Guidelines for Holiness

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This week the synagogues around the world will be reading about the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. This is one of the most important events in the history of Israel but also in the history of the world. There is no code of laws that has influenced the whole world as much as the Bible, and in the Bible the Law that God gave to Israel through the hands of Moses on that solemn occasion at the foot of a mountain in the Sinai Desert is one of the most significant events of God’s intervention in the affairs of men!

The name of this Torah portion is Yitro (Jethro). This is not by chance that the name of this holiest of holies texts that speaks of God coming down on top of Mount Sinai and spending there 40 days and night alone with Moses, and giving the Torah to the children of Israel is a pivotal point in human history. The influence of that event that took place sometime around 1300 – 1200 B.C. is still powerfully changing people’s lives and even international affairs of human existence.

The first scene that this Torah portion opens with is that of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, a Midianite Priest, a pagan, a Gentile, who is watching Moses and evaluating how Moses is working with the people. Jethro sees that Moses will not be able to carry on with the amount of work that he has. The number of the Israelites is great, 600,000 men between the age of 20 to 50.

Jethro is a leader among his people. He knows some of the modern rules of executive leadership that today would be considered as fundamental, but Moses didn’t know them. Jethro tells Moses, the great leader, the following:

“So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?’ And Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.’ So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.’ So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said.” – Exodus 18:14-24 [NKJV]

This principle of healthy management in the corporate culture of today was already well known and exemplified in the Torah by a non-Israelite pagan priest. Right here at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Holy Spirit saw fit to tell us that there are non-Israelites, non-Jews from whom even Moses learned a thing or two about proper leadership and management, it is written of Moses, that he was a friend of God:

“So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” – Exodus 33:11a [NKJV]

The place of this narrative in the Torah, is just before Moses asks the people to sanctify themselves and a get ready to receive the Torah from God, when a Gentile priest, Jethro, is teaching Moses the ABCs of the management of people. I just love it because it shows that God is truly no respecter of people. There is the statement in the Mishnah, Avot, that I love because it is so important for us to remember it:

“Ben Zoma says, ‘Who is a sage? He who learns from everybody, as it is said, from all my teachers I have gotten understanding.’ (Ps. 119:99)” – Pirkei Avot 4:1

Moses listens to his father-in-law Jethro, and emulates the wisdom that Jethro shared with him. This is just one example of why God says about Moses that he was humble. There are other examples but not from our Torah portion of this Shabbat. For example:

“Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.” – Numbers 12:3 [NKJV]

The next important lesson that we must learn from this Torah portion is that it is a great danger to think that you can have an encounter with, or fellowship with the almighty God, the creator of the world, casually. Here is what the word of God says on this issue:

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live. When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain.’ So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes. And he said to the people, ‘Be ready for the third day; do not come near your wives.’ Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.” – Exodus 19:10-16 [NKJV]

I think that it is wise to re-teach the disciples of Yeshua in Israel that worshiping God is a holy event every time, and that we need to learn from this section of the Torah that the casual attitude and very casual dress code that is prevalent among us, especially the younger generation but not only the young needs to be reconsidered, and that if we want to have an encounter with God or with the Holy Spirit for real, we need to learn the following basic etiquette:

  1. Get ready for such an encounter with God. Take time to consecrate yourselves. To consecrate means to prepare in both our dedication and our spiritual preparation. If you would go meet the president of Israel or the president of a major corporation in Israel you would dress appropriately and not come in flip-flops (kafkafim) and shorts and without a shirt. You dress this way to go to the beach in Tel-Aviv, but you don’t dress this way to come and worship God. Dressing casual is okay, but there’s a limit.
  2. You come with clean clothes. Rashi, the great 12th Century commentator of the whole Hebrew bible and of the whole Mishnah and Talmud, said that the phrase; “let them wash their clothes!” Means to be “baptized” immersed for spiritual reasons.
  3. Keep a distance, put a limit, a border, between what is mundane and common and daily affairs, and the holy space – the mountain of the Lord.

