Everything Old is New Again – Parshat Yitro 5774

Think about the last time you watched your favorite movie.  You’ve probably seen it 100 times, yet each time you watch it you find something new to enjoy like foreshadowing that wasn’t obvious before or minute aspects of an intimate relationship that were easy to overlook.  Your experience and love of the movie isn’t diminished because you’ve seen it again and again; it’s enriched.  In the school world, at a certain point students realize that review is a part of the necessary work during the year.  At the beginning of the year, review is especially helpful to get the brain turned back on to learning and to help the students draw upon information they previously learned.  Later in the year, it’s helpful for students to look back and see what they’ve learned.

Review, the process of going over something again and again, also serves a deeper purpose.  This week we read parshat Yitro, perhaps one of the most famous portions in the entire Torah.  The central piece of the portion is the giving of the Ten Commandments by God to Moshe and the people Israel.  We now have a set of laws to live by, a guide towards being a people outside of slavery.  But, before the Torah instructs us in these laws, it reminds us of the family relationship Moshe has with his father-in-law and how he sets up a legal system.

In chapter 19, verse 1, the Torah subtly reminds Moshe (and the modern reader) of the importance of being present.  The text reads, “On the third day of the children of Israel’s going out from Egypt, on that day they came to the wilderness of Sinai.”  The medieval commentator Rashi notices, on a closer read, that the text is redundant.  Why does it give us the date and then say again, “on that day”?  It would have been sufficient to just give either the date or say on that day.  Rashi answers his question by teaching that the Torah uses this phraseology to remind us that this day was unique, and moreover, every day is unique.

Rashi expands his comment to the Ten Commandments that come after this.  We read the Commandments for the first time in this parshah, but read them again in Deuteronomy as the Torah narrative comes to an end.  The Torah includes the Commandments twice because we read the words anew each time our brain processes them.  Rashi explains that “on this day” means that each day, every day, is a day when we accept Torah, and each reading should be like we’re hearing it in a new way for a new time.

Using this logic we learn that while we may read the Torah over and over again, it is always something new.  While we might have to review our multiplication facts before moving on to other math functions, we know that taking the time to review it means solidifying the knowledge and making a new connection to it.  Rashi asks us to view the Torah similarly to how we would a favorite book or movie.  To read it over and over again is a way of renewing our covenant, our promise to follow through and to see our heritage with fresh eyes.  Most importantly, parshat Yitro reminds us to truly see each day as an opportunity to learn something new, each experience, no matter how mundane or repetitive, as a worthwhile connection to knowing ourselves and our world deeper.

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