The end of the last Parsha portrayed the tribe of Amalek, descended from Esau, who not only refuse to acknowledge G-d, but attack the Children of Israel. This Parsha opens with an opposite kind of non-Jew, Jethro or Yitro, who whole-heartedly acknowledges the great miracles of the plagues and the splitting of the Reed Sea, and the liberation of the Israelite slaves. He comes to bring his daughter and grandsons back to his son-in-law Moses. It is a kind of full circle, as Moses had been minding Jethro’s sheep when he got the message of the burning bush at Mt Sinai.
Moses’ relationship with Jethro is very warm: Moses bows down and then kisses his father-in-law, they catch up on news and Jethro “rejoiced at all the good G-d had done for Israel”. Growing up with Pharaoh’s daughter as his adopted single mother and the tyrant Pharaoh as his grandfather, the Torah never mentions Moses meeting up with his biological father Amram. So Jethro is clearly a wonderful surrogate father to the Jewish leader. Like a parent, he gives Moses advice on how to lead the people more efficiently by delegating to others. He gives a sacrifice to G-d, and converts to a belief in the One G-d, who is “greater than all the gods”. He is the first to say “Baruch Hashem”. And then he leaves, to go back to Midian.
Then comes the giving of the Ten Commandments, or ten sayings. This could be the first case of the decimal system, which corresponds to our ten fingers and so is easy to remember. Much has been written about these commandments as being the foundation of the Western Judaeo-Christian civilisation. Today’s society has deteriorated in its rush to freedom from any condemnation of adultery (6th commandment); in fact, Hollywood seems to glorify it. (See the latest movie of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina). The consumer society congratulates itself on shops that are “open seven days” (Keep the Sabbath and make it holy (4th commandment), and advertising is built on our desire to ‘keep up with the Jones’’ (Do not covet or want what your neighbour has – 10th commandment). The Now culture which glorifies the latest gadget, youthful beauty and strength, plastic surgery and hair dye turns its back on the past and the elderly (Honour your parents – 5th commandment). Many people see the prohibition on worshiping idols (2nd) as relevant to the way our society worships money, power and fame, with the popular “American Idol” and idol-worshiping of celebrities, who we build up one moment and tear down the next. Certainly Lenin, Stalin and Saddam Hussein had mighty statues built of themselves, which came toppling down at the liberation of their people. “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain” (3rd) is way out of fashion, with the OMG especially popular amongst the non-religious. “Do not murder” (6th) has been mistranslated from the beginning to “do not kill”, thus empowering the pacifists and appeasers at any price to believe that Nothing is worth fighting for. Unfortunately, most of the Allied generals of World War I (before John Monash) were so disorganised and blasé about soldiers dying as cannon fodder that they gave warfare a bad name. (And the Islamist call to Jihad means the commandment to subjugate or murder the infidel, who by definition, can never be innocent.) “Do not steal” (7th) is still considered relevant, although downloading entertainment and other intellectual property is rife and hard to avoid. Stealing is also encouraged by the “Greed is Good” philosophy of Gordon Gecko, while robbery is common amongst drug addicts who are not free, but slaves to expensive substances that subvert and destroy their moral sense. “Don’t bear false witness against your neighbour” (9th) is also upheld, although the Big Lie is so prevalent in our society, especially as spread by Islamists and their left-wing enablers in academia, media and politics, till many do not even have access to what is true, and do not recognise it when they come across it. What is left is the commandment or saying Number 1 in the Jewish, Torah version: “I am the Lord Your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves.” Many Rabbis and philosophers believe that if you don’t believe in the G-d that gave the world the Ten Commandments, the laws themselves become irrelevant, until everyone just does what they want, in “the permissive society”.
It’s important to note that the Children of Israel trembled as G-d Himself called out the first two commandments. Mount Sinai was shaking and smoking like a volcano, and it was a truly “awesome” occasion. About two million people were there when it happened. Thousands of years later, this pivotal event in Jewish history and the laws given on that day still impact the earth.