective. See Jer. 31:33). At the same time, the act of inscribing is mutual. It is not only YHVH who is embossing His imprint upon those who belong to Him, for He says: “I have inscribed you (“cha'ko'tich”, using the same root of ch.k.k) on the palms of My hands” (Isaiah 49:16 italics added). The root of Torah is y.r.h (yod, resh, hey) and means to “shoot”, as in “hitting the mark”.  Since “sin” – chet – means “missing the mark”, the “Torah” is to help us all become 'sharpshooters'.

While instructing Moshe, Yitro uses, in 18:20,21, two interesting verbs which are translated, respectively, “teach” (v. 20) and “select” (v. 21). However, “vehiz’harta” (the first of those, i.e., “teach”) originates from the root z.h.r. (zayin, hey, resh) which means “radiate” (for more examples on the usage of this word see Ps. 19:11; Dan. 12:13). Thus, Moshe is told to cast light upon, or illumine the “chukim” and “torot”. His teaching, therefore, must originate with the Source of Light – the “Elohim [who] is light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). But with that said, the root z.h.r also conceals a warning (see Ezekiel 3:1, where it is used as “warning”), especially toward those who have been privileged to have the light shining around them (see also Hebrews 10:26-32, notice in 32, the usage of "illumination" or "enlightenment").

While the light is thus being “cast”, Moshe cannot merely “choose” or “select” the men, as your translation would have it, but is told to, literally, “see far ahead" and "envision the unseen - te’che’zeh” (root ch.z.hey – chet, zayin, hey, e.g. Ps. 58:10, and in next week’s Parasah in Ex. 24:11, etc.), as the original text states. A seer is called “chozeh” (ref. 1st Sam. 9:9).

With some practice in Godly nationhood now accomplished, “the House of Jacob" and the "Sons of Israel” (ref. 19:3) appear to be in a slightly better position to hear directly from YHVH. Shlomo Ostrovski1 delineates these two, seemingly synonymous terms that are used here for the Nation, with the "House of Ya'acov" being the title for the “natural” entity with its “natural” free will, in contradistinction to the "spiritual entity" – that is the "Sons of Yisrael" – who are to volitionally will and make choices on the spiritual level. The next verse continues: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself” (19:4 italics added). This kind of imagery demonstrates the tenderness of a parent, as well as that of a husband, who, in Biblical terminology "brings" his bride to himself (e.g. Gen. 24:67). If we think of the episode of the Sinai Covenant as a betrothal, the above verb is very appropriate. According to Nehama Leibowitz, this verse (4) describes "the road from Egypt to Sinai [and] represents a momentous spiritual and physical transition".2 

The message Moshe is to convey to the People continues: “Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine” (19:5 notice the emphasis “if”). This "special treasure" is "s'gula", and means "personal property", as Psalm 135:4 affirms: “For YHVH has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure [s'gulato]” (italics added). (Notice the Psalm’s parallel usage of “Jacob” and “Israel”, just as in 19:3 above.) But ultimately being YHVH’s special treasure was going to benefit the entire body of humanity, as Yeshua’s parable in Matthew 13:44-46 illustrates. As in that narrative, an entire field was purchased to obtain the treasure buried therein.   

At this juncture, Yisrael is seemingly being fast transformed into a well-administered group of people, but above that “Israel is chosen to reflect God's holiness and live out his commandments, reflecting His standards in a life of wholehearted compliance with the terms of the covenant”.3 With this in mind, YHVH further defines His people: “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (19:6). Thus, Yisrael will be equipped and prepared for this (ultimate) ideal goal of reflecting Elohim’s image by becoming a holy covenant community of priests who are to minister to a royal Sovereign.  "Holiness", is a totally new concept for the fledgling Nation, hence the cleansing and separating measures that are imposed on them. If noted in list form, the people are to: "consecrate", by "washing clothes", "setting bounds”, “being careful not to go up to the mountain”, nor “touch its base" and "not to come near [their] wives" (19:10, 12, 15). Being an “am s'gula” they are not only YHVH's possession but, as mentioned, also a reflection of their Owner, marked by a distinction of status and nature. "Kadosh" - “holy” - primarily denotes separation and devotion to the service of YHVH. In the quick transition that they are making, the acts of “consecration” serve as an external illustration of what has hitherto been a completely strange notion. Likewise, the loftiness, holiness, and sublime stature of YHVH will be expressed in an outward fashion, as we shall soon see.

