This is the parasha in which the giving of the Ten Commandments is the centre-piece. The revelation of G-d’s statements to the Jewish people at Mt Sinai, statements made as an all-powerful G-d, at the same time a personal G-d, occurred amidst the thunder and awe.
The parasha is named for Yitro, the father-in-law of Moshe. Yitro came to meet Moshe bringing Zipporah, Moshe’s wife and their 2 sons, Gershom and Eliezer. Moshe told him everything that had happened and Yitro rejoiced over all the good that G-d had done for Israel.Yitro said “now I know that G-d is the greatest of all the gods” recognising that G-d had unlimited power over nature, and that he had punished the Egyptians “measure for measure”.Yitro made an offering and all the elders of Israel came to eat with him “before G-d”.
The next day, Yitro observed Moshe sitting to judge the people, and asked him why he sat alone with “all the people standing by you from morning to evening” Moshe answered that they brought issues and questions to him and he “made known the decrees of G-d and his teachings”.Yitro predicted that if Moshe kept going like that he would become “worn out”. Yitro advised Moshe to chose “men of accomplishment, G-d-fearing people,men of truth, people who despise money, and appoint them leaders …..to judge the people at all times”, dealing with minor matters and bringing major matters to him. Yitro predicted that if he did this, Moshe “would endure and the people would arrive at their destination in peace”.
R’ Munk commented that the people could nominate those who met the criteria listed by Yitro and Moshe made the final choice among the candidates. Rambam was quoted as interpreting “accomplishment” as meaning “morality and a sense of justice and authority”. R’Munk wrote that the system proposed by Yitro and implemented by Moshe was evidence of “the principle of hierarchy in the framework of applied justice”.
The judges were available at all times and R’ Munk quoted the Midrash which stated that the Ten Commandments were given in the context of law and justice, and the written law was preceded by the oral law.
The system of justice was to enable the people to “arrive at their destination in peace”. R’ Munk wrote that “peace is based on the realisation of justice. A solution based on compromise between the opposing parties often contains the seeds of a new conflict. Only complete justice can guarantee peace”.