Parsha Yitro –
I love this parsha! The content is, of course, powerful as we read of the receiving of the ten utterances from the very mouth of G-d. But have you ever stopped to think about how amazing it is that this parsha is named after a Ger? According to Rabbinic tradition, Yitro was a convert to Judaism. Yitro was a pagan priest before he converted to Judaism. He was like Darth Vader, head of the dark side. The fact that this parsha is named after him is a powerful message to all genuine seekers of truth that make the life-altering decision to graft themselves into Avraham’s tree. G-d honored Yitro, and He honors you dear gerim. It is no small feat to make the conscious choice to uproot yourself from your belief system, your societal norms, and far too often from friends and even family, who do not understand what drives you to make such a drastic decision. So kudos to the gerim! May Yitro inspire and encourage you on your journey!
With that said, I want to talk about another group that G-d shows special favor to, and that is no other than us ladies!
“Moshe ascended to G-d, and G-d called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘So shall you say to the house of Ya’akov and relate to the children of Yisrael. You have seen what I did to Egypt, and that I have borne you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me. And now, if you harken well to Me and observe My covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all peoples, for Mine is the entire world. You shall be to Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Yisrael.’” Sh’mot 19:3-6
Note that in this verse there are two groups mentioned, the house of Ya’akov and the children of Yisrael. And Moshe is instructed to speak with them in two different ways, “say” to one and “relate” to the other. Rashi explains that G-d instructed Moshe to first speak gently to the women, “the house of Ya’akov”, and then to the men, “the children of Yisrael”, in a more assertive manner. Nothing in the Torah is superfluous, so there must be a reason He wanted Moshe to speak to the women first and in a more gentle tone.
Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman, in his exceptional Torah commentary, “Orchard of Delights” explains this as follows:
“Why does G-d command Moshe to speak to the women first? There are many possible reasons for this including women’s key role in educating young children, women’s greater receptivity to spiritual matters, and the greater loyalty of women, in general, as evidenced by the women in the desert not taking part in the disastrous sins of worshipping the Golden Calf and heeding the evil report of the spies who had gone to scout out the Land of Yisrael.”
R’ Trugman gives another reason, saying it could have been an attempt to rectify past errors. Specifically, that of the first woman in the Gan Eden. Referencing Shabbat 146a, he explains that the original impurity of the primordial snake, which has been a part of human consciousness since the primordial sin, was removed at Mt. Sinai. Had they not worshipped the Golden Calf, death would have been swallowed up forever and they would have marched straight into the Land of Yisrael, where Moshe would have been anointed Mashiach and the Land would have been transformed into an earthly Gan Eden.
I would like to look further at the connection between we women and the ten utterances; in particular the connection between the observance of one, the Shabbat.
The Zohar explains that the opening word of the ten utterances, “Anochi” is an acronym for the phrase, “I have written Myself down and given it to you.” Does that give you goosebumps? It did me! Hashem poured out His heart in the Words inscribed on those tablets. The ultimate love letter, from a loving Bridegroom to His betrothed. It is in these, His loving instructions, that we find our purpose.
The lack of purpose in life is one of the greatest contributors to boredom and destructive behavior. When we have purpose and direction in life, every moment is a unique opportunity. A very important part of our purpose as women is connected to the observance of this precious day called the holy Shabbat.
Thanks to Einstein’s space-time continuum, physics now recognizes that consciousness is a critical determinant, not just a passive observer, of reality. The Words uttered in this week’s parsha are G-d’s “conscious” choice (so to say). The word Kedushah (holiness) literally means to “set aside” or “separate”. The act of setting something aside is the result of conscious will or choice. There are a few things that the Torah describes as “holy”, such as the Land of Israel, the Temple in Jerusalem, the Torah, the Jewish people, and the Shabbat. What makes them holy? G-d’s choice makes them holy. And the holiness of Shabbat is revealed when we chose to observe it. When we observe and keep the Shabbat simply because it is G-d’s choice, we are valuing what He has chosen.
“My son, heed the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the instruction of your mother.” Mishlei 1:8
We are told in Mislei 1:8 that the father admonishes his children with words of discipline, and the mother is the one that imparts the “instruction” of the Torah. Women play a very essential role in building a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. Women are the ones who can inspire the next generation to walk in the ways of Torah. And no where is that more apparent than in the observance of the holy Shabbat, G-d’s chosen day.
Shabbat was given to us to help us draw closer to Hashem. Shabbat is a time to understand that prosperity does not come from work or from intelligence or even from good mazel, but from the Creator Himself, the Ultimate Provider.
The Ibn Ezra tells us that shabbat can give a person the heightened capacity to absorb more wisdom and insight. Ramban tells us that Shabbat is the source of blessing and rest that the rest of the week draws its holiness from.
As the women of our homes, we have the unique opportunity to set the tone and fill our homes with the ambience of Shabbat. If we evoke the kedushah of Shabbat with feelings of love and joy, our homes will resonate with the presence of the Shabbat Queen!
Shabbat has the ability to rejuvenate the soul, and its observance brings many blessings to our lives. Shabbat is our declaration and affirmation of our belief in Hashem. A time to reflect on the fact that Hashem is the One we have given absolute control of our lives to. Whatever challenges life distributes, we know that Hashem’s Divine Providence has determined it is for our good. Yet, no matter how strong we may be, the blessed, holy day of rest each week, is sometimes the only way we can keep from “going crazy” from the challenges of life.
