This is probably one of the most important moments and one of the most important topics to attain Redemption: Repentance (Tshuva), in many levels.
It begins with the phrase:
‘And Yitro heard… how HaShem had brought Israel out of Egypt’ (Ex 18:1).
Previous week’s portion told us that the pagan nations were aware of this event, the Exodus of Egypt (Yetziat Mitzrayim) (Ex 15:14-15). Why is important that Yitro also heard of it? First of all, Yitro is introduced as the “priest of Midian”.
As we discover by his words, he was a pagan universalist priest (mid. Mekhilta Yitro 1:1). He was open to embrace any deity that came to his knowledge.
Now this is the interesting part: All the pagan nations had heard how Israel came out of Egypt, but the Torah reports two different reactions. First, the reaction of Amalek; “He did not fear God” (Dt 25:18) and “Made war with Israel” (Ex 17:8).
And Yitro’s reaction: “he came to Moses…. To the mount of God” (18:5), “rejoiced” and declared: “Now I know that Havaya is greater than all the gods” (Ex 18:11).
This teaches us that the same message of redemption can be told to two different people and cause different reactions. It can be compared to giving pearls to the swine and offering a treasure to a needy person. The swine won’t appreciate the gift you offer, and eventually will turn against you. The needy person will rejoice on the offering, and take it for himself.
Amalek, the grandson of Esav (the Pork) rammed against Israel. Yitro, who was needy of finding the truth and the real God, when meeting HaShem, couldn’t do anything but joining Moses.
So we read: “Moses did obeisance and kissed him” (Ex 18:7).
By doing so, a great Spark of Holiness, a Spark of natural Wisdom was redeemed and gathered together with the sons of Israel. This brought an historical moment; the inclusion of an earthly method of legal legislation (the Sanhedrin) within God’s Torah, as it’s written: “select capable men… who fear God… and appoint them as officials” (Ex 18:21). And “Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said” (18:24).
As it usually happens, Yitro’s name was changed. His name Yeter (יתר)(Ex 4:18) received a “Vav” (ו) from the Holy Name and became Yitro (יתרו). And just as Abraham is always known as Abraham and not “Abram”, Yitro is always known as Yitro and not Yeter.
A real turning to God (ie. Tshuva / repentance) is the most important prerequisite in order to receive the Kingdom of Heaven. Our sages say that reciting the Shema (which in the book of Deuteronomy comes after the Decalogue) equals accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore we find that Yeter received a name which in Gematria stands for “The Torah” (haTorah), as in the verse: “this is The Torah that Moses set before the sons of Israel” (Dt 4:44).
יתרו = התורה = 616
The pagan priest was elevated to the level of “Torah”, for certainly the instruction he gave to Moses became Torah.
Under the Mount
It follows the giving of the Decalogue at mount Sinai. God chose to give the Torah on a mountain because a mountain expresses the ideal of elevating and raising upward the physical world (cf. Sefer haMaamarim 5700, p. 114).
“And they gathered underneath the mountain” (Ex 19:17).
‘vaYityatzvu betakhtit haHar’
Allegorically, this refers to the Jewish people’s utter submission to the Torah.
According to the literal reading, the people of Israel were “under the Mountain”. In Yakov’s dream, God stands upon him; having a Ladder that connects Above and Below. Now at Sinai, there is a Covenant between God above and Israel below. Sinai is this Ladder (Sulam) that joins the spiritual with the physical (both words are equal in Gematria).
סלם = סיני = 130
“The lower realms may ascend to the higher realms, and the higher realms may descend to the lower realms… as it’s written: HaShem descended on Mount Sinai; and then, He said to Moses: Go up to HaShem” (Midrash Tanhuma; cf. Ex 19:20; 24:1).
Underneath the mountain; ‘betakhtit haHar’. The word “betakhtit” is a very rare word, not frequently used. Its natural Gematria is 1220. This number is twice the name ‘Yeter’ (Yitro’s old name).
בתחתית = יתר + יתר = 610 + 610 = 1220
In his conversion, it was added a Vav to Yeter’s name (Vav = 6).
Through the method called Mispar Musafi (in which we add to the value of the word the number of letters it has), we can add a Vav to Betakhtit (for it’s a word with 6 letters).
This makes the word equal to 1226. This Number is twice the word “Taryag”, ie. the 613 commands of the Torah.
