New Phone, Who Dis?: Yitro 2022

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: When you speak to someone over the phone, do you like to know from where that person is calling? Are there times when that person’s location is none of your business? Or do you always have the right to know?

When God begins the recitation of the Ten Commandments, it represents God and Israel at their closest … but it’s unclear how close they actually are:

The Pitch: “God spoke all these words, saying …” – Exodus 20:1

Swing #1: “Every Jew was present at Sinai and, according to the mystics, that includes even the unborn souls of future generations. So there was no need for Moses to pass on anything to anyone. All the Jews heard the Ten Commandments directly from God, so why [add] the word [‘saying’]? Rabbi Dov Ber, the great Maggid of Mezeritch, explained that here the word means ‘to speak to you.’ That these words should not remain mere words but that they should resonate and say something meaningful to you personally. … The Ten Commandments must be relevant enough to make a difference in our lives; otherwise, whom did God say them to and whatever for?” – Rabbi Yossy Goldman, From Where I Stand: Life Messages From the Weekly Torah Reading

Swing #2: “In contrast to the Decalogue, wish is introduced as the ‘words’ that Yahweh spoke, the Book of the Covenant [Exodus 21-24] is introduced as the ‘judgments/decisions’ (mishpatim) that Moses is instructed by God to set before the people.” – John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible

Swing #3: “There is no mention whatsoever of God’s speaking ‘face to face’ with either Moses or the people. Compared with the Exodus account [of the Ten Commandments], the author of Deuteronomy has added the expression ‘panim el panim’. This may be due to the author’s desire to convey the fact that the people heard the Decalogue directly, but it is noteworthy that in attempting to convey that fact, the author of Deuteronomy uses a term that could easily lead to the conclusion that Yahweh was actually present.” – Peter T. Vogt, Deuteronomic Theology and the Significance of Torah: A Reappraisal

Late-Inning Questions: Do you believe that God’s encounter with the Israelites happened “face to face”? Should it matter whether you do? If God ever spoke to you, how would you know it?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: I hope you’ll join me starting next month for my five-session class entitled “Purim and Empowerment.” The story of Purim depends on two individuals, Esther and Mordechai, to act when all seems lost. How can their example inspire social change today? This class will take place on Zoom Wednesdays, February 2nd, 9th & 16th and March 2nd and 9th from 6:30-7:30 p.m., and you can register for it here.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of being in close proximity, I find it curious that during this past season, NFL coaches who contracted COVID-19 were not only barred from the stadium on gameday, but also not allowed to provide any instruction from afar. I don’t see why they couldn’t have done the latter, and I wonder whether that practice might make it easier for baseball teams to profit from their managers’ instruction should a similar thing happen this coming season.

Shabbat Shalom!