Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law and Midianite priest, heard about the miraculous Exodus from Egypt. He came to meet Moshe in the desert, together with his daughter Tziporah (Moshe’s wife) and Moshe’s two sons. Moshe greeted Yitro and told him what has happened to the Israelites. Yitro and Moshe brought offerings.
Moshe was busy making halachic rulings from morning to evening. Concerned that this was too much for Moshe, Yitro advised him to set up an alternative system of judging the people, involving the appointment of a cascading system of judges. Only the major issues would be brought directly to Moshe. Moshe accepted Yitro’s advice and appointed judges over subgroups of 1000, 100, 50 and 10 people.
The people travelled from Refidim and arrived in the Sinai Desert. Moshe ascended Mount Sinai. God told Moshe to inform the people that if they listen to His voice and keep His covenant, they will become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.
The people agreed to God’s offer. God told Moshe to instruct the people to wash their clothing, refrain from marital relations and not to approach the mountain for the next three days. Moshe relayed this to the nation. God’s Presence descended onto the mountain; there was thunder, lightning and shofar blasts; the mountain was covered in smoke.
God ‘descended’ upon Mount Sinai and Moshe ascended again. God once again told Moshe to warn the people not to approach the mountain. God spoke the Ten Commandments: 1. Faith in God’s existence 2. Prohibition of idol worship 3. Prohibition of taking God’s Name in vain 4. Remembering Shabbat to keep it holy and refraining from ‘work’ 5. Honouring one’s parents 6. You shall not Murder 7. You shall not Commit adultery 8. You shall not Steal 9. You shall not Bear false testimony 10. You shall not Covet what others have.
Trembling from this awesome experience, the people retreated and asked Moshe to be a go-between, instead of God speaking to them directly, lest they die. Moshe reassured them. God told Moshe to warn the nation not to carve certain images. The commandment was given to build a designated altar upon which offerings to God should be brought.