The day before he was born an angel appeared to Rav Naftali the Ropshizer Rebbe and showed him a tablet divided into two columns. On the right side "The learned man should be a fiery furnace." On the left "The meek and lowly shall inherit the world to come." On the right "Man should be wise in his fear of God." On the left "You should be simple-hearted in your love of the Lord." On the right "God wants the heart." On the left side, from Jeremiah: "The heart of His people is corrupt and wayward." The unborn Rebbe pondered the paradox. Until he heard the voice of the angels, "You are now to be born." Whereupon he resolved to follow both columns no matter the contradictions.
---Paraphrased as retold by Rabbi Edward Feinstein in Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies weekly portion -- Yitro 2014
Jethro, the non-Israelite priest, Moses’ father-in-law, is the name of the portion that features what is arguably the most important or, at least, most famous passage in the Torah, the Ten Pronouncements, popularly known as the Ten Commandments. The rabbis wonder whether the incident with Yitro occurred chronologically as written, before the revelation at Mount Sinai, or was it placed there for other reasons.
Most commentators suggest that this portion was placed here to follow the war with Amalek to show that not all non-Israelites are evil. Most argue that Jethro couldn’t have brought the sacrifices before the building of the sanctuary in the desert. They cite a common Rabbinic principle: אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה There is no early or late in the Torah, meaning, not everything is necessarily in chronological order.
Yet some hold this is chronological. Jethro, if this is true, becomes the inspiration for the revelation at Sinai. After all, he finds Moses judging the people all day and wearing himself out. He suggests a judiciary system whereby judges of ten would take care of most legal matters, judges of 50 would be minor appellate courts for the more difficult and so on such that Moses would only deal with the most challenging of disputes between Israelites. Further Yitro suggests they receive a set of laws to follow so they don’t have to ask Moses about everything. Closely following Yitro’s advice the revelation at Sinai and next week’s portion Mishpatim (laws) ensue.
I’ve just read Decoding Reality: The Universe as Quantum Information by Vlatko Vedral who reminds us that Quantum Mechanics teaches that things can exist in two places at the same time. It’s only by observing them that we ‘make them decide’ where they are, that we limit them.
Perhaps the way we should understand the rabbinic dictum of those who reject the chronological is by what it says and not by what it implies. Perhaps the rabbis had figured the intricacies of quantum mechanics from the perspective of time and not just space prior to the invention of the science by Max Planck in the early 20th century. It’s not so much that things are not in chronological order but that the Torah is a timeless document whose chronology is not always relevant or, like a photon that can be two places at once until we observe it experimentally, the Torah can have it both ways so we can learn from both variations.
Paraphrasing Niels Bohr in his book, Vedral states: 'A shallow truth is a statement whose opposite is false; a deep truth is a statement whose opposite is also a deep truth.'
Further, as Rabbi Feinstein writes in the current week’s commentary from the Ziegler School: Consider this image: A pendulum, swinging back and forth. The arc described by the pendulum is truth. If you stop the pendulum anywhere along the arc and you say, "This point here at the zenith, this is the truth" ... or if you stop it down at the midpoint and say, "This is truth" -- you are wrong. You will always be wrong, because truth is the pendulum in motion.
We don’t stop moving on Shabbat, we simply stop instigating the motion of the pendulum and continue to swing in whatever motion that which we have lived up to now propels us.