Parashat Yitro

Setting boundaries for protection

This portion begins with our people waiting before Mount Sinai, encamped 3 days, expectant, having been commanded to go out and worship Him ‘on this mountain’. They had purified themselves and the encounter with G-d and Moshe is about to begin.

Curiously Moshe is told to do something, read Shemot (Exodus) 19:10-13 and 21. He is told to ‘set bounds’ or build fences around the mount, to stop people breaking through. Isn’t it strange that these fences should be built? Surely G-d wants us to draw close to Him? Why prevent us? The text makes it clear, lest we die. The contact of holy with unholy would mean certain death for us, in fact this is true even now, if we stand before G-d not having our sins removed, we shall surely die. So what is this all about? How can we understand this on a deeper level?

G-d wants us to know that He can only be approached in the way He sets out. With fear, reverence and awe of who He is: Not just running into His Presence. To draw close is to become more holy, set apart and distinct from this world. If G-d seems far away, look at your life and you will see who has moved. G-d sets boundaries and fences, He wants us to know how to approach safely because He wants us to approach. But we have to know who He is and how utterly holy and ‘other’ He is. We have to know our G-d. Why does G-d set boundaries? Because He does not desire the death of the sinner. He desires that all would get saved and experience His salvation and redemption, but if someone were to blunder in He would have to take their life and G-d does not want to do that. That is why He gives commandments, His teachings, it is all about how to live and approach Him for fellowship, have a safe relationship with Him. The teachings are not about appeasement to a capricious or angry G-d, but lead us to atonement for sin and transgression.

We can get self-righteous about this, surely they deserve to die, just look at them. Well, we all deserve it just as much as ‘them’. Self-righteousness may make you feel good because it makes you look better, but it cuts no ice with G-d. His prerogative is correction leading to reintegration and ultimate restoration of man to man relationships as well as G-d to man. G-d’s love means He sets boundaries so we don’t fall into sin and die: Read 2 Peter 3:9.

So what are G-d’s boundaries? We begin to see them in this passage clearly. Shemot (Ex) 20 lists for us the first of G-d’s teachings. Often misnamed the 10 Commandments, they are actually the first 10 of His sayings or words to us. Each commandment in fact is seen as the chapter heading for the rest, so the Shabbat one encompasses all the festivals and high holy days in it, including the concept of creating holy time. This is why Yeshua Mashichaynu says in Matt 5:19 the ‘least of these commandments’, referring to the commandments in the subset of each ‘greater’ commandment.

The Torah was given on 2 tablets, the first 5 are directed to our relationship towards G-d, the rest towards man; again what Yeshua established as true in Matt 19:16-22, the man had kept his G-d directed commands but failed to keep the neighbour ones. Yeshua’s own summary of Torah should be instructive for us in Matt 22:34-40: ‘Love the Lord your G-d…and your neighbour as yourself’. We fail to be obedient if we get this out of kilter; we can become very spiritual people but miss out loving our neighbour, or become very socially minded and miss out on G-d. Both are wrong, together they are right.

Yeshua said that all the Torah and Prophets hang on the 2 summaries, is that understanding to be kept for us as Jews only? Are those from the nations not free to worship the Lord with all their heart etc? We should be reaching out to those not born Jewish and call to them saying ‘Come and join us in worshipping G-d’. If Yeshua is the Mashiach (Messiah) for us as Jews, He is for those not born Jewish too. G-d is the only G-d and we need to point others to Him too. They too can and should respond to the offer of salvation and come in to join Israel and follow the One true G-d and His Mashiach.

So stay within G-d’s boundaries, they are there for a purpose: to make you holy and allow you to approach Him. Whoever you are!

Rabbi Binyamin