The curious character of Yitro shows up again in this Parsha. The last time we saw him was when he gave Moses leave to go back to Egypt to rescue Israel. Prior to that Moses has his revelation on Mount Sinai. Now just before Moses is about to go up the mountain again Yitro appears. Yitro is a priest (Kohain) of Midian. This mountain is also sacred to his people. Moses is pleased to see him and it appears even more so than he is to see his wife and two sons. Yitro acknowledges Hashem and builds an altar to Hashem to worship there. Yitro watches Moses judging the people and suggests something that at first seems very sensible but will later prove to keep Israel ultimately away from the very thing they are seeking, unity with Hashem. Yitro suggests organizing the people in a hierarchy or judges in order to save Moses from tiring himself. It is unfortunate and yet perhaps fated that Yitro appears when he does because it gives us a further insight into the problems that Israel has still faces today. This whole series of events has to be taken into account with everything that has taken place before. Remember Israel and Moses have defeated Amalek. Their faith in Moses and Hashem is at an all time high. Amalek or doubt has been overcome. It is perhaps their greatest victory. Then along comes Yitro to place intermediaries between the people and Moses, between the people and Hashem.
Ex: 18: 15 And Moses said unto his father-in-law: 'Because the people come unto me to inquire of God; 16 when they have a matter, it cometh unto me; and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and I make them know the statutes of God, and His laws.'
Think about this. No one knows better the connection between man and Hashem than Moses. It is in fact this very connection that has brought Israel this far to date. The priest of Midian in an astounding turn around for this people who worship Hashem in the open sets up in one fell swoop the entire basis for the priesthood. This is ironic because:
Ex 19: 6 and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.'
This is to be a kingdom of priests meaning each person would have their own connection to Hashem without the need for anyone interceding for them. Yitro has changed the dynamic on this.
Hashem is the recognition of the “I am” connection within. This is the revelation that has brought Moses so far along the path of an awakening consciousness. It is this “I am” voice within that Moses has learned to trust. Torah is showing us a very important lesson here that is repeated throughout our daily lives. We must learn to trust Hashem or the “I am” voice within in everything that we do and every direction that we take. So many times we disregard this “I am” voice to follow the dictates of what someone else might be telling us claiming that we do something for our own good. The examples are as numerous as the stars in the many ways this “I am” voice may be subverted in the guise of the mass mind consciousness. The lesson of leaving Egypt was that Israel could leave this mass mind consciousness that kept them in bondage to the lowest instead of the highest common denominator. As Exodus 20:2 states:
“I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”
This is the highest common denominator and is something that is taught over and over again throughout Torah. This “I am” voice that is Hashem must be hearkened to. It cannot be diluted by the mediation of the priests. For the first time we see the appearance of the priests and the distinction between priests and the people. It is Yitro who teaches Moses about the need for having intermediaries between the people and Hashem. Still even with this dilution of connection the message of Hashem is clear in his commandments.
Ex 20:3 Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;
The commandment concerning idol worship is telling us that we cannot look for external sources for our connection. It is always the “I am” that is Hashem that is our dwelling place. It is where we start every journey and the way in which we arrive at our destination safely.
Ex: 20:6 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
Where is my heart’s desire and where is the place of my connection to Hashem? Would I listen to and hearken to something that only brings me ill? Do I hold up something in my mind that isn’t holy and if I do so am I ready for the consequences. The law of cause and effect cannot be ignored not by Israel not by myself.
Ex 20: 7 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy
Contemplation is path to connection. Shabbos applies not only to the day of rest but also open spaces within your mind where you may experience the “I am” connection.
Ex 20:11 Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
This refers to Chokmah and Binah and to the law of cause and effect resulting from our thoughts in the moment and throughout our lifetimes. Everything comes from our connection to Hashem and our recognition that “I am” is both our guide and the naming force in the garden of our awareness both internal and external.
Ex: 20:12 Thou shalt not murder. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
In terms of following our inner dialogue murder refers to our exercising undue influence over another so that they can no longer listen to Hashem. Adultery is similar in that we cannot appropriate another’s thoughts as our own. The same principle applies in terms of stealing and lastly we cannot substitute illusion for truth in the case of lying to promote our temporary gains.
Ex: 2013 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.
