Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Parshat Yitro 5772/2012 catch-up

You can read the basics here.

My husband and I are both intrigued by the mystery (to us) of the origins of Jewish Sabbath observance. Though the name Shabbat may be related to the Babylonian bad-luck day-of-rest Shabbatum (here's an explanation, of sorts), the notion of a joyful day of rest seems to have originated with the Jewish People, but the details seem to have been lost in the mists of time. In the Torah sections recounting the lives of the Avot/Ancestors/Patriachs and Matriarchs, there's no mention of Shabbat by that name, nor is any semblence of Shabbat observance mentioned (to the best of my recollection). Did I miss something, or is Shabbat mentioned for the first time by that name in Parshat B'shalach/Beshlach, Exodus chapter 16, verse 23? The whole notion (see chapter 20, verses 7-10 in Parshat Yitro) seems to have sprung up after (during?) our years of slavery in Mitzrayim/Egypt. No matter the origin, I've said for years that the idea of a weekly day of rest is one of the Jewish People's greatest contributions to the human race.

I'm also suitably impressed that our ancestors didn't hesitate to accept good ideas from foreigners: In chapter 18, verses 13-26, Moshe (Moses) adopts Yitro's (Jethro's) suggestion for establishing a justice system with different levels of courts.

I should also note that Haftarat Yitro (for Ashkenazim), Isaiah 6:1–7:6 & 9:5–6, contains that phrase made famous by Handel's Messiah ("For unto us a child is born . . .") Our Christian neighbors just translate it differently. They translate "Kel gibor" as, "A mighty G-d," whereas, in this context (which is as a person's name), we would translate it "Mighty is G-d." To them, the child is G-d, whereas, to us, the child's name honors G-d. To say that that's a huge difference in understanding the text is an understatement. That's what happens when the presence tense of the verb "to be" is absent in a language--you either infer "to be's" presence or you don't, and your decision can change your understanding of a text completely. :(

See also Parsha catch-up: Parshat Yitro (Monday, January 24, 2011).


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