As part of YHVH's instructions, which precede His descent from the Mountain, He says to Moshe “When the shofar sounds long, they shall come near the mountain” (19:13b), and (literally), “when the yovel is drawn out…" (referring to a prolonged sound of the shofar, which is mentioned for the very first time in Scripture, 19:16,19). The current reference is to the type of sound, and not to the instrument producing that sound (in fact, nothing is being said right then about any instrument that would have produced the sound). The root of yovel (y.v.l - yod, bet/vet, lamed) means to “lead” (e.g., Jer. 31:9 – “And with supplications, I will lead them”), as it was undoubtedly the ram that typically supplied the horn for blowing, and was used to lead the ceremonial procession. Blowing the horn (shofar) also became the signal for the year of “Jubilee” - hence “yovel” for the 50th year. Therefore, the English word ‘Jubilee’ is a derivative of the Hebrew “yovel”. The usage of the “yovel” in this context may also allude to Yisrael’s “year of release” from their bondage, and into the “liberty of the sons of Elohim” (see Rom. 8:21).

 The greatest sound and light spectacle is about to unfold with the following ‘pyrotechnical effects’: Thundering and lightning, a thick cloud, loud sound of a shofar, smoke (which envelops the mountain), and fire. The smoke is like the smoke of a furnace; the mountain is found quaking greatly, with the long blast of the shofar - becoming louder and louder (ref. 19:16-19, cf. Revelation 8:1-9:3; 10:7).

The first part of chapter 20 (1-17) is devoted to the Decalogue, the ‘Ten Commandments', or literally the d'varim – “words”, of the root d.v.r (which we have previously discussed as being the root for “desert, plague, to drive, thing, flock, holy of holies” and more). It is YHVH’s voice, that utters these “d’varim” - “words”. (Incidentally, in the text itself the number ‘ten’ is not mentioned in connection with these declarations of YHVH.) The seventeen verses of these “d'varim” constitute for the Israelites the foundation, or basis, of their Covenant relationship with Elohim and with one another, in the process of becoming an “am sgula”.  Notice that even though at that time the Levitical priesthood had not yet come into being, mention is made of priests in 19:22. Some of the sages, as well as Rashi (the renowned Middle-Ages commentator), attribute this position to the firstborn, presumably because the latter belonged to YHVH (ref. Parashat Bo, Ex. 13:2). The existence of this early priesthood is a precursor pointing to a future reality (of a "nation of priests") yet to be fulfilled (even beyond the era of the ministry of the Levitical priesthood).

The first seven verses of Chapter 20 deal specifically with Yisrael's relationship with YHVH. The text opens up (v. 2) with "I am" – “anochi” (and not “ani”, which is a simpler form of "I am"), denoting YHVH's inextricable link to His People, their circumstances ("who brought you out of Egypt"), and destiny.  “You shall have no other gods over my face” (v. 3, literal translation, italics added), is next. The word "face" utilized in this way refers to direct defiance and spite, implying, according to the Mekhilta (2nd-century commentary on Exodus) and Rashi, that this prohibition is for all times, not just for that generation. "Face" ("panim") connotes Presence (e.g., Ex. 33:14-15 “My face shall go before you”). And as YHVH's Presence 'automatically' includes place or location, this singular prohibition applies to all places.4  YHVH's jealousy over His People (v. 5) may be likened to the response of a jealous husband, thus making the Covenant of Elohim with Yisrael much like that of a marriage contract,5 as mentioned above. In verse 7 a change of person takes place. From now to the end of the decalogue YHVH will be mentioned in 3rd person, whereas up to this point, He was the one speaking.  

Now come the declarations concerning the Shabbat. Although the Shabbat is an expression of the People's relationship with YHVH, its observance instructions ‘overflow’ into the community, and affects inter-personal associations. Shabbat stems from the root “to sit” - “shevet” (sh.v.t. shin, bet/vet, tav). Sitting implies rest and bringing activity to a halt, ceasing, such as YHVH did when “He ceased from all His work” of creation in B’resheet (Gen. 2:2 italics added). Whereas all other 'calendarian' divisions (such as days, months, and years) are dictated by natural phenomena, the seven-day week is purely a spiritual ‘divide’.

Since the first one to celebrate the Shabbat was Elohim Himself, after He had completed His work of Creation it follows that, by this universal declaration, He and He alone is the Creator! In Sh’mot (Exodus) 31:12-17 we are told that the Shabbat is an "eternal covenant" and a sign between YHVH and the sons of Yisrael. In D’varim (Deut.) 5:14-15 the reason for celebrating the Shabbat's rest, together with one's entire household, is in order to remember the slavery in Egypt, and the freedom realized upon being brought out of there "by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm". Here it is an acknowledgment of the miracle of ceasing to be a ‘slave’ (one who never rests), and of becoming free. Similarly, we are no longer “slaves to sin, but have been set free” from it (Rom. 6:6, 18). Hebrews 4:1-11 tells us that the Shabbat rest is the reward bestowed on the one who believes and obeys; Hence Shabbat also speaks powerfully of one's faith and obedience. The cessation of manual labor and financial worries is a proclamation of trust and faith in the Heavenly Father for all provisions - not only during Shabbat but also at all other times. We noted above that Shabbat is rooted in the verb "to sit". Yeshua, after having completed His task of offering the sacrifice for all times, “…sat down at the right hand of Elohim” (ref. Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 10:12 italics added). 

