Monday, January 28, 2013

Beyond Expectations

Parshat Yitro
Shmot 18:1 – 20:23
22 Shevat 5773 / Feb. 1 – 2, 2013

Beyond Expectations
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

I would like to open this Dvar Torah by correcting an often mistranslated word. We usually refer to the 10 G-dly pronouncements in this portion as the, “TEN COMMANDMENTS.” In truth, they are never referred to as commandments in the Hebrew text, but rather simply called statements. “G-d spoke all these statements, saying: (20:1)”.  (Also, there are many statements made and not just 10.) I think it is important to be specific about this translation because I do not think that these ten guidelines for living really need to be commanded, nor do they have to be specifically Jewish.  It is pretty clear from any ethical standpoint that in almost any situation, killing someone is wrong. Jealousy does not serve anyone for the good. And whether you do it Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, a day of rest is great for a personal and communal well-being. This means that the core of Divine ethical behavior should correspond quite nicely with human ethical behavior.

There is a part of me that reads this great revelatory passage of the Jews receiving Torah – with the great lights and loud noises – with a bit of a sigh. My mind’s inner voice asks, “Duh! What is so amazing about these statements?” The 10 Commandments are not a recipe from a worry-free life, or a prosperous life. Following them will hopefully grant someone a simple neutral existence.

I think I expect far too much from G-d.  Several years ago I chose to explore a traditionally observant path because I was experiencing unhappiness and did not see any other answers written for how to make my life better. I figured I would give the Jewish religion a shot. A few years later, I recognized that my life had not magically transcended all negative occurrences. I still get upset from time-to-time, and things certainly do not work out the way that I want. Maybe my focus was a bit misguided. What I have gained though is a Mary Poppin’s purse sized toolbox on how to deal with life’s challenges AND I am engaged in a daily proactive practice of personal integration.

Perhaps that is what I should expect from Torah, not an answer to my problems, but a way to engage with the entire spectrum of life experience – the ups and the downs.


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