What a wonderful metaphor for our approach to Torah today.
The study of Torah seems like an impenetrable wall of scholarship and understanding. But that is not so. While the words of G-d speak to us, seemingly, with thunder and lightning, they are also whispering to us in a way that speaks directly to our hearts. So, for you and your families to discuss over Shabbos dinner, here is a guide, in the spirit of Parshas Yitro, to bring the 10 Statements (ok, commandments) home to you:
1. How do you characterize the Almighty? What do you recognize as the ineffable and indescribable force in your life?
2. What forms of idolatry, literal or figurative are you in danger of worshiping? And how can you avoid them?
3. Think about your oaths, your promises. Especially if you preface them with…. “I swear to….”, what does it say about you if you cannot fulfill them?
4. Shabbat. Heschel’s Oasis in Time. Who cannot live without taking at least one day away from looking down at the grindstone of daily life and looking up instead? Otherwise, we’re running in circles. Hope to see you for a breather next Shabbos. Email me what you made special for dinner.
5. Your parents are solely responsible for creating you, and, at the very least, you should return the favor. Without prejudice, those who gave you life deserve your life blessing.
6. Chazal wonder why a prohibition against murder is even found in this “top ten.” It seems obvious. I would suggest that the commandment is designed to empower us to avoid any situation where we would consider homicide an appropriate remedy for a social condition, or even justify it as a legitimate punishment.
7. The bond between a husband and wife is sacred. While marriage doesn’t always work out the way we think it should, especially once there are kids involved, I refer you to Commandment #3.
8. Chazal equates theft with kidnaping. The Mechilta equates the 8th commandment with the 3rd; misstating ownership is equivalent with making a false oath. I’d go in a different direction—theft can be physical, intellectual, psychological, or experiential. We all have our rights to our property, thoughts, ideas, and realities, for good or not
9. There is no reason to lie about any situation. Nor to bend the truth. If you have a differing opinion, state it. Argue about it. Maybe you’ll teach someone; maybe they’ll teach you. But don’t try to engage someone else in a falsehood.
10. A prohibition against coveting another’s property seems impossible; who can see someone else’s incredible car or house and not think, “I’d like that!” Rabbi S.R. Hirsch recognizes that the last Commandment is a most challenging one; it could only be given by the Almighty, since the direction of thought could not be ordained by a mortal. I would suggest that this is the most complicated and difficult of the whole 10. The discipline which is required to restrain our thoughts and not covet that which belongs to others is really hard. But this is a commandment which comes not from the top down, but from the bottom up. It’s an imperative to make the most of what we have, rather than trying to redo ourselves over in the image of someone else. Learn how to be happy and content with who, and where you are. G-d will advance you as you deserve. You need to be square with yourself first.
Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen