Parashas Behar [and Bechukosai]: Shem, Moses, and Sinai – Jethro’s Eternal Path
Rabbi David P. Katz
This week is a double Torah Portion, and we are focusing on Behar; which, initially, introduces us to not only what could be possibly the single biggest Torah quality for the Jewish People, but for the Noahides as well: ‘’Hashem spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai saying: Speak to The Children (“Bnei”) of Israel and say to them…”
An interesting observation could be made that with the reiteration of the double language connotation of “Israel” and “and say to them” shows that Hashem is speaking to the Jewish People and simultaneously addressing the [Future] Noahides, as this would qualify the “say to them” along with the fact that as the Ramban says, “Righteous Converts” [Noahides are also coined as such with this term – Rashi, Talmud Avodah Zara, Radak; in light of the Noahide “Aravnah” – “Sar Metzudas Tzion” who sold the Temple Mount to David] are to take a Spiritual Name, and thus would be included in the general term, “BNEI (Children of) Yisrael, and therefore coming into the classification of Sinai Command and Revelation. The example of this would be the word ‘’Yisrael’’ itself: as Jacob is the mundane name while he merited Yisrael in spirituality, such is the endeavor of the Noahide, who in particular connects to Sinai, and can strengthen this bond with his Spiritual Name that his soul identifies with. The Noahide thus is included in Sinai Revelation, and this can be hinted at with the word “Bnei” (“sons of”) which can double as “those who are of the spiritual name”: Bnei Yisrael (as Bnei can take two paths of meaning; literal and figurative). Of course we don’t leave the obvious meaning of Bnei Yisrael referring to the Jews, yet we are left with two distinct paths of understanding. In conclusion, we find that the Sinai Revelation is directly mentioning the Jews while specifically including the Noahides; thus the double connotation is to include a double meaning in “Bnei Yisrael” to make the Sinai Revelation complete, for Jews and Noahides, as they will be the two Nations who will glorify God and uphold the Torah for the World and its repair. Another example of how Sinai comprised of the two Nations is in the proclamation of “Naasah V’ Nishmah (We will do and We will listen; again the simple meaning the Jewish People and the creative expression refers simultaneously the Noahides through their representation at Sinai are included in the vocalization, yet again showing the harmony between the two Nations) which can be seen as a dual/mutual declaration by both Noahides and Jews, one in the literal and the other through the practical; Jews and Noahides.
The Rambam makes this point especially clear in the work of Torah Law the “Mishnah Torah” that a “Noahide” by his own volition is not the ideal Noahide, for he has come to the Seven Laws based on basic human logic which is something that comes to the exclusion of the Divine Principles involved. What the Rambam goes on to clarify is that the proper vehicle for one to acquire the Path of the Noahide, is to practice being a Noahide as it was commanded to Moses. “As it was commanded” is a double entendre: the literal command to Moses is the proper way of the Noahide, while the other connotation “as it was commanded” is spoken as a matter of fact, thus as it was commanded to Moses! [And by no other means, person, or revelation].
An interesting point of observation through the study of Shem with usage of the Ancient Midrashim, is that Shem and Sinai [for the purpose of Revelation of Torah to the World] had become synonymous. As the Midrash relates, Shem was Blessed with the Divine mission of embedding Torah for the World eternally upon his exit from the Ark and entering the New World, which would be built by oath around two main Torah principles: Righteousness and Kindness. Shem took upon himself this task and began by prophesying Torah for 400 years while searching for the seed that would make Torah flourish and bring the World to Sinai that would only be upstaged by the Revelation of Moshiach (Messiah), something that the Talmud states that even the last stages of History will involve Shem, as he is destined to be a part of the End of Days in the mold of the Righteous Priest. (A Righteous Priest by definition is defined by “Kindness” – Priestly and “Righteousness” – Righteous, hence: Righteous Priest who is identified by Righteousness and Kindness) After Shem found Abraham and gave over the Priesthood (Righteousness that befits Abraham’s Kindness) along with the secrets of the Torah in entirety, Shem ventured off to prepare the World for eternal Torah. The Torah would be given and be identified at Sinai; Shem went to merge with Sinai so as to become one with Torah. The effect of such is that Shem was actually part of the Sinai Revelation (along with the fact that he was incarnated part of his soul to Moses) and went through the Giving of the Torah. Shem was found there for a total of 1300 years until King Solomon would come and relieve Shem of duty by completing the mission of “Mastering the Torah”, for Solomon told over to Shem the entire Torah, as depicted in his three Books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs; it would be these three Books that would sum up the entire Torah and Shem would incorporate the entire Torah experience into his being upon which he would be free as a soul for the Torah was now in possession on Earth for eternity. The mission was now complete, and the Torah could now flourish until the End of Days, where the World would begin to be filled with Knowledge of God, with origins at Sinai, of which there was participation consisting of Jews and Noahides. The Jews were there in the literal sense and the Noahides were there in the Spiritual sense since their entire foundation is predicated in the Command of Moses on Sinai. As the Noahides are a part of Sinai, why weren’t they there? Why do we find the presence of the Noahide through allusion and allegory only? Look for Jethro. Jethro is the Noahide representative of Sinai. For all of Time, the Noahide has a Sinai Revelation operative who was there to receive from Moses what would serve to be the bedrock of Noahides forever: …”as it was commanded to Moses” (the Torah[for all of Mankind]). The only glitch in the system is that Jethro was not at Mount Sinai at all, for he had left just before the Giving of the Torah. (Which happened to be in his Parsha!) Jethro had no choice to be absent from Sinai, for as the first Sinai Noahide, he was the first to receive the Torah as it was given to Moses. What we know about Jethro, is that he was the quintessential Noahide in every way, a true student of Shem, Moses, and Sinai! Jethro kept every foundational precept as commanded Moses, all of which is authentic for the fact that he was not at Sinai.