Each of us has the responsibility to think for ourselves and yes see the results of our contemplations appear in the world. If we are unsuccessful with these contemplations then it is up to us to change our mind. No one can do this for us. We should be rejoicing at someone else’s success because it is proof that our own success is on its way.
We must recognize that this was a primitive people and that Moses revelation was all the more astounding because of this. It is only to be expected that there would be very few amongst Israel who could even come close to this understanding. Because of this the sacrifices are maintained here by divine edict due to the need for this people to emulate somewhat the practices of those around them. The spilling of blood and the taking of innocent animal lives in order to satisfy Hashem is in my opinion an imperfect connection and certainly does not reach to the highest understanding we may attain. Death does not bring life or an expiation of sin. As we say in the high holy days, only repentance, prayer and forgiveness avert the divine decree. The only sacrifice we must ever make is the sacrifice of our egos and the thought that we are somehow separate from Hashem.
Hashem speaks to Moses and it is up to him to interpret what he hears to those who await the words of Hashem. The people are already placed distant to Hashem by their own preference since they are now convinced that coming too close will destroy them. What Torah then represents to us is cautionary tale. The “I am” connection must always be promoted within. In order to keep this connection and to follow the ways of Hashem I have to resist not only the promptings of my own ego but I must also be mindful that no one holds dominion over me in terms of my thoughts. Only Hashem is there to consider those thoughts that come from the Divine Presence. It remains my choice to follow these thoughts and to cling to them when being led astray by the temptations of the ego mind that seeks chaos.
I must always judge my thoughts by their fruits. The same applies to my actions. At all times I am either moving in the direction of my freedom or towards Hashem or away from my freedom and away from Hashem. The single most significant determination of both my direction and state of mind is simple. What are the thoughts that I am thinking?
As soon as I begin to question my inner dialogue I begin to come closer to indwelling “I am that I am.” It is this very search within that define the spiritual dialogue I am able to discover within through inspiration and without through interpretation of Torah. If I look at Torah as the struggle for man to recognize the divine within I can then see it filled with themes of inner conflict.
First there is the conflict that arises due to the serpent’s voice and Hashem’s voice. When Hashem inquires after Adam in the garden this is the Divine seeking expression in this world of Adam.
Second there comes Abel and Cain with a similar theme listening within as opposed to listening without. The consequences are clear here as well in terms of the inner voice although in this case the inner voice (Abel) is sacrificed for the man of flesh (Cain). It is this inner voice that Torah keeps teaching us about. There is Noah who listens and is saved. Then Abraham listens and is tested through the sacrifice of Isaac as the inner voice or Hashem, “I am that I am” opens up a door to save Isaac. The flesh of the ram is substituted because the time isn’t right for this fuller understanding to appear that Hashem is all that is and there is nothing else.
Isaac we know meditated upon Hashem. He listened. Isaac is the centerpiece of Hashem. Since it was he who would have been sacrificed it is he who survived to continue the conversation of holiness within.
Third there is the struggle of Jacob and Esau. Once again it is the inner voice versus the voice of flesh or the outer world of demonstration.
Next Joseph is placed in the pit by his brothers symbolized the flesh trying to mask or hide the inner voice. Joseph then through his dreams ascends to the level of prophecy.
Moses receives the signature revelation of “I am that I am” as Hashem is revealed for all time. Through Hashem or the interpenetration of the inner voice all of the miracles are accomplished. Still the struggle continues as Israel keeps turning away from Hashem and Moses is tiring of trying to explain this concept to them. Finally here in this Parsha Yitro succeeds in convincing Moses that he now has to place restrictions and boundaries between Hashem and Israel. The revelation freed after Egypt once again becomes bound and must continue its struggle to reach all men inside of their own psyches. The Ten Utterances continue to express the Inner Voice that is Hashem even through the boundaries that have been self-imposed via Yitro’s counsel.
The struggle continues in the succeeding Parsha’s as the Inner Voice is cloaked then in laws and procedures that mask the revelation for Israel. The stories that follow will show how the revelation will continue to shine through Torah as it was meant to do. What strikes me most now is how Torah is able to show through this revelation and how much more light comes through because of the contrast between these conflicts and the revelation that appears in each weeks portion.