Parshat Yitro


Shemot 18:13-19

Next day, Moses sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening. But when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” Moses replied to his father-in-law, “It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the laws and teachings of God.” But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you!

Bamidbar 11:29

Would that all of God’s people were prophets.

Steinsaltz argues that Moses, having grown up in the Pharaoh’s household, was not ignorant of hierarchical management and delegation. Yitro was not teaching him something he did not already know. Rather, Moses fundamentally saw all Jews as equals in relationship to God, and tried to flatten any religious hierarchy. This turned out not to be practical. However, the important issue was the principle of equality in relationship to God.

Shemot 20:15

All the people witnessed the thunder [alternate: sounds, voices] and lightning …


SAW THE SOUNDS: they saw that which should be heard — something which is impossible to see on any other occasion

Mekhita d’Rabbi Yishmael 20:15

“And all the people saw”: the sound of sounds and the flame of flames. How many sounds were there and how many flames were there? The intent is that each heard according to his power (to absorb what he experience)

Tanna DeVei Eliyahu, Seder Eliyahu Rabba 10 (Steinsaltz citation)

I call upon heaven and earth to witness that whether it be a man or a woman, a servant or a maidservant, the holy spirit will come to rest on each of them according to his or her deeds.

Rabbi Yehudah Leib

Each one of Israel saw the root of his or her own life-force. With their very eyes each one saw the part of the divine soul above that lives within. They had no need to “believe” the commandments, because they saw the voices. That’s the way it is when God speaks.