Parashat Yitro- The Earth's Fuel
Parashat Yitro is famous for the story of Ma’amad Har Sinai – G-d’s Revelation to Beneh Yisrael at Mount Sinai, when He pronounced the Ten Commandments.
This is not the first time when we find the number 10 associated with a major world event. In fact, we encountered it just recently, in our reading of earlier Parashiyot in the Book of Shemot, which tell of the ten plagues which G-d brought upon Egypt. Moreover, the Mishna in Pirkeh Abot (5:1) teaches that G-d created the world with "Asara Ma’amarot" – ten "proclamations." As we read in the opening chapter of the Torah, G-d brought each part of the world into existence by proclaiming that it should exist, and there are ten such proclamations in all.
Thus, the world came into existence through ten proclamations, G-d brought Beneh Yisrael out of Egypt through ten plagues, and He presented the Torah to them in Ten Commandments. What is the significance of this parallel? How are these three events connected?
A number of early commentators explained that the ten plagues served as a reaffirmation of G-d’s creation of the world. At the time of creation, there were no witnesses to the event, and so it could not be later proven. In order to prove that He created the world, G-d brought ten supernatural plagues – each of which corresponds to one of the "proclamations" through which He created the world. For example, the plague of blood, when G-d transformed Egypt’s water into blood, and then changed it back into water, reaffirmed His creation of water. The fact that G-d exerted such control over the water demonstrated that He created it. Likewise, bringing wild beasts confirmed His creation of wildlife, and bringing darkness confirmed His creation of light. By suspending the laws of nature, and then restoring them, ten times, G-d affirmed His absolute control over the world, thus proving all ten stages of His creation of the universe.
The ten plagues, then, were brought not simply to force Pharaoh to release Beneh Yisrael, but, primarily, to reaffirm that G-d created the world.
And then, after the Exodus from Egypt, G-d brought Beneh Yisrael to Sinai, proclaiming the Ten Commandments. Once the world’s creation was reaffirmed through the ten plagues, it was time for G-d to provide the world with the "fuel" it needs to be sustained – the Torah. The Ten Commandments contain 620 letters, representing the 613 Biblical commands, plus the seven obligations enacted by the Sages. Thus, the Ten Commandments encompass the entirety of the Torah. The progression from the ten plagues – which reaffirmed the ten stages of creation – to the Ten Commandments shows us that our recognition of G-d must be followed by our acceptance of the Torah. It does not suffice to know and to believe that G-d created and governs the world. This belief must inform our conduct, and lead us to live the way the Torah demands.
This is why the Ten Commandments begins with the proclamation, "I am Hashem your G-d who has taken you from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage." The giving of the Torah is a direct continuation of the Exodus from Egypt. Once our faith in G-d as the Creator was reaffirmed in Egypt, the next step is standing at Mount Sinai to wholeheartedly accept the Torah.
Torah study and observance are the earth’s "fuel." They are the reason why it was created, and why it continued to exist. It is not enough to believe in G-d and know about G-d – we must live in accordance with His will, which is the very purpose for which He created the earth and created us, its inhabitants.