Parashat Yitro

I Know Who You Are

The image of God carrying the Israelites on eagles' wings, and the promise that they will be a treasured nation if they keep the commandments raise questions about our complex relationship with God.

Print this page Print this page

"I bore you on eagles' wings." The effect of the image is, of course, to convey intimacy, protection, love, speed; but also, I suggest, the enormous power of the adult eagle, effortlessly carrying its young through the air. In other words, it engenders in the people a sense of their own lightness. It deflates their grandiosity and evokes a relation to God, in which their kavod, their weightiness, becomes insignificant. (Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus, Doubleday, 2001, p. 258)

"I bore you on eagles' wings" so that now you no longer have any human master above you. Hence you are now in a position to accept the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Heaven, and I expect you to hearken to My voice. (Shem MiShmuel/Rabbi Abraham Bornstein, cited by Alexander Zusia Friedman in Wellsprings of Torah, Judaica Press, 1980)

Our path in the history of faith is not a path from one kind of deity to another but in fact a path from the "God who hides Himself" (Isaiah 45:15) to the One who reveals Himself. (Martin Buber, On the Bible: Eighteen Studies, Schocken Books, 1962, pp. 64-65)

Today God revealed Himself to me/like this:/Someone put His hands over my eyes/ from behind:/Guess who? ("Revelation" by Yehuda Amichai in Now in the Storm, Poems, 1963-1968)

The revealed is welcomed in the form of obedience. Rather than being seen in terms of received knowledge, should not the Revelation be thought of as…awakening? (Emmanuel Levinas, Beyond the Verse, Indiana University, 1994, pp. 146 and 150)

"Now, then, if you will obey Me faithfully…." If you will now take it [the covenant] upon yourselves, it will be sweet for you from now on, for all beginnings are difficult. (Rashi on Exodus 19:5)

The people of Israel will be a treasured possession of God only if they listen and fulfill their covenant. Their status is not based on some intrinsic quality but on their behavior. God is about to make a covenant with them. If they keep their part of it, then they will be s'gulah [a treasured possession]. (Richard E. Friedman on Exodus 19:5 in Commentary on the Torah, Harper San Francisco, 2001)

S'gulah denotes an "exclusive" possession to which no else except its owner is entitled and which has no relationship to anyone except its owner." (Samson Raphael Hirsch on Exodus 19:5 in The Pentateuch, Judaica Press, 1997)

Your Guide

How do you react to Yehuda Amichai's characterization of God as one who plays "Guess who?" with humanity?

What thorny theological issues face the modern Bible reader in Exodus 19:3-6? Do any of the commentators give you hope or comfort?

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Sheldon Marder

Rabbi Sheldon Marder is the spiritual leader of The Jewish Home, San Francisco, CA.