This week, we celebrate the start of the ninth year of Derech Tsofeh with a guest d’var Torah by Rabbi Art Vernon, Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.
In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Yitro, the Jewish people have arrived at Mt. Sinai on their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan. The Torah calls this mountain The Mountain of God.
Earlier in the Torah, Moses was told to bring the Jewish people to this place. At this special place, where God had revealed himself to Moses many years earlier, God planned to establish a special relationship with the Jewish people – a relationship that we call the Covenant. A covenant is a type of agreement in which both parties promise things to each other.
At Mt. Sinai, God promised to be the Protector and Guardian of the Jewish people and the Jewish people promised to follow the laws of the Torah. God also challenged the Jewish people to become a holy nation, a kingdom of priests. The priests were the religious leaders of the Jewish people in those days.
God really asked us to become a people that behaved in a moral and ethical manner as much as possible. If you read this portion carefully, you will discover that many things we are obligated to do as Jews are also found in the Scout Oath and Scout Law! Of course, there are also many things that are not part of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
This Torah portion also contains a section we call the Ten Commandments, in Hebrew Aseret HaDibrot – the Ten Utterances. According to Jewish tradition, God spoke the first two commandments directly to the Jewish people, the rest of the Torah was given to Moses who taught it to the Jewish people. That is why on Shabbat we say “This is the Torah which Moses set before the Jewish people from the mouth of God through the hand of Moses”.
At Mt. Sinai, the Jewish people promised that we would teach the Torah to our children in every generation. One of the reasons the National Jewish Committee on Scouting created Maccabee, Aleph, Ner Tamid and Etz Chaim Religious Emblems is to help us adults fulfill the promise we made at Mt. Sinai!
The Commandments can be summarized as requiring faithfulness to God, honoring parents, keeping the Sabbath and respecting other people and treating them with dignity. The Ten Commandments became not only the basis of Judaism, but the basis of the Western world of which we are a part as Americans. Some people believe that the Ten Commandments are the foundation of American Law!
This Torah portion is one of the most important portions in the entire Torah. It is worth reading over and over again, not just when we come to it every year in the weekly Shabbat readings.
Rabbi Art Vernon