בתחתית + ו = תריג + תריג = 613 + 613 =1226
This hints to our sages proverb: “As below, so is Above”. Yitro’s conversion was done in two realities at the same time. He converted below, by consequence so do above. The fact that Gematria points to this in the word ‘Betakhit’ implies that everyone willing to receive the Torah must be like Yitro and make Repentance, for our spiritual status below is a reflection of what is above.
Thus there’s a Midrash that says that when Israel was under the Mountain (meaning the mountain was floating above them), it was decreed that if they refused to receive the Torah, the Mountain would fall on them and be their grave (cf. Shabbat 88a; For those curious, a Midrash doesn’t need to be an actual event of our physical reality; however its essence is true).
Sinai is the source of God’s connection with the people. It’s where the Covenant is established. Therefore it’s called the mount of God.
When the sons of Israel abandoned the Covenant, Eliyah the prophet, thinking that he was the last keeping the Covenant, hid himself in one cave of the Mount of God, where he received the revelation he needed to receive (1Kng 19). Caves are a symbol of protection as quite often served this purpose (cf. Gn 19:30; Jos 10:16; 1S 22:1; Psal 142:1).
However, being “Protected” in the “Mount of God” (ie. in the Torah) is something else; it symbolically represents the process of Receiving Light; when one secludes himself from the world and meditates deeply in the concealed mysteries of the Torah. Rashbi hid himself in a cave for thirteen years studying Torah (cf. Shabbat 33b) and because of this, he received revelations that later became ‘Rav Shimon’s Mekhilta’, and the “Zohar” (one of the most important books of Hassidut and modern Kabbalah). By no coincidence the secrets of Qumran were also hidden in caves.
The Third Day
“And it came to pass in the third day” (Ex 19:16).
In Kabbalah the number 3 represents balance and peace. The Sefirot are arranged in 3 columns, left, right and the harmonization in the middle. In the same manner, they are arranged in 3 major partzufim (The Father (Above), the Female (Below) and the Son (in the middle, which connects them both)). The Torah is associated with the number 3 because its ultimate function is to make Peace in the world.
Wisely said a Galilean scholar before Rabbi Hisda: “Blessed be the Merciful One who on the third day in the third month gave a three-fold Torah (Torah, Prophets and Hagiographa) to a three-fold people (Priests, Levites and Israelites) through a third-born (Moses, the third child of Amram)” (Shabbat 88a).
“And God spoke all these words” (Ex 20:1).
According to our sages, this extraordinary event in which around 3 million people heard the voice of God by themselves was so sublime that brought them into a new life. They literally died to their old life of slavery, and were born again, not as servants, but as a nation of priests, what we call today the Jewish people.
“At every word which went forth from the mouth of the Blessed Holy One, the souls of Israel departed, for it is said, ‘Nafshi Yatzah veDabero”; My soul went out with his Words (Song 5:6). Then God brought down the dew with which He will resurrect the dead and revived them, as it’s said: You sent a plentiful rain, God; you refreshed your inheritance when it was weary [or fainted]” (Psal 68: 10 ) (cf. Shabbat 88b). And again: “Your dead shall live… for your dew is a dew of illumination” (Is 26:19).
After this the people are afraid of the whole situation and ask Moses to speak instead of God “Lest we die” [Pen Namut; or ‘So that we won’t die’] (Ex 20:16 ).
At Mount Sinai were heard ten utterances. The ten utterances are keys for the ten Sefirot (like the Ten sayings of Creation, and the Ten Plagues of Egypt). These are meant to be the very essence of the 613 instructions of the Torah, therefore, when the Decalogue commands not to commit sexual defilement, we will find the details of this throughout the Torah (cf. Lv 18).
Some think that the Decalogue is the ethical law of God that must be obeyed by the entire world. Although certainly there’s great benefit in doing so, technically, that’s not totally accurate. Technically, the Ethical laws that all the world is to observe are the laws of Noah (which by the way are tremendously associated with the Decalogue); while the Decalogue is meant for the Jewish people. There’s specifically a command within the Decalogue that the gentile nations have never observed. The Command to Observe Shabbat.
God considered so important the observance of Shabbat that included it in the Decalogue.
Can there be a Decalogue without Shabbat?
Torah specifies that Shabbat falls on the 7th day of the week (Ex 20:10). It’s a day that must be consecrated to God; ie. different from the rest of the week (Ex 20:8); NO WORK [melakha] must be done on it (Ex 20:9). These details of how to observe Shabbat are given within the Decalogue itself, and throughout the Torah we would find additional details. In fact, the observance of Shabbat is one of the commandments more often repeated in Torah.
