In Parsha Yitro three very important things take place. First, Moses’s father-in-law Jethro (Yitro in Hebrew) advices Moses to set up a multi-leveled representative government made up of judges. Second Hashem descends over Sinai while the ancient Hebrews are encamped at the mountain’s base; and finally Moses is given what I call the Big Ten or more commonly referred to as the Ten Commandments. Pretty straight forward and clear cut right? Wrong this week’s portion has done nothing but cause misery in my life! I have never been thought of as a liar, I try not to take Hashem‘s name in vain, and heck I have never stepped out on any girl I dated, and yet this portion is the reason that an angry thirteen year old kid in north-central West Virginia banged his fists against his head and told Hashem the two of them were finished.
Ten set in stone easy to follow rules are not the reason I was frustrated and gave up it was the fact that something so straight forward is so muddied by people. Each commandment is nothing more than a branch sprouting out of the simplistic Essence of Judaism (aka the Golden Rule) but the rest of the Tanakh, Mishnah, Midrash, et cetera are arguments for either an open left handed caress or a clinched crushing right handed fist. ARRRRGGHGHG!!!!
The good news is I have always been a thinking man, meaning my distaste for my parents over zealous approach towards religion was the fuel that made me strike out on my own but it was not enough to keep me away. Of course I was antagonistic towards anyone observant until I could no longer justify my atheism and now my approach to Judaism is very secular and very modern but I am a Jew nonetheless and not an angry atheist or a member of another faith’s flock.
The thirty-three year old me understands what the thirteen year old could not and that is Halachah is meaningless unless it naturally flows through your life like a fresh water spring. Commentaries and parshot are great and I love them but they are there to feed you ,to strengthen you, to make you grow not to hinder your spark.
Shortly after turning twenty-two I apologized to Hashem for walking out on Him and since then I try and keep it simple but I do work hard at emanating the big ten internally and externally. For example number six sure I don’t kill people heck I don’t even eat or wear animals but it is also a charge against self destructive behaviors. Hashem wants us to live and you can’t do that when your killing yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Now when I study commentaries I always try and look at things from the author’s point of view. In order to truly find balance and grow as a Jew it is so important to fully understand opposing ideals and to completely embrace those you agree with.
Don’t just do something because it is tradition do it because you need to in order to be the best Jew you can be. Shalom.
Jeremiah@punktorah.org Twitter: @circlepitbimah