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Parshat Yitro - Shemot (Exodus) 18:1 - 20:23

The Foundation for Government

If there were any doubt as to why this parsha is titled “Yitro” (Jethro) the reading of Chapter 18 should lay that inquiry to rest. Jethro is listed as Moshe’s father-in-law an impressive thirteen times in just twenty-seven verses. This kind of repetition in the word of HaShem is only done when matters of great importance are being conveyed by Adonai.

The matter HaShem is relaying is how useful Jethro was in aiding Moshe with wise counsel in establishing the infancy of the formation and foundational requirements for the government of a loose tribes of people who are on the verge of becoming a Nation of Peoples called Israel; bound by a set of laws, statutes and commandments soon to be given by the Creator to this new nation that bears that Creator’s Name upon their persons as individuals and as a nation.

Jethro guides Moshe concerning the division of labor for this new government: Moshe would be the one to appear before HaShem to represent the entire nation, while men would be chosen to hear and settle requests, disputes and give lawful answers to minor questions and the mundane day to day interactions between the peoples. Moshe would hear all the major disputations.

The character requirements for these chosen leaders (Chieftains) of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens are exactly what is needed for a smooth running and functioning government. All who are put in authority over others are to be:

[1] Capable — able to perform the tasks of government service assigned to them - accomplished to the point of sufficiency, beyond reproach and unable to be bribed or influenced by any special interest other than that of serving HaShem and His people honestly and with integrity.

[2] Fear of Adonai — one who is fully aware that they are, first and foremost, subject to HaShem’s Divine authority for all their actions and decisions on behalf of His people and are held strictly accountable to Him.

[3] Trustworthy — They were to be uninterested in using their position of authority for personal gain of any type and would not be influenced by flattery or the spotlight of celebrity and power.

[4] Loather of ill-gotten gain — Totally unimpressed or moved to make decisions or rulings based on any economical gains such rulings will impart to them, members of their family or friends.

The workings of this system begins with the Chieftains of the ten hearing the case first. If it is beyond their capability to render a ruling it gets moved up to the Chieftain of the fifty, then the Chieftain of the 100 on up to the Chieftain of the 1000. At this point if it was beyond all their ability to rule or come to a verdict properly it was deemed a major dispute (case) and got the attention of Moshe who would bring it before Adonai for a final and fixed determination.

Seeing this national judicial governmental system implemented Jethro bids his son-in-law, his daughter Zipporah (Moshe’s wife) and his two grandsons farewell and returns to Midian to assume his duties as a priest and leader of his own people.

This governmental groundwork was done first in order for the people to be primed and ready to receive the very Laws of Adonai that would be used by Moshe and the Chieftains to govern and make decisions for the nation then and for all time (when Mashiach comes).

It has now been exactly three months (1 Sivan) since the children of Israel have left Egypt. They are encamped in the Sinai at the foot of the very mountain Moshe had his first encounter with the burning bush where he received his call to deliver Adonai’s people up out of the hand of Pharaoh and Egypt.

A lot has transpired in those three months to prepare the minds and souls of the people to make them ready to accept from the very mouth of HaShem the Law that would govern them and us, their descendants, forever.

They prepare by cleansing and sanctifying their bodies, minds and souls. They humbled themselves at the foot of the mountain in fear of HaShem. In that moment in history they become a truly unified people with one goal - one purpose - to become on that day a kingdom of priests and a holy nation unto Adonai the Creator of all that is. Their unity and determination to fulfill the desire of Adonai for them was summed up in one unanimous declaration by them all that resounded throughout all eternity and shook the very foundations of creation —

”All the people answered as one saying, ‘All that Adonai has spoken we will do!’” Exodus 19:8

The universe from that day on and forever would never be the same again.

What was it that Adonai has spoken? We have come to know them as the Ten Commandments. They became the bedrock for all Israel and has governed our lives and the lives of all creation since.

From the mouth of Adonai Himself:

[1] I Adonai am your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods besides Me.

[2] You shall not make yourself a sculptured image or any likeness of what is in the universe above or the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, Adonai Eloheynu am an impassioned G-d, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

[3] You shall not swear falsely by the Name of Adonai Eloheynu; for Adonai will not clear one who swears falsely by His Name.

[4] Remember the Shabbat and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat of Adonai Eloheynu: you shall not do any work — you, your sons or daughters, your male or female slave, or your cattle or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days Adonai made the universe and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day and sanctified it.

[5] Honor your father and mother that you may long endure on the land that Adonai Eloheynu is assigning to you.

[6] You shall not murder.

[7] You shall not commit adultery.

[8] You shall not steal.

[9] You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

[10] You shall not covet your neighbor’s house: you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female slave, or his ox or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbors.

These are the cornerstone of the Law of G-d. Over the next forty years, as the nation grows and matures in its wanderings a total of 603 more laws, statues and commandments will be revealed by HaShem to His people through Moshe, His servant and prophet.

These were the rules that He set before them.

Until next week’s parsha — Shabbat Shalom.

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