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A Modern Orthodox Synagogue

Dear Friend,
As we prepare for our weekly Shabbat morning services for this Saturday morning, February 3rd at 9:30 am, let's take a minute to look at some of the major topics that are included in this week's parasha.  Parashat Yitro includes the following topics:
1) Yitro, Moshe's father-in-law and the namesake of this week's portion, advises his son-in-law as to how to set up an efficient court system.  Yitro suggests that Moshe should appoint a network of lower judges to work under him.  Moshe himself will only hear the most complex cases, those cases that the lower judges are unable to adjudicate themselves.  After consulting with the Almighty on the matter, Moshe decides to adopt Yitro's plan.
2) The Ten Commandments are given to the Jewish people. Written on two tablets of stone, the Ten Commandments contain mitzvot relating both to a man or woman and God- such as the commandment to keep Shabbat, as well as mitzvot between an individual and his or her fellow- such as the mitzvah to honor one's father and mother.
3) Directives governing the construction of an altar intended for ritual sacrifice; specifically, the requirement that the altar not be constructed from hewn-stone that was quarried and shaped by a sword, and the requirement that the top of the altar should be made accessible by a ramp, as opposed to by a flight of stairs.  This final section- both its placement in the narrative, as well as its directives- seems a bit peculiar at first glance.  What reason might you discern for the Torah to mandate that the altar not be constructed by hewn-stone, and why are the guidelines of the altar's construction included in the Torah immediately following the Ten Commandments?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts...
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Peretz Robinson