Organization and Commandments
In a nutshell, Yitro (יִתְרוֹ), Moses’ father-in-law, and the pagan priest of Midian, the first convert, hearing of the great miracles which God performed for the people of Israel, come from Midian to the Israelite camp, bringing with him Mosheh’ wife and two sons. Jethro advises Mosheh to appoint judges to assist him in the task of governing and administering justice to the people, delegating his responsibilities, with Mosheh presiding only over the most difficult cases. This would also free up Mosheh’ time to teach the Israelites the teachings of the Torah that he hears from God. Mosheh and G-d’s revelation of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. The children of Israel camp opposite Mount Sinai, where they are told that God has chosen them to be His “holy nation.” The people respond by proclaiming, “All that God has spoken, we shall do.”
On the sixth day of the third month (Sivan), 49 days after having left Egypt and six days after they camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, the entire nation of Israel assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai for the Giving of the Torah . God speaks the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel amidst fire, smoke, and the sound of the shofar, an overwhelming revelation, an awesome “light and sound” show, and summons Mosheh to ascend.
The Ten Commandments
The entire purpose of creation was to set the stage for the performance of mitzvahs, as represented by the Ten Commandments. The people cry out to Mosheh that the revelation is too intense for them to bear, begging him to receive the Torah from God and share it with them. G-d speaks The 10 Commandments:
Believe in G‑d.
Not to worship idols.
Not to take G‑d’s name in vain.
Keep the Shabbat.
Honor their parents.
Not to murder.
Not to commit adultery.
Not to steal.
Not to bear false witness.
Not covet another’s wife or property.
The number 10
God created the world with 10 words. There were 10 generations from Adam to Noah. 10 generations from Shem (Noah’s son) to Abvraham. The Israelites were saved from Egypt by 10 plagues, Accepting the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai.
Yitro versus Va’etchanan
The Ten Commandments are read publicly three times a year, twice when it comes up in the weekly Torah reading (Exodus 20/ Yitro portion, and Deuteronomy 5/ Va’etchanan portion), and once again on the first day of the holiday of Shavuot. The Ten Commandments in Parashat Yitro and Parashat Va’etchanan are almost identical, however, the version in Deuteronomy is longer because Mosheh is retelling of the events, adding his insightful reflection of the 40 years journey. Another difference is in the fourth commandment. The Exodus version begins with “Remember the Shabbat” and the Deuteronomy version starts with “Keep the Shabbat.” The rabbis say that both are accurate. G‑d actually spoke the command to keep Shabbat (by desisting from forbidden work) and remember Shabbat (through declaring its sanctity)
B’simcha, be joyful
The Israelites needed to prepare for Matan Torah (The giving of the Torah) at Sinai. Rebbe Nachman tells us that Mosheh Rabbeinu was incredibly b’simcha (joyful) when he ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. The Midrash (Tanchuma, Yitro #13) tells us that on the eve of the Torah-giving the entire Jewish people cheerfully looked forward to accepting the Torah.
The 49-day interval / Omer
On the first day of the month of Sivan in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), six weeks after the Exodus, the people of Israel arrived at Mount Sinai. Six days later, the entire nation stood at the foot of the mountain as God revealed Himself to them and gave them the Torah. The main purpose of having the Jews leave Egypt was that they will receive the Torah, however, there was a 49-day interval from Exodus to Matan Torah. The Midrash asks, why the delay? It answers that when the Jews left Egypt they were physically and emotionally broken people, thus unfit to be the receivers of G-d’s holy word. The 49-day interval from Exodus to Matan Torah gave them enough time to heal.
Ever since, we have celebrated the festival of Shavuot (Sivan 6–7) as “The Time of the Giving of Our Torah.”