Thursday, 31 January 2013

How Important is Parashat Yiro?

How important is this week’s Parasha?


Why, thank you for asking, that’s a very good question.

This week we read Yitro, the moment of revelation. Our entire journey, into Egypt, out of Egypt, through the sea had brought us to this point – the Ten Commandments.


Most, I suppose, would assume that this Parasha is the single central moment of Torah and a commitment to Jewish life - you take away Parashat Yitro and everything else disappears. As Martin Buber challenged his friend and colleague Franz Rosenzweig, either revelation happened at this moment in this way, or every claim in Judaism falls into a pit of emptiness.

I don’t feel that way.

Of course the drama captivates, with the voice of shofar getting mightier and mightier, the mountain afire and the voice echoing forth through the generations.

Of course these ten utterances are magisterial, challenging and pivotal.

But Judaism doesn’t hang from a single point.

It’s not about a solitary moment.


Judaism is a journey through time. It occurs and re-occurs across space.

There are high-points and quieter moments, but every element of who we are hangs together like some vast multi-dimensional woven tapestry. Mystic tales of floating arks and bound sons somehow fit together with archaeological remnants of Solomonic construction, dusty letters found in a Cairo store-house and the poetry of the Golden Age of Spain.

Seeing Judaism as a vast sprawling web of multiple connections, some more mythic, some more historical, helps explain why Judaism is more than ‘just’ a religion; it’s a people, a culture, a sense of belonging, a sense of humour and more.

Unlike other religions we don’t place all our hopes and expectations in a singular faith proposition. Judaism doesn’t stand or fall on any one element outside of every other experience of who we are as Jews. Judaism stands or falls on the way in which we, Jews today, make ourselves part of a story whose origins disappear into the mists of time and whose future depends on our contemporary willingness to make ourselves part of this unfolding narrative.

Parashat Yitro is not the ‘be all and end all’ of our Torah journey, but it is wonderful.

I hope you will join us for its recitation.


Shabbat shalom


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