We live in a world where “time” and “space” have been almost eliminated in the business culture. People have smart phones and computers and they can work from anywhere and dress any way they want, and they can work at any time from their homes or from the train that they take on their way to work, or from the airplane that they fly on for business appointments!

From this portion of the Torah we learn that God wants us to place limits of space and place and also a limit on time – there is a beginning and an end to the processes in which we participate.

The last thing that I would like to comment about is the greatness of God’s Ten-Statements, commandments that He gave to Moses written on stones with His own finger. There were codes of law even more than a 1000 years before Abraham.

We know of the code of Hammurabi and the Ur-Nammu code of laws. If we compare the 10 commandments that God gave Moses for Israel with these much more ancient codes of law, we see the superiority and the much more equitable social laws and the superiority of human rights in what God gave Israel. Yes, it is true that there are many similarities but also many differences in what God gave us from Mount Sinai, but the two important points are:

  1. The 10 commandments are so much shorter than any of the codes of law that the pagans had.
  2. The element of social equality and the sensitivity and the consequence of our human action and especially of our sins are so much more superior than those of these ancient laws.

We must protect the place of God’s 10 “words” – commandments, with great passion. If we don’t first protect the place of these commandments in our nations and communities, for sure paganism will take over our lives, and the lives of our future generations.

I am sorry to say that some of the latest developments in our Western culture are a blatant breaking of God’s commandments. I am not going to share with you a list of the latest trends that are against God’s commandments. However, I will say that breaking the commandments of God, especially these 10 commandments, will always bring a divine reaction and retribution for the evil that is sure to come.

The commandments that are most abused and broken are some of the building blocks of a healthy and blessed society, like “honor your father and your mother.” Also the command, “you shall not murder,” are so clearly not honored by some societies, even right here in the land of Israel.

These 10 commandments that God gave Israel on Mount Sinai are the recommendations of Yeshua to the young lawyer who wanted to know what he ought to do to inherit eternal life. I say recommendations, but in reality Yeshua commanded them as essential for the inheritance of eternal life.

From the letter of Jacob (James), we learn the following principle:

“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” – James 2:10-17 [NKJV]

Yes, of course we are saved by God’s grace, and that is true for all humans that are saved in the future or in the past. It is always by Grace! But, for a person who does not do his best to keep God’s commandments, even if he failed in keeping God’s commandments, God’s grace is the only way for anyone to have the privilege of spending eternity in God’s presence.

One more important note: The events in the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) as it is recorded in Acts of the Apostles chapter 2 are actually a repetition of what happened on Shavuot (Pentecost) at Mount Sinai. Yes, if you do your math right you will see that the children of Israel received the Torah at Mount Sinai on the 50th day after they left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea on dry land!

Exodus 20:18-20 is repeated and re-enacted on that day in Jerusalem when Peter and the Apostles were gathered in an upper room on Mount Zion. This is to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah:

“Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 2:3 [NKJV]

Exodus 20:18, Describes specifically what happened at the foot of Mount Sinai when God spoke the Ten-Commandments and Acts chapter 2 describes exactly what happened on Mount Zion on that same day of Pentecost.

Here is the text of Exodus:

“Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.” – Exodus 20:18 [NKJV]

Here is what happened at Mount Sinai: The people are hearing the sounds, and seeing the torches of fire, and hearing the sound of the trumpet, the mountain smoked and the people trembled (were shaking) and they went to stand far off.

Here is the text from the book of Acts 2:2,3:

“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.” – Acts 2:2,3 [NKJV]

Acts chapter two and the events of that Feast of Pentecost (Shavuot) were a fulfillment of God’s promises to Isaiah the prophet, chapter 2 – the Torah came from Mount Zion and the Word of the Lord came from Jerusalem. That day of Pentecost was a fulfillment of Mount Sinai and a second giving of the Torah in Jerusalem, this time for all the nations of the world to know and respect, both the Torah and Jerusalem.

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.