Thought of the Week: Yitro - 5773
A significant part of Jewish ritual relates to the calendar and the seasonal holy days. These significant days, and at times periods, are given to the nation of Israel with guidance regarding conduct and reflection.
One of the marked days on the calendar is the second day of the Hebrew month of Sivan. This day that precedes the three days of preparation for “Mattan Torah” –the day of the receiving of the Torah- is called “Yom haMeyuchas.” According to the commentators, this day is called “Meyuchas” -which literally means the day of lineage- because on that day, as the Israelites settled around Mount Sinai and prepared themselves for the revelation of the Almighty, they were notified what their mission toward humanity would be. In this week’s Paresha, the nation of Israel is informed by God that; “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (19:6). The priest is an individual that lives for the sake of others. The goal of the priest is to teach, elevate and guide people spiritually. The great sixteenth-century rabbi, biblical commentator and philosopher Obadiah Seforno explains that when the verse states that the Jews will be a kingdom of priests it is “to teach all of humanity to call out in the name of God and serve him in unison.”
On the second day of Sivan, the Children of Israel were taught that Jewish uniqueness is not because they have what others do not, but rather the nation has a special mission as a priest, or educator, to humanity. As the nation of Israel prepared to enter into a pact with the Almighty, they were commanded by Him to remember the complete picture of their mission and that it is for the sake of humanity. Judaism originates with tolerance. In the words of Emmanuel Levinas; “The Jewish faith involves tolerance because, from the beginning, it bears the entire weight of all other men.”
According to the narrative of the Torah, the Israelites of the exodus, due to their spiritual failings, were not worthy of entering into the Promised Land and thus were unable to embark on their task to serve as universal priest. The person interested in serving as an educator must first reach a level of knowledge and maturity, and only following that can he be qualified to elevate others. The generation of the wilderness failed in that mission and humanity must be patient as it takes time for the teachers to graduate and become worthy mentors. The Seforno remarks that the nation of Israel will not be able to fulfill its mission until the Messianic era. Waiting for the Messianic age is a central theme in Jewish tradition. However, it is not a passive wait, but rather a time of spiritual activity. It is a time for the Jews to study their tradition, and grow in their Avodat Hashem.