Yom Sheini, 4 Adar 5778
LiveStreaming   HolidayHandbookHeaderTwoLine  

Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah--Yitro

I just read the most wonderful Jewish mother story:I just read the most wonderful Jewish mother story:

Sadie Finkelstein lived in an apartment on New York’s Lower East Side for about 50 years. Her son, David, had made it big in the corporate world as a cosmopolitan businessman, wheeling, and dealing, traveling to every corner of the globe. Of course, he shopped in only the world’s most exclusive boutiques.For his mother’s 75th birthday, David decided to send her a gift of the finest Russian caviar and France’s most exquisite Champagne. From his hotel suite in Paris, he had the items shipped with one-day delivery, the Champagne and caviar on ice!A few days later, David called his mother up. “Ma,” he asked, “did you receive a package?”“Sure, I received a package,” his mother said. She did not seem impressed“Well, how was it?” David asked in anticipation.All he heard was a sigh. Then … a pause, “To tell you the truth,” said Sadie “The ginger ale was very sour, and the blackberry jelly tasted too salty.” 

Beauty and value always rest in the eyes and palate of the observer/partaker. 

This week, in Torah, we get the “Aseret hadibrot,” or in English, the “Ten Commandments.” Walk into any Jewish sanctuary in the world, and you will find them somehow displayed. 613 “commandments” exist in the Torah, and these ten represent the much bigger corpus of ethical precepts, ritual admonitions, communal regulatory recommendations (note I avoided the words “rules” or “commands”).

Tradition teaches the “giving” of these top ten as a crescendo moment in the Biblical narrative.   As a prelude to the revelation, God tells Moses a couple of things. God is addressing a throng of close to 2 million people at the foot of Sinai. Torah tells us that there are 600,000 men of military age. By the time you add the males too old or too young to serve and all of the females, we estimate 2 million. Granted some read the text as 60,000 men who would yield 200,000 total people. Either way, the texts, and commentaries make it clear that not only did the descendants of the 70 that Jacob brought to Egypt come out, but there were others, as well. Judah, by the way, represents only one-twelfth of the tribes tied directly into Jacob's bloodline. So, B’nai Israel (children of Israel) is not simply a biologic term of DNA ancestry. In other words, lots of people who had no blood ties to the ancestor Jacob stood as the spiritual inheritors of the blessing.

God then tells Moses to tell all of the people, “Now, if you obey and keep my covenant, you shall be a treasure to me, for all the earth is mine. You will be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.” (Ex 19:5-6)The question arises, who owns this inheritance. All of Jewish tradition roots in these texts. That said, I would argue that all religions (certainly the three western religions) root in these texts. Yes, they read differently in different traditions and translationally in different languages.

20 years ago, I had a myopic debate with the then Secretary of State for South Carolina over the exclusive use of one version over another. If we use the Christian version versus the Jewish version, does that make sense? By the end of the conversation, it hit me that neither was appropriate in the statehouse/court. Using either version (even if we could agree) excludes everyone else who does not have such a text or a text in a similar format.How much energy do we spend trying to supersede each other in faith? How many victories do we claim because we diminish someone else?

Here is my truth: God (whatever God is) does not belong to any of us. We belong to God. We are pieces of this bigger universe; it is not ours. What matters most is what value we put into and on this relationship. Is it salty jelly or is it caviar? Do we celebrate our faith and wrestle with righteousness or do we complacently walk through this world? Or worse, do we measure our existence by how well we can aggrandize ourselves and our situations, even at the expense of others? A lot of people say prayers and have memorized the “Ten Commandments,” but how many of them pay attention to how they live their prayers or ethically wrestle with living righteously in this world? It is time to stop “being” religious and time to start “doing” faith. Shabbat shalom.