“The shabbat is no time for personal anxiety or care, for any activity that might dampen the spirit of joy. The Shabbat is no time to remember sins, to confess, to repent or even to pray for relief or anything we might need. It is a day for praise, not a day for petitions. Fasting, mourning, demonstrations of grief are forbidden. The period of mourning is interrupted by the Shabbat. And if one visits the sick on the Shabbat, one should say: ‘It is the Shabbat, one must not complain; you will soon be cured.’ One must abstain from toil and strain on the seventh day, even from strain in the service of G-d.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, page 30)
Shabbat is our weekly oasis in time. But only if we prepare with the proper attitude and do everything in our power to fill our homes with simcha and shalom (joy and peace).
“Better a meal of vegetables where there is love, then a fattened ox where there is hate.” (Mishlei 15:17)
The Talmud in Gittin 52a tells us that on Erev Shabbat the yetzer hara works extra hard to create tension and conflict in the home. It wants us to come into Shabbat with a bad attitude, annoyed and disgruntled. This is because it understands that the Shabbat is the single oasis of time throughout the hectic week that we have to truly connect and bond with our families. With proper preparation, and with an understanding of how important it is to create an atmosphere of shalom in our homes, we can avoid the pitfalls and conflicts that are all too common.
Our preparation should begin early in the week. Best case scenario would be to begin on Sunday. We all know our own schedules and time constraints. Start by making a list for the coming Shabbat. What shopping needs to be done? What food needs to be prepared and how long will it take? When should you start? Do your table linens need to be laundered? What about the clothes you and your family will wear? What about invitations to guests? Do you have shabbat and havdalah candles? Wine? Ok, you get the idea…….
Holiness requires preparation!
In his book on Shabbat, Avraham Joshua Heschel talks at length about the sanctity of time. Stating that “it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment, it is the moment itself that lends significance to things”, he explains that the Torah is much more concerned with time than with space. Generations & events are more important then countries & things. History plays a greater part in the story than does geography. The mo’edim, including the Shabbat, are linked to time & historical events.
“Judaism is aimed at sanctifying time. It teaches us to be attached to holiness in time; to be attached to sacred events.” (A.J. Heschel)
Jewish ritual revolves around time. Most of its observances, like Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and the Mo’edim are observed at a specific time. The daily prayers are time bound; evening, morning and afternoon. And it is extremely significant that the first thing in the Torah distinguished as “holy” was time:
“And Hashem blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it Hashem ceased from all the work of creation that He had done.” (Bereishis 2:3)
“Last in creation, first in intention, the Shabbat is the end of the creation of heaven and earth. The shabbat is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Shabbat. It is not an interlude, but the climax of living.” (A.J. Heschel)
The shabbat is often described as the most precious gift mankind has ever received from G-d’s treasure chest. The Shabbat is an opportunity each week to mend our tattered lives.
“The Shabbat is given unto you, not you unto the Shabbat.” (Mekilta)
“In halakhah, Shabbat is king; in Kabbalah, Shabbat is bride. Since the coronation metaphor is matched by a marriage metaphor, welcoming the Shabbat as bride parallels enthroning G-d as king.” (My People’s Prayer Book, Vol. 8, Kabbalat Shabbat, pg. 50)
Shabbat is an atmosphere
Jewish tradition compares the arrival of the Shabbat to the arrival of an important guest. We should be as excited about Shabbat each week as we would be if the King or Queen were coming to dinner, or we were hosting our daughter’s Wedding dinner party.
Genesis Rabbah 10:9 tells us that although G-d rested from creating, there was something created on the seventh day.
“What was created on the seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace and repose.”
Who doesn’t want tranquility, serenity, peace and repose? That means no strife, no fighting, no fear, no distrust, no worries.
So, you might ask, how do we go about getting this tranquility? What does observing, guarding, and protecting this holy, set apart time look like? It starts with us ladies, in our homes!
First and foremost, do whatever you must to keep a joyful attitude. If cooking stresses you out, see where you can purchase prepared kosher food. If you’re stressed for time, don’t be an overachiever. Fix something simple. Buy challah if you run out of time to bake your own. Don’t expect so much from yourself that you get stressed out and become a nagging, screaming mess. Get your kids or grandkids involved. Let them create special decorations that are used each week and teach them the songs of shabbat while you’re creating them. Let them help set the table. And speaking of the table, consider using different dishes and attractive linens. Beautify the Shabbat by putting fresh flowers on your Shabbat table. The Talmud recommends dressing differently, wearing special Shabbat clothes. Open your home to guests. No one should have to observe the Shabbat alone. In our home, we love music, so we have a tradition to play instruments while we sing. We bring out the box of instruments, and everyone participates. One of my favorite memories is a group of us, adults and children alike, dancing in circles around the table on kabbalat shabbat, playing instruments and singing songs to Hashem. The joy was palpable!
Remember ladies, you set the tone for the welcoming of Shabbat around your dinner table, which extends to the rest of the day. If you want to make Shabbat a special time, a day of peace and harmony, it begins in your heart and in your home. The Sabbath was given to us as a special gift to bring joy, delight and rest into our otherwise crazy world. It should not be marred by worry, grief, sadness or anger.
Abraham Heschel says “What we are depends on what the Shabbat is to us.” I pray each of you truly experience shalom in your homes and lives this shabbat. May you be blessed with peace and harmony, both within yourself and with others. Shabbat shalom!
Be blessed and be a blessing,