Drash on Parashat Yitro
Rabbi Paul Jacobson
Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW, Australia
Our Torah reading this week, Parashat Yitro, is most well known for including the Revelation of Torah at Mount Sinai. In a dramatic scene replete with thunder and lightning, smoke and fire, the Israelites assemble at the base of the mountain for a remarkable encounter with God. But there is more to our Torah reading than lawgiving. Our parasha reminds us of the joys and challenges, the love and sacred responsibility that come with being parents.
Prior to the moment of revelation, God tells Moses to remind the Israelites, “…I have borne you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me” (Exodus 19:4). Rabbi Nosson Scherman in the Stone Edition Chumash, explains that the phrase “on the wings of eagles,” means, “This is an indication of God’s great love for Israel. An eagle carries its young on its back, so that its own body will act as a shield” (p. 402). Twentieth century biblical commentator Nehama Leibowitz adds that “eagles’ wings” refers to, “…the intimate relationship existing between the bearer and those borne, the concern and love of benefactor for beneficiary” (Studies on Shemot).
As Jews, we are often conditioned to think of God as the grand m’tzaveh – the Commander, the Lawgiver, the Instructor, the One who tells us what we are supposed to do, when we are supposed to do it, how we are to behave, and what the consequences will be if we don’t. But our parasha reminds us that this aspect of God, namely God as Revealer of Torah, is only part of the equation.
We must continue to remember that God loves us too. By teaching that God bore Israel on “eagles’ wings,” our parasha presents an image of support, protection, guidance, and love. Such thoughts are echoed every evening and morning in our prayer services when we read ahavat olam, “With an eternal love have You loved the House of Israel” (evening), and ahava rabba, “With an abundant love, have You loved us” (morning). Both of these prayers teach us that Torah is not only a precious gift, but also a symbol of God’s love for each of us.
Our tradition presents a multi-faceted view of God – one that continues to echo our multi-faceted understanding and experience of parenthood. As parents, we are blessed with beautiful opportunities in which to raise our children and charged with challenging responsibilities. And our parasha reminds us that we must embrace both aspects of our sacred parental duties. Being a parent involves establishing safe and secure boundaries for our children, setting rules for proper behaviour, identifying and enforcing consequences, and leading by right example. Our ultimate goal is to give our children the strength to stand on their own two feet with integrity, living a life grounded in a strong moral, ethical, and Jewish core. But being a parent is also about nurturing and protecting, being loving and gentle, sheltering and guiding our children with compassion, bearing our children, in the words of our parasha, on “eagles’ wings.”
May we continue to appreciate the sacred balancing act that comes with being a parent – the need to create structure and rules, to discipline when necessary, but also the occasions, where we bear our children, nurturing them with love, embracing them, bearing them “on eagles’ wings.” May our actions, our unconditional love and concern, continue to bring us closer to our children, and help us to recognize the sparks of their own holiness, and God’s presence resting deeply within them.