It is curious that the Sedra is the name of Jethro, a Midianite priest. Up to now Moses has been a leader and a Judge. He has to learn to delegate the day to day settling of disputes and take up the far more challenging role of reminding the people about the Covenant with God into which they had entered.
In 1987 President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation and spoke of:
The historical tradition of ethical values and principles, which have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws.
This week we are introduced to the Aseret Dibrot, the ten statements. The text neither described them as commandments nor as laws. They were the new bedrock upon which we were to become a special nation.
There was a time when there were not three paragraphs in the Shema, but four. It included what became known as the Ten Commandments. The Jewish community in Fostat, near Cairo, kept a special scroll in the ark called the Sefer al-Shir, which they took out after the conclusion of daily prayers and read from it the Ten Commandments.
Thirty-three centuries after they were first given, the Ten Commandments remain the simplest, shortest guide to creation and maintenance of a good society. Many alternatives have been tried, and most have ended in tears. When all else fails, read the instructions!
The question is sometimes asked:
Why do we continue re- read the Torah week after week and year after year? The words remain the same but week after week and year after year it is we who change.
What we received at Sinai was a Covenant between God and all the people. It was simply stated. It was in words that are easy to remember and recall. It was a moment of awe and amazement. We responded at that time by saying:
We will do everything the Lord has said.
Despite the fact that we change, as years go by, we still remember that partnership. At momentous times, we still recite words to thank God:
Who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this day
shehecheyanu vekiyemanu vehigiyanu lazeman hazeh