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Friday, February 12, 2010

A Little Justice

Just to pick up on where we left off: The theme of משפט (justice) is found earlier in B'reishit 18. God is about to destroy S'dom and Amora and decides He ought to let Avraham know about his decision. It is interesting how the word משפט is used there and it has implications for understanding back in Exodus.

Consider, though, the question of how would Avraham known about concepts of justice, how did he use those concepts in his argument with God and how did God understand Avraham's relationship to justice (you can address these questions by reading Genesis 18).

Once you have some direction there, consider that Moshe may have already known about the basics or more of a justice system which was passed down to him from many generations prior, even before he would have received the Torah.

Unfortunately, because it is nearly Shabbat, I will have to leave the rest of  my comments until next week. Just recovering from being a bit out of sorts. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

What Did Moshe Know and When Did He Know It?

Thanks for the questions from the last posting. For those who didn't read them, they are important and will help to fit things together as we proceed.

So at the beginning of parshat Yitro, we are faced as readers with a bit of a dilemma simply trying to figure out when the scenario with Yitro visiting Moshe takes place. The chronological issue was provoked by the geographical issue, as we noted last time.

There is at least one more issue to give us pause, as well, and that is Yitro's advice to Moshe. We read in chapter 18 that Moshe gets up every day to act as judge for the people. Yitro suggests how Moshe can implement a judicial system which would be far more effective.

Is Yitro adding on to the Torah which Moshe already received at Sinai? Or is he anticipating something which will yet be given at Sinai?

As for Moshe judging the people: If the Torah has not yet been given, how does Moshe know how to judge the people?  Moshe says to Yitro:

שמות פרק יח (טז) כִּי יִהְיֶה לָהֶם דָּבָר בָּא אֵלַי וְשָׁפַטְתִּי בֵּין אִישׁ וּבֵין רֵעֵהוּ וְהוֹדַעְתִּי אֶת חֻקֵּי הָאֱלֹהִים וְאֶת תּוֹרֹתָיו:

Exodus Chapter 18 (16) When they have a thing (with legal implications), it comes to me and I judge between a man and his neighbor and I let them know the statutes of the Lord and His teachings.

How does Moshe know what the statutes and teachings of the Lord are if the Torah hasn't yet been given? While this question would seem to point to the understanding that this entire chapter must have taken place after the revelation at Sinai, there are other possibilities.

Where else in the Torah prior to this did we learn about justice?

Friday, February 5, 2010

So What Exactly Did Moshe Receive at Sinai and Why Should Anyone Care?

We all know that Moshe received the Torah at Sinai, right?

Um, how does anyone know that?

The Mishnah in Avot teaches us that Moshe received the Torah at Sinai. Why do I refer to the Mishnah and not directly to this week's parsha? Well, this week's parsha doesn't really say that Moshe received the Torah at Sinai. This week's parsha describes the revelation at Sinai and tells us certain things which God said at Sinai. But there isn't a single verse which says Moshe went up to Sinai and received the Torah, period.

As we begin reading this week's parsha, if we keep a close eye, we will discover that this narrative is not a simple one. Moshe does ascend Mt. Sinai (more than once) and he clearly receives commandments from God. But what exactly did he receive? Over what period of time?

Does it matter what exactly Moshe received at Sinai?

I am starting this blog kind of late since Shabbat will begin shortly. However, as the questions posed here can only be answered by a longer view of the text of the Torah itself, we'll start with some points today and come back to this theme many more times over the coming year.

So, to begin this sojourn, let's do some simple readings.

From the time the Children of Israel leave Egypt, they go on a series of trips (מסעים in Hebrew). The route is:

From Raamses to Succot (Exodus 12:37)
From Succot to Eitam (Ex. 13:20)
They return and camp on the edge of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:2)
They go from the Red Sea to the Wilderness of Shur (Ex. 15:22)
They come to Eilim (Ex. 15:27)
They leave Eilim and come to Wilderness of Sin (Ex. 16:1)
The leave the Wilderness of Sin and come to R'fidim (Ex. 17:1)
They leave R'fidim and come to the Wilderness of Sinai (Ex. 19:1,2)

So far so good. Except that I purposely skipped over chapter 18!

If you see all of the references above in their original form and context, you would see that these verses are written stylistically the same, particularly the last five. Basically they say that the Children of Israel left X place and went to Y place.

Now if you look at the first part of this week's parsha you will see another geographic reference:

שמות פרק יח (ה) וַיָּבֹא יִתְרוֹ חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה וּבָנָיו וְאִשְׁתּוֹ אֶל מֹשֶׁה אֶל הַמִּדְבָּר אֲשֶׁר הוּא חֹנֶה שָׁם הַר הָאֱלֹהִים:

Exodus Chapter 18 (5) And Yitro the father in law of Moshe came and his sons and his wife to Moshe to the wilderness where he was camping there (at) the Mount of the Lord.

Where is this Mount of the Lord? Last time it was mentioned was when Moshe first encounters God (Ex. 3:1) where it is also called Chorev which is yet another name for Mt. Sinai.

So Yitro meets up with Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai. But wait—according to the verses I referenced earlier, Moshe and the C. of Israel don't get to Sinai until the following chapter!

Clearly, someone's got some 'splainin' to  do.

Why this geographic inquiry is necessary for answering our original question about what Moshe received at Sinai is also still not clear.

I'll continue next week if Hashem grants me the well being to do so!

Shabbat Shalom all