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Parasha Yitro (Jethro): On Eagles’ Wings

Yitro (Jethro)
Exodus 18:1–20:23; Isaiah 6:1–7:6; 9:5–6; Matthew 5:8–20

“Now Yitro [Jethro], the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.”  (Exodus 18:1)

Wailing Wall-Plaza

The Western (Wailing) Wall Plaza in Jerusalem is part of the retaining wall that once enclosed and supported the Temple Mount.  The Jewish People have gathered here for centuries to mourn the loss of the Temple.

Last week, Parasha Beshalach featured God’s dramatic rescue of the children of Israel from Egypt, the land of bondage and slavery.

God’s intention, however, was not just to bring His people out of misery, but to lead and guide them to their final destination: the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, a place of abundance.

The name of this week’s Torah study, Yitro (Jethro), comes from the Hebrew root yeter, meaning abundant or exceedingly abundant.

While we are often limited by the confines of our own imagination, God is able to do exceedingly abundantly (yeter) more than we could ever ask or think or imagine!  (Ephesians 3:20)

A herd of cows-Sea of Galilee

A herd of cows near the Sea of Galilee in Israel

Delegate or Burnout

“Moses told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them.”  (Exodus 18:8)

When Yitro, the priest of Midian and Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all the great and wonderful things God had done for Israel, he realized that the God of Israel was the true One God of the universe.

Yitro rejoiced, worshiped God, and offered a sacrifice to Him.

“‘Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for He did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.’  Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.”  (Exodus 18:11–12)

Jethro and Moses-James Tissot

Jethro and Moses, by James Tissot

But when Yitro saw that Moses stood from morning till night single-handedly settling Israel’s disputes, he realized that his son-in-law was at risk of a burnout.

Yitro understood that the effort Moses made on behalf of the people was putting an excessive strain on him.

While we’ve come to think of “burnout” as a modern phenomenon, it really isn’t.  Yitro was wise enough to confront Moses and offer him some sage advice.

“What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.  The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”  (Exodus 18:17–18)

He advised Moses to teach the people God’s decrees and instructions (Torah) and show them how to live godly lives.

He also counseled him to judge only the difficult issues, leaving the easier ones to capable, trustworthy leaders that Moses would select.

The lesson for us is obvious:  If we persist in trying to handle everything ourselves, we may never get to the truly important things we are meant to do; however, if we learn to delegate, not only will our stress be relieved, but we will also make way for others to serve, using their unique gifts and talents.

Carrying-Torah-Western (Wailing) Wall

Carrying the Torah at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem

On Eagles’ Wings: God’s Personal Protection

“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ [nesherim] wings and brought you to myself.”  (Exodus 19:4)

In this Parasha, God says that He brought the Jewish People to Himself “on eagles’ wings.”

This metaphoric language is so rich and meaningful.

The eagle (nesher) is protective of its young.  While the mother eagle is training the young to fly, she sometimes flies under them with her wings spread out to catch them if they fall.

Likewise, God brought out the Jewish People in such a way that He personally watched over their fledgling attempts to live in communion with Him.


In Israel, the largest population of Griffon vultures, which once were common in Israel, can now be observed at the Gamla Nature Reserve in the central Golan Heights.  This vulture is monogamous and females lay only one egg per year.  Both members of the pair participate equally in caring for the egg, and change places every day or two.

The word nesher, however, can also be translated as Griffin vulture.  This vulture flies higher than the eagle and is wonderfully graceful in the air.

Furthermore, “I carried you” [va’esa etchem] is sometimes translated as I elevated you.

An alternative translation of Exodus 19:4, therefore, is the following:

“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I elevated you on the wings of nesharim, and brought you to Myself.”

Though the phrase “on vultures’ wings” doesn’t sound poetic to speakers of English, this alternative translation helps us understand that God, through His miraculous redemption, raised the Jewish People as a nation to spiritual heights that were abundantly above anything in the natural world.

This verse speaks to the personal, tender nature of God’s deliverance of the Jewish People out of Egypt.  Not only was their way paved and guarded by the pillar of cloud and fire, but they were brought into covenant and communion with God.

ultra-Orthodox prayer Kotel

An Orthodox Jewish man reads Psalms or Scripture at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

On Eagles’ Wings: Modern-Day Deliverance

“…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  (Isaiah 40:31)

The deliverance of the Jewish People from Egypt has a modern-day parallel.

On the heels of the Holocaust, Jews emigrated from Europe to the safety of Israel.

