Parashat Yitro: We can create a beautiful world

Friends,

Some people think that the real meaning of Judaism is to pay attention to God through ritual. Other people think that the real meaning of Judaism is to pay attention to other people through acting ethically. Guess what? They are one and the same. When God gave Moses the Decalogue, the first five commandments—the “God commandments”—were on the first tablet. The second five commandments—the “people commandments”—were on the second tablet.

But it turns out that you can read the commandments across the two tablets, linking the first and the sixth, the second and the seventh, and so forth. And when you do that, something interesting happens. Check it out: “I the Lord am your God…” links to “You shall not murder”. Because everyone is made in God’s image, anyone who murders another person has destroyed the divine image in that person. “You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image …” links to “You shall not commit adultery”. Constantly looking for new partners is like worshiping other gods. To violate one sacred relationship is tantamount to violating the other sacred relationship.

You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God … ” links to “You shall not steal”. Why? Because those who steal will always swear that they didn’t do so! “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy …” links with “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour”, because if you violate the Sabbath, it is as if you are bearing false witness against God, saying that God did not rest on Shabbat.

And then the best for last. “Honour your father and mother …” links to “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house …” Really? What’s the connection there? Because if you covet things, you are saying that you wish you were richer—which is another way of saying that you wish you had been born into a different family.

To quote the writer Dennis Prager: “Properly understood and applied, the Ten Commandments are really all humanity needs to make a beautiful world. . . . If people and countries lived by the Ten Commandments, all the great moral problems would disappear.”

What an amazing thought — Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin)

Parashat Yitro: Who am I and who is my neighbour?

Chaverim,

The first Mishna in the tractate Rosh Hashana informs us of various ’new years‘. These are times of the year that are considered the beginning of the annual calendar with regard to various laws. The Rosh Hashana for trees is the fifteenth day of the month of Sh’vat, more famously known as ‚Tu Bi Sh‘vat‘. This day is considered a festive day. Further, there is the universal custom to make blessings on, and, eat a variety of fruit. The overall focus of the day is to thank God for the gift of trees to the world and to recognise the wonders of nature.

Tu Bi Sh‘vat and Parashat Yitro

In our Torah portion we read of God‘s encounter with all people of Israel. In this moment of intense, hallowed energy, a voice echoed through the Sinai mountains. It began, “I am the Lord your God…” and concluded with “all that is your neighbour’s.” The Torah’s ten essential guidelines, which address our place in the world are bookended by the self (anokhi) and the other (re’ekha). 

Rabbi Ira Blum teaches that on a daily basis, we challenge ourselves to consider the existential WHO AM I? and the social WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR? What a blessing! To be tasked with the responsibility of compassion and respect for others, even as we continue our individual searches for truth and meaning.

As we celebrate Tu Bi Sh‘vat this week, let us mirror our natural environment by finding strength and space to nourish personal growth, while cultivating circles of responsibility. May we find balance in our rooted knowledge, and may we continue to enrich one another on our journeys of self-discovery, social awareness, and everything in between.

Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbi Ira Blum)