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Yitro – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

This week we read the Sedra Yitro, the longest in the Book of Exodus. It can be looked upon as the most significant Parasha of the whole of the Torah. We are introduced to the Ten Commandments, or, more accurately, the Aseret Dibrot, the ten statements, which stand at the very core of Judaism.

In the same way that we read in the Haggadah at Pesach, that we all stood together at the exodus from Egypt, we all stood together at Sinai. This time we are being called upon to be

וְאַתֶּ֧ם תִּֽהְיוּ־לִ֛י מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּֽהֲנִ֖ים וְג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ
.A kingdom of priests and a holy nation

prefaced by a condition

If you obey Me and keep My covenant

This coming together, of men, women and children, would be repeated in the Hakhel ceremony which took place every seven years and when the entire Torah would be read.

How can we understand being a kingdom of priests?

The Cohanim and the Leviim had a special place in the times of the sanctuary and the Temple. We recall this in our services to this day.

Rashi understood priesthood to indicate princes or leaders. Ibn Ezra understood the concept as being servants. In the present-day Rabbis understand that they are teachers, the interpreters of the Torah which we were about to receive. We are the inheritors of that Torah and perhaps being holy is for us to cherish and understand.

How do we do this?

At the beginning of the Sedra it is Yitro, a Midianite priest who comes to advise Moses. (We will meet him again much later in Devarim). He gives practical advice to Moses, that is to say wisdom in dealing with day-to-day affairs. Wisdom, incorporating logic and intellect, is universal.

What we were about to receive would go beyond that. It was to be not just a series of laws and commandments but spiritual and moral guidance. By holding on to that and surviving over the centuries against all odds it may be that we actually became.

A kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
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