Following the Shabbat's injunctions is the command concerning honoring of parents; "honoring" is esteeming them “weighty” ("kabed", k.b/v.d, as we observed in last week’s Parasha), with its promise of long life "upon the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you" (v. 12). Thus, there is a gradual and progressive transition from the "heavenly" precepts to the Shabbat being a link between the heavenly bond and its earthly expression, through to injunctions concerning one's nuclear family which is to reflect the relationship with the Heavenly Father, all the way down to one's conduct within the community (vs. 13-16), and finally to the hidden motives of one’s heart (v. 17). Immediately after YHVH declares the above, we are told that “… all the people witnessed the thundering, the lightning flashes, the sound of the shofar, and the mountain smoking…” (20:18). As to the “witnessing”, the Hebrew says “ro’eem”, that is, present tense “seeing” – “and all people – “am” – is seeing the voices, and the lightning flashes and the sound of the shofar…” (italics added).

The present tense, as well as the “seeing of the voices”, transports us from a naturally perceived scene to one that is beyond the natural faculties and senses. Almost as if the dramatic spectacle was outside the realm of Time, and beyond simple and direct visibility.  More than once mention is made of the fact that YHVH was in the “cloud”, or “smoke” (19:9-10, 16, 18; 20:18). But in 20:21 we encounter a reference to a new term - “arafel” – translated, “thick darkness”, or “gloom”. The root of “arafel” is the verb “arof” (ayin, resh, pey/fey), meaning “to drip”, hence employing a figure of speech related to precipitation, such as the cloud. This is a description of the “veiled glory” of YHVH, so many times made deliberately vague in order to protect His people from His awesome presence that cannot dwell alongside sin. Thus, everyday life situations which may appear dark, uncertain, bleak, or foggy are not always to be perceived as negative. Rather, they may point to the “arafel”, that is “the thick darkness where Elohim is”. In order to allay the people's fear of YHVH's presence, Moshe says: "Do not fear, for Elohim has come to test you…" (v. 20). "Test you" is "le'nasotcha", which contains "ness", meaning "miracle" or "banner". One of the commentaries offers the idea that YHVH is 'lifting up His people as a banner'. 

YHVH continues to elaborate on His instructions, speaking through Moshe (20:22-26). In contradiction to the prohibition against the making of images and glorifying precious metals (v. 23), comes the statement: “An altar of earth you shall make for Me” (v. 24). “Altar” is “miz'be'ach”, of the root (zayin, bet/vet, chet) - "to sacrifice". The altar is to be made of earth - adama - the substance that makes up man’s material being and after which he is named (Adam). If the “miz'be'ach” should be made of stones, they are not to be embellished by any of man's efforts, or by tools and implements that are made by his hand (v. 25), lest the altar is desecrated. “Profane or desecrate is "chalel" (ch.l.l., chet, lamed, lamed), meaning also "pierced through" or "hollow", and hence, "flute" and "slain". In Yishayahu (Isaiah) 53:5 we read, “He was pierced through – mecholal (of the same root) - for our transgressions”. However, as we have just seen, “mecholal” does not only mean “hollow” (and hence “pierced through”), it is also “desecrated”, as indeed Yeshua was, having borne our Sin. Last to be mentioned is the prohibition concerning steps leading up to the altar, so that one's nakedness would not be exposed. “Nakedness” here (v. 26) is "erva" (a.r.h, ayin, resh, hey), "to lay bear, uncover", and "shame". It can also mean "to pour out" or "to empty one's self", such as Yeshua did when He poured out (heh'e'ra) His soul unto death” (Is. 53: 12), so that our ‘nakedness’ would be covered, and our shame removed.


 * Was Moshe adhering to Yitro’s advice because he felt he was unable to “bear” the “burden” of the people, Dvarim (Deut.) 1:12, although YHVH says in Shmot (Exodus) 19:4 (this Parasha) that He is “bearing” Yisrael on “eagles wings”? Is this why according to Moshe’s own admittance in Dvarim 1:37, “YHVH was also angry with me… saying, ‘you shall not go in there’ [the land]”? Or, just as Moshe's family had to be put in order before the enormous revelation of the Great Father, was it incumbent on His family to also be in some sort of order?

1 Moses on the Witness Stand, Shlomo Ostrovski, Keren Ahava Meshichit,  Jerusalem, 1976, 1999.


2 New Studies in Shmot Part 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y. 


3 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 2, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago,  1980.


4 New Studies in Shmot, Part 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y. 


5 The Chumash Shmot With The Commentary Daat Mikrah, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 1991.