Following the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, however, the situation for Jews living in the Arab world became progressively more dangerous.


A Yemenite Jewish family walks through the desert to a reception camp in Aden, where they will be flown home to Israel.

In Yemen and Syria, Arab pograms (violent riots of looting, killing and raping) were launched against the Jewish People.

In 1948, when Israel declared itself a nation, the situation grew even worse, and the violence spread.

The steady trickle of Jews fleeing Arab countries became a river and by the early 1970s, approximately a million Jews left, fled, or were expelled from their homes in Arab countries.

In response to an increasingly perilous situation for the Yemenite Jewish community, Israel organized an airlift, officially code-named On Wings of Eagles (nicknamed Operation Magic Carpet) after the verse in this week’s Parasha verse:  I carried you on eagles’ wings (Exodus 19:4).


An Israeli Yemenite Jew

This rescue, which was carried out in secret between June 1949 and September 1950, was not made public until several months after its successful completion.

Most of these Yemenite Jews had never seen such a thing as an airplane or even an automobile and were afraid to board the planes.  The air force pilots were worried about what they might do onboard.

But instead of panicking, they sat calmly after their rabbi explained the promise in the word of God to carry them on the wings of an eagle.  And here were the Eagles’ wings provided to carry them back to Zion.

In total, almost 50,000 Jews were flown from Yemen to Israel.  By September 1950, Yemen was largely empty of Jews.  The eagle could rest.

In honor of this daring secret operation, a street in Jerusalem and another in Herzliyah has been named Kanfei Nesharim (Wings of Eagles).

Ten Commandments-Moses-Mount Sinai-Children of Israel

The Children of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments

“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast.”  (Exodus 19:16)

The visible symbol of the divine presence of God, the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, accompanied the Children of Israel on their way through the desert (Exodus 13:21–22).

When the Israelites reached Mount Sinai, they met with God in a personal way.  God spoke to the nation of Israel from a dense cloud, with loud thunder and lightning and the sounding of the shofar.

While flames of fire enveloped the smoking mountain of Sinai, His majestic voice pronounced the Ten Commandments that to this day are still considered relevant, and a guide of conduct for all of humanity.

The first five commandments deal with our relationship with God.  The second five deal with our relations with our neighbor.

Yeshua (Jesus) summed up these 10 mitzvoth (commandments), indeed the entire Torah, with these words:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Luke 10:27)

Decalogue_1768 parchment_Jekuthiel Sofer_1675 Ten Commandments

This 1768 parchment by Jekuthiel Sofer emulated the 1675 Ten Commandments at the Amsterdam Esnoga synagogue.

Sinai’s Cloud

“We will do everything the Lord has said.”  (Exodus 19:8)

At Mount Sinai, the Jewish People entered into a covenant with God willingly and enthusiastically.

The conditions of the covenant were laid out and the responsibilities of each party clearly specified by God.

This contract between God and Israel at Mount Sinai can be likened to a marriage ceremony.

In a Jewish wedding, the conditions of the covenant between the bride and groom are written in the ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract.

Ketubah-wedding ceremony-Jewish bride

A Jewish bride signs a ketubah during the wedding ceremony.

The cloud at Sinai was like the chuppah, the marriage canopy, under which the Jewish bride enters into the covenantal relationship of marriage with her bridegroom.

At Mount Sinai, God clearly states His expectations of His bride, and what He is prepared to offer.  Israel, His bride, said, “I do.”

Every bride is given a token as a sign that she is betrothed.  What was the token of betrothal God gave to Israel?

It is the Shabbat.  God said this day of rest will be a “sign” between Him and the people of Israel.

God also gave to His bride a wedding gift: the land of Israel.

Jewish Couple-Marriage-Chuppah-Mount Sinai-Wedding-Vienna

Under the chuppah: Orthodox Jewish wedding in Vienna

The Shavuot (The Feast of Weeks) / Pentecost Connection

“‘This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord.  ‘I will put my Torah in their minds and write it on their hearts.’”  (Jeremiah 31:33)

According to Jewish tradition, the Ten Commandments were given on Shavuot (Feast of Weeks / Pentecost), the same festival in which the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) descended upon the disciples with a supernatural manifestation of speaking in other tongues.

If we truly want to be “living epistles,” and walking, breathing Torahs, as we are called to be, we need to be empowered by the Ruach HaKodesh in our daily lives.

“You show that you are a letter from Messiah, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”  (2 Corinthians 3:3)

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