Now we have a clearer vision of Sinai works in the learning aspect of our Parsha: Bnei Yisrael (as was expressed within Mount Sinai) and how this term speaks to both Jews and Noahides. In the literal sense, the Law was given to the Jewish People, as Bnei Yisrael. However when we take the allegory, and the expressive side of Torah (Lefi Pshuto [ peripheral view from the absent data] as opposed to pshat[ simple meaning]) we can see that in the language of the Text (when free of context and connotation, which is the purist’s technique of deriving “Hints” in Torah and finding allegorical meaning, which does not negate the simple meaning, rather it comes to include an extra innovation) there is room explicitly in the Text to include the Noahide: “Those of the Higher Spiritual Name.” Jethro was just this concept, as he was not at Sinai, yet he was connected spiritually as well as having the Spiritual name, for he chose to become Jethro from “Jether.” The fact that Jethro does not take away from his observance in Sinai, as now he could receive from Moses in the highest sense, and he fits our interpretation of the allegorical “Bnei Yisrael” – which figuratively he was – even to the Jewish acceptance point, as he was considered part of the Nation! ( Jethro however did yet another rectification by maintaining his Noahide existence and individuality, a repair that would have eternal benefit; the two separate Nations are imperative, and thus maintain allegorical truth as distinct from literal truth; the foundations of Torah mandate such distinction.) The basic premise of this week’s Parsha is that Sinai was a World changing event, and to say that it was solely Jewish is the denial of the Noahide and his Torah. As we have explained, the Noahide must always find himself standing at Sinai, receiving the Torah from Moses to make his path set before him. The irony is, is that he was not there nor was he ever, for Jethro left – intentionally! What one is forced to say, is that the Noahide was there at Sinai, in the ultimate Spiritual sense, identifiable if at least by the Spiritual Name that his soul identifies with, like Jacob and Jethro before him. One should not be surprised to find in the Text sublime hints of Absolute Truth that reflect the nature of Sinai as being a World event, which must include Jews and Noahides together.
Sinai was the Giving of the Torah even though Torah would be aroused before and after Sinai (Revelation of Shem and Elijah). However we can take refuge that we all stood at Sinai in some way shape or form. Whether it be the Jewish Beings, Shem who merged within the Mountain itself, or the Noahides who were present within the Spiritual Essence: we all stood at Sinai, and just as the Torah contains many levels, we can see in the Torah who these levels express the attendance of those at Sinai. Within Jethro’s leaving of Sinai there is an equal and opposite reality of Moses’ stature there; such is everyone’s reality based on Sinai. From Sinai and levels of Torah we can all trace our authentic roots back to Sinai, for we all found a way to get there: Shem stood there for 1300 years, the Jews wandered there, and the Noahides spiritually were there perhaps the whole time – and the Torah was a witness to this fact, which is expressed in peculiar Language that hints of a duality in the literal and allegorical realms. Thus there is a simple solution should there be a question or doubt with how to personally identify with Sinai upon accepting the Torah: not only were you there, but the Torah in its foundation is identified by Sinai, for the event was staged when Shem headed for Sinai far before anybody had showed up. There is a concept in Torah: The end deed was first inn thought. Therefore one should not ponder how he is relevant to accept Sinai at the later stages of Creation, for the merit was established a long long time ago, when Shem finished his mission of bringing the Torah to the World, for Shem found the ultimate Torah like all of us: from his days at Sinai…something we all can share and relate to with Shem, the first member of Sinai, who upon the big day, realized he had plenty of company. Now are job is to realize this truth and realize we are in good company too, as we link with the pioneer of Sinai: Shem ben Noach. Perhaps this is how we can aide Shem in his mission, which is to bring Sinai into the End of Days, something that would complete the Sinai Mission of Shem that was built on Righteousness and Kindness; and by cultivating this task, we can never feel alone again, for we can always go back to Sinai, as the Torah is our witness – on many levels.