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Dvar Torah - Yitro

The giving of the Torah was a momentous occasion. It was an event that affected the history of the world tremendously, marking a point of transition that fundamentally realigned society's priorities. The Torah forms the foundation of much of the ethical teachings of the Western world, and its extremely high emphasis on the value of human life has become the animating cause of human rights rhetoric in the world today.


As such, it is strange that the event receives relatively little airtime in the Torah and Tanach. The story is told twice (once this week and next and once in Parashat Vaetchanan) and then alluded to in passing a few times. In contrast, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is a central motif of Jewish text and historical experience, even earning a festival devoted solely to reliving it. Why do we hear so much about one and relatively little about the other?


The answer lies in what was important about the two events. The Exodus was a rich and engaging experience of going free. The entire point was to have that experience and then remember it (as the Torah explicitly states at the end of Parashat Bo). The revelation on Mt Sinai was very different. The point of the event was not so that we would report the wonders and the sights of that day in perpetuity. Its goal was that a text would be given to humanity to guide us in our ethical, moral, and theological endeavours from that point on. The point of giving the Torah was not that we would remember receiving it but that we should study the text. The text is primary in this story. 


Since that extraordinary day, we have been the people of the book. We are a people defined uniquely by our relationship with a specific set of words. We have defined ourselves by how we interact with that text, understand it, fight over it, and incorporate it into our identities. The Torah's text is the secret to the long existence of our people in such adverse circumstances, and it is how we continue to define ourselves to this day. 


However, the Torah's magic doesn't work on its own. It only preserves us and keeps our identity strong when we engage with it. As the calendar year starts, let us all make time to engage with and learn the Torah so that it continues to stand firm for the Jewish people for many generations to come. 




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