The New Shul

Parshat Yitro

This week’s parashah, Yitro, is named after Moshe’s father-in-law, who left his home to join the children of Israel after they had escaped from Egypt. The Torah tells us that Yitro met Moshe “in the wilderness where he [Moshe] had camped, at the Mountain of God.”

The first half of the phrase seems unneccesary. Where else could Yitro have met Moshe, if not where Moshe had camped? Why not get straight to the point and tell us that they met at the Mountain of God? The author of Torat Moshe answered that the first half of the phrase is there to teach us that the mountain where they met was the Mountain of God only because Moshe had camped there. The place was holy only because Moshe had made it so.

In other words, we sanctify our holy places, not vice versa. Our houses of prayer are sacred places only because of what we bring to them. We find God wherever we are willing to seek God, wherever we truly open our hearts. Or, as the Kotzker Rebbe put it, God is wherever we make room for God to be.