The portion for this week is easily one of the most important in all of Judaism. Not only does it contain the Revelation at Mt. Sinai, but, it formms the foundation of the major difference between Orthodox and Liberal Jewish denominations. That rests on the belief of who wrote these words, God at the moment of revelation at Sinai; or human beings, over centuries, reflecting various religious, social, economic and political realities. This portion is THAT important.
But for us, now, I want to look at this idea of revelation. It is sometimes defined as something revealed, a striking disclosure, something not before realized. Obviously, the context of Yitro and the text of Exodus 20 is high drama; an audio and visual experience, as detailed in Torah. It certainly was striking, something not before realized! I would wager, however, that, while many of us have had flashes of insight in our lives, it is often the case that truths become revelaed to us gradually. Perhaps it is an awareness of truths that become available to us as we grow older and gather life experience. In that sense, what is “revealed” to us are real priorities of life; the things in life that bring us true meaning and help define our life.
There is also a Midrash that speaks to this unique experience related in Yitro. We are told that the word of God came to the Israelites, young and old, according to their ability to understand. We are told also in Exodus [19:19], that God spoke to Moses in a voice, a voice that Moses could understand. What we can take from this is that the sacred is revelaed to us in ways that we can understand, each in our own voice, our own manner. Each of come to know God in our own way, there is no ONE absolute way of reveiving this revelation and, in truth, this revelation is a life long process. We change as we grow and how we understand the sacred or the divine in life changes as well. Judaism speaks always as a continuing, evolving revelation. We “hear” that and “see” that revelation through our own eyes and our own expeience. And that is a pretty liberating concept.
Rabbi Richard F Address