Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-Yitro

“I am Adonai, your God … you shall have no other gods before Me.” These are the first of the “10 Commandments.” Some versions/traditions would argue that these are two separate statements, and depending on the conversation; I might often be inclined to agree. The neat thing about the Exodus 20 list is that there are not really “ten;” there can be ten, or as many as nineteen. Torah is absolutely flexible. That said, “I am Adonai, your God … you shall have no other gods before Me.”

According to Torah, God is a jealous God. “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Wow! Don’t you find it sardonically amusing that the character of God starts the “Decalogue” reminding us that God is impassioned/jealous, and will end it demanding that we not be jealous and covetous? Have no gods before GOD, lest God’s jealousy wreak havoc amongst the people. These two statements bookend the “10 Commandments” (first and last). In the same vein, there are a great many who want to post and live by these “rules” in every public venue and every walk of life. They point out that we are made in the image of God (creation story of Genesis) and hence must live by God’s standards – the Bible … biblical inconsistencies notwithstanding.

“I am Adonai, your God … you shall have no other gods before Me. I the Lord your God am a jealous God, but don’t you be jealous.” I refuse to believe that the sages missed this one in creating this canon. I do believe that making them the bookends our sages are trying to tell us something about how to see scripture, but more importantly, how to see ourselves in a relationship with Divinity. Do we really believe that God is schizophrenic or worse, a hypocrite? How could “God” tell us that it is ok for God to act badly, but not allow for our human failings? Perhaps we need to come to grips with what it is that we truly believe. If I believe that the Source of creation is good, then I have to look at these texts and see them in a light separated from the one through which I view creation and inspiration.

The Bible is prophetic. The book is intended to create an inspirational conversation between its readers (as is the mission of all sacred scripture). We find holiness in the engagement with each other, not the book. So, what is the purpose of bookending the Decalogue the way that the text does? I believe it is to remind us not to make the God of the Bible … GOD; and not to make an idol out of the Bible. Think about it. Bullies threaten others. Why would the GOD of love, the GOD of all creation, the GOD of all sustenance need to threaten people?

We find faith in the holiness of engagement and not in the fear of punishment. Faith exists where we choose to share in each other’s dignity, because we matter to each other, not because we are threatened into being with each other. As I listen to what is passing for politics these days, I hear rhetoric demanding that we choose our sides and our camps. To be undecided is to be “unfaithful” in the eyes of the bullies demanding our vote, our resources, and our submission to the narrowing message that distinguishes one bad answer from the other.

Pick your party; there is no sense of collegiality. There is no sense that we need to forge a future together. There is no sense that service matters anymore. What matters is power, the power that allows us to demean others and lord ourselves over them. This is the voice that tells us to make America great, as we dismiss the validity and value of countless Americans. This is the voice that calls for us to construe strictly the Constitution that demands that certain rights are INALIENABLE, even as they try to alienate people from a free exercise of these rights. What made our country great was our commitment to creating opportunity for lives downtrodden and threatened elsewhere. Read the Statue Of Liberty. What threatens us most are the hypocritical voices that call on us to believe in only them, while they pay no heed to us. Why, if we are truly insistent on making America great, are we insistent on destroying the very values upon which we flourish? IF God is a bully, I want no part of God. Likewise, I have no use for bullies who insist that I bow only to their egos and their power.

This week’s Torah text is eye opening. God is not an idol. I pray that we pay attention in our own lives to keep any of those craving power from becoming our God. In the end, I have to pray for enlightenment, for dignity, for wisdom and for healing of the growing breach exiling us from each other. Shabbat Shalom.