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02/16/2023 03:49:52 PM


Rabbi Batsheva Appel

Years ago, I saw a movie with Paul Newman that I really enjoyed.  When I read a review of the movie later, the reviewer commented that not only did Newman make his acting look effortless, but also that he did something even more important for the film; his work inspired everyone else to improve their acting as well.  

We see this same idea in sports; one of the ways to improve is to work with or compete against someone who is better than you are.  Part of this improvement might be seeing what someone else can do.  Part of this improvement might be stretching our expectations of ourselves.  Sometimes we can do this on our own.  Sometimes we need the push of a teacher or a boss or a coach who can see just how much we could achieve, when we can’t see it.  This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Yitro, is about living up to higher expectations.

God clearly has higher expectations of the children of Israel.  Despite their complaining since being freed from Egypt [“manna for dinner again?!” “It would have been better if we had never left Egypt”], God is entering into a covenant with Israel.  Before the giving of the Ten Commandments, before the covenant at Sinai, God calls Moses up the mountain and says to him:  

…Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and declare to the children of Israel:  'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Me.  Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, … you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’  [Exodus 19:3 – 6]

God is asking Moses to remind the Israelites of all that God has done and all that God could do.  The image evoked of being borne on eagles’ wings is very poetic and powerful.  Rashi, a medieval commentator from Provence, speaks of an eagle as not only being strong and unafraid, flying higher than other birds, but also willing to put its body between its offspring and any danger from below.  

I think that the important part of the verse is the destination, not the mode of transportation.  God says “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me”.  The image is one of being lifted up to God, being brought up to a level where we might actually enter into a covenant with God, as it were.  God does not actually have “eagles’ wings”, just as God does not have a “mighty hand” or a “strong arm” to bring us out of Egypt.  God’s power has redeemed us from Egypt and God’s expectations for us are that we will live up to the covenant that we receive at Sinai.  When we do live up to these higher expectations, God promises us that we will be to God “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” [Exodus 19:6].  You can’t get much higher than that. 

Watch the entirety of Saturday’s service here

Watch just the Sermon portion here

You can also watch the service from Friday, February 10. 

Temple Talk is a recap of sermons given from the Bimah for those who missed a Sermon or who wanted to revisit the words spoken at a previous sermon. 


Fri, March 31 2023 9 Nisan 5783