Parashat Yitro (“Jethro “)

Yitro Jethro [Genesis 18:1 to Genesis 20: 23] is the reading for this week.

After Moses fled from Egypt and before he was called to lead Israel, he fled to Midian where he met Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro the priest of Midian, and married her. Before going back to Egypt Moses had sent his wife and sons back to Midian.

After leading the people out of Egypt, Moses arrives in the wilderness again and meets up with his father-in-law and is reunited with his wife and sons. Moses spends much time recounting to his father-in-law the wonderful ways in which God had delivered Israel. Jethro is delighted for his son-in-law.

One day Moses gets up and a long line of Israelites are waiting to see him. He sits there from morning till evening, resolving all their problems. Jethro asks what he is doing, and he explains that for each issue the Israelites bring to him he inquires of the LORD and gives them an answer. Jethro teaches Moses the art of delegation, essential for the head of any large organisation, explaining that he will wear himself out if he tries to handle every issue alone. Jethro advises Moses to appoint people underneath him to deal with the smaller matters so that only the bigger problems need be brought to Moses himself.

Moses gathers the elders, and all the people of Israel. God tells the people through Moses that if they obey his words, they will be a special people to him. They all answer that they will do everything exactly as the Lord had said.

On the first day of the third month after the people had come out of Egypt, two months to the day, the people came to the desert around Mount Sinai. Moses ordered the people to wash and consecrate themselves and to stay away from the foot of the mountain until they heard the sound of the shofar (ram’s horn) .

Moses meets God halfway between heaven and earth. Moses goes up to the top of Sinai and God comes down to meet him there. Then Aaron came up as well. The shofar  was heard from the mountain getting louder and louder. The mountain trembled, there was thunder and lightning and the mountain was covered in smoke. Then God spoke these words

1.     I am the only God

2.     Don’t make idols or worship them

3.     Don’t use God’s name in the wrong way

4.     Keep Shabbat

5.     Respect your parents

6.     Don’t murder

7.     Don’t cheat on your spouse

8..   Don’t steal

9.    Don’t lie

10.  Don’t hanker after the things that other people have but you don’t

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the shofar blast, they were scared witless and stayed well clear of the mountain.

God tells Moses once more not to make images of silver and gold and to offer sacrifices only on altars made of stone that had not been worked with any kind of tool.

Haftarat Yitro                              הפטרת יתרו

The Haftarah for this portion is Isaiah 6:1 to 7:6 and chapter 9 verses six and seven. The Hebrew Tenach numbering is slightly different. Sephardim only read up to chapter 6 verse 13.

The similarity between these passages and the Torah portion is the commissioning of one man to go out and speak to the people. In the case of the Torah reading that man is Moses while in the Haftarah the person is Isaiah. Both men are hesitant at the beginning but both become bolder as they are equipped by God to undertake the purpose they were destined for.

The third verse of Isaiah 6 which is sung by the Seraphim when Isaiah is commissioned Is used in synagogue worship in the keddusha prayer

קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת; מְלֹא כָל-הָאָרֶץ, כְּבוֹדוֹ.

Kadosh Kadosh Adonai Tzevaot M’lai Kol Ha-aretz Kavodo

Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory

Isaiah predicts the decimation of the people who had become dull of hearing God’s word. But he also predicts that a stump will remain and grow again. Isaiah has a son who is named Sh’ar Yashuv  which means “a remnant will return”.

The verses in chapter nine, read by Ashkenazim, look forward to the birth of a child who will become a ruler and sit on the throne of David

Messianic message

Many Jewish believers in Messiah will testify that coming to faith in Messiah was the fulfilment of being Jewish and the pinnacle of Jewish faith. However, they often subsequently find themselves in a situation where they are celebrating festivals not familiar to them, eating food that is not kosher and keeping Shabbat not on the seventh day of the week but on the first. How many Jews knew what an Advent Calendar was before they came to faith?

If we ever get the opportunity to read from a Torah scroll, we will notice that some letters are tagged with ornamental embellishments and some lines exist in places for no apparent reason. A Sopher or Scribe will copy the Torah exactly from another copy including the marks that have no understood sound or meaning. An explanation may be revealed in time, but a Torah not copied exactly from another one is not kosher.

This is what Yeshua was referring to when he said

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18 NIV)

This fulfilment of the Torah was declared with Yeshua’s last breath.

‘It is finished’ (John 19:30).

Does this mean that all the customs and traditions observed by Israel came to an end and are replaced by traditions and customs alien to Jewish people? I do not think that ‘It is finished’ means that. On the contrary, Yeshua’s instruction that our righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees as described in Matthew 5:20 is not nullified by the fact that Yeshua has died and fulfilled the law. Shabbat has never been abolished any more than the commandment not to commit adultery has.

Few of the most overt Messianic passages are included in the Haftorah readings. The 53rd chapter of Isaiah is not there.  Neither are the first two verses of Isaiah 61 which Yeshua read in the Synagogue in Nazareth as described in Luke 4:21. Perhaps Synagogue worship had not been formalised at that time and anyone could stand up and read whatever they wanted to.

On the other hand, it may have been that future generations of Rabbis expunged it to prevent their congregants from asking too many awkward questions.

But in this Haftarah the two verses of Isaiah 9:6 and 7 are specifically included as additional verses which for believers in Messiah hold no ambiguity at all.

In the Jewish translations of the  text the words Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom meaning Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace are often not translated. This is the name of the child that the Rabbis identify as Hezekiah. It refers to his name, not his attributes, so his name does not need to be translated – the reasoning being that you cannot apply the attributes of “Mighty God”, “Everlasting father” and “Prince of peace” to a human infant.

But that’s exactly who Yeshua is. He was a man with the attributes of God, fully God and fully man.

This article originally appeared on the BMJA website and is reposted with permission.