Because we can't hold our Midrash every week our group has asked me to put together a brief review of the Torah Portion. This week we are in Exodus 18 - 20 or Parsha Yitro. It is named such because of the opening word, "Jethro" the father-in-law of Moses. This is a pivotal event in the life of the Jewish People. Jethro was a former adviser to Pharaoh and a man of great stature. Here he casts his lot with Israel and introduces himself not as royalty but as a member of the family of Moses and Aaron. (Thank you for the photo Cecil B. DeMille!)
Jethro goes on to advise the new nation on its judicial system of laws and governance. In recognition of his service he was given the name Jether, which speaks to the concept of "addition". It was his advice that was added to the Torah.
This is also the Torah Portion that sees Israel arrive at Mount Sinai and prepare to receive the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20: 1 - 14). It's interesting to note that these Ten Commandments were restated in Duet 5: 6-18 with slightly different verbiage. It's a fun Shabbat Dinner Game to find the differences.
It's noted in the Torah that the people had to "prepare" by "washing their clothing". Not only did that signify a special event it also called on the people to get ready for something major. Here is where Judaism differs from many other religions. It was not a select few that witnessed the giving of the Ten Commandments it was the entire people. G-d makes this happen so there is no denying exactly what happened.
It is in the Ten Commandments where we find, what the rabbis say, is the most difficult of all the commandments to accomplish. What is it? The Torah states: "Honor your father and mother in order that your days may be long upon the Land which the your God gives to you" (Exodus 20:12). While this would seem to be a rather simple commandment it requires us to "honor" and put our parents before us even if we have difficult parents.
We are raised to be independent and often it is tough to show respect to our parents especially if we have had a troubled family life. However, respect and honor can come from very different places. It doesn't mean we always have to agree but it does mean that we must listen and be respectful of our parents and their opinion. If that opinion comes into conflict with Torah then, we have the obligation to listen...but not belittle. There is a great difference here.
So, what is the reward for honoring our parents? The Torah says it is long life. A life that can stretch well beyond the lives of our parents but even when they are gone we are instructed to honor their memory. You can do that daily through prayer and through study of the Torah.
May this Shabbat guide you on the path to even further understanding.
Shabbat Shalom from Adas Israel the Jewish Congregation of Mason City, Iowa.