So holy and special is the Shabbat, that in the Hebrew language it’s the only day of the week with a name. The rest of days are simply called in respect to Shabbat: first day to Shabbat, second day to Shabbat… etc. In this we fulfil the commandment to “Remember the Shabbat day to keep it different from the rest” (Ex 20:8).
What’s so important with this day? The Decalogue given by God says that the holiness of the Shabbat is that God rests on the 7th day (Ex 20:11). The Decalogue repeated by Moses says that it’s a reminder that in Egypt they were slaves, forced to work (Dt 5:15). Our sages say that the reason the Decalogue is repeated twice with different words is that the Mouth of God spoke the two sets of words together, in a single utterance, in a way that is impossible to explain with human words (cf. Rashi); in the words of our sages: something which the human mouth cannot articulate and the human ear cannot hear (cf. Rosh haShana 27a).
If we explore deeply the two reasons given in the Decalogue to observe Shabbat, we will find that it has Messianic connotations.
The Torah literally says:
‘Ki sheshet Yamim asah HaShem’; ‘Because six days made HaShem”
“…and IN the seventh he stopped” (Ex 20:11).
The Seventh day is not a day of creation, but the day in which He rests. Therefore the Psalm says: “For forty years I was angry with that generation [which came out of Egypt], So I declared on a oath in my anger, they shall never enter my resting place” (Psal 95:11).
God’s resting place, as stated in Exodus 20:11 is the Seventh day, so it’s written: “and He rested on the seventh day” (Gn 2:2).
The word for “He rested” in Genesis 2:2 is: ‘vaYishbot’ (which gives the name to the Shabbat). The word for “resting place” in the Psalm 95 is: “Menukhati”.
In a literal sense, the “resting place” is Canaan. However, the Psalm implies a different resting place; for David, who was already in Canaan, says: “Today, if you hear his voice; do not harden your hearts” (Psal 95:7-8). According to our sages this verse is Messianic. It talks of the coming of the king Messiah. As the sages ask, “When is Messiah coming?” And the answer is “Today, if you hear his voice” (cf. Sanh 98a).
So pure and holy is Shabbat, a day totally dedicated to God, that our sages link its perfect observance with the coming of Messiah. They say: “If all the Jews agreed to put aside all our differences and observe [with the proper heart and in total unity] one Shabbat, the Messianic age would come” (cf. Shabbat 118b).
The era of the Messianic redemption is therefore referred to as “the Day that is entirely Shabbat and repose for life everlasting.”
The 6 days of creation resemble the 6000 years of our actual world, for ‘one thousand years are like the previous day that passed’ (Psal 90:4).
“Rabbi Katina taught: 6000 years shall the world exist, and one thousand it shall be desolate … and just as the seventh year is a year of release [for it’s written: “You must let the seventh year rest and be fallow” (Ex 23:11)], so is the world; one thousand years out of seven will be fallow, as it’s written: ‘and HaShem alone will be exalted in that day [for HaShem Tzevaot has a day upon all that is proud and lofty]’ (Is 2:11-12), and it’s further said: ‘A Psalm and song for the Shabbat day [and such Psalm speaks of the destruction of the wicked, the exaltation of God and the blossoming of the righteous]’ (Psal 92:1), meaning that – as one thousand years is like one day of the past – the day [the seventh millennia] is altogether Shabbat” (Sanhedrin 97a).
Therefore the verse: “they shall never enter my resting place [Menukhati]” hints to one of Messiah’s names; “Menakhem” (the comforter), as in the verse: “Because Menakhem is far from me, he who restored my soul; my children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed” (Lam 1:16).
Observance of Shabbat is not only a ritual; it’s not only a ‘shadow’ of the Messianic Shabbat, may it come speedily in our days. Observance of Shabbat is our connection right here, right now to the Spirit of the Messianic Redemption. It’s our chance to receive and unite with the Divine Presence [the Shekhina] that belongs to the Messianic era. It’s our chance to live today as we are supposed to live with Messiah. In fact it’s a chance to bring forward and hasten the days of Messiah.
“And it shall come to pass on the day that Hashem shall give you rest from your sorrow and from your fear, and from the hard bondage in which you were made to serve” (Is 14:3; cf. Zohar Yitro).
“Today, if you hear his voice”