This week we will be reading from parashat Yitro the revelation of the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. When reading it, I was reminded of an old joke, “don’t feel badly if you have a hard time keeping all of them, just remember Moses broke all of them at once.”
The theologies of revelation define many of the differences between the various streams of Judaism. In traditional Judaism, all of the Torah including the writing and Oral Torah were given to Moses at Sinai. According to Conservative Judaism, the Ten Commandments were revealed to Moses at Mt. Sinai. According to Reform Judaism, something happened at Sinai, but we are not sure if the Ten Commandments were Divinely given, Divinely inspired, or part of a theological-mythological oral tradition representing a creative history. However, I should note that the previous statement is in many ways an oversimplification of our understanding of Sinai to illustrate some of the theological differences between the various movements. It is in no way meant to reflect your personal religious beliefs.
If we have different understandings of Sinai, what then defines us as Jews collectively? Being Jewish is more than just theology and belief. It is also shared practices, shared rituals, a shared history, a shared experience, and a fundamental wrestling with all of it to try to understand how to bring holiness into the world. As Reform Jews, we may not be bound by Halacha, Jewish law, but we are more than a people who define themselves by what we don’t do.
Sinai, whether historical, theological, or mythological, became a defining moment for us as a people. The Ten Commandments represented the beginning of an ongoing process of revelation, whether truth and sacredness are literally being revealed or unearthed. It is our charge to be engaged in the process of seeking out greater holiness.
There is a wonderful midrash, rabbinic story, that we all stood together at Sinai, meaning we were all bound together and that we are all responsible for one another. It is not an easy task, and we can be a difficult and contentious people to others and to each other. Given the difficult times we live in, it is all the more important to celebrate the giving and receiving of Torah at Sinai, no matter our understanding of what may or may not have transpired. For when times are their most challenging, it is all the more important for us to bind ourselves together and to celebrate our collective heritage and tradition.
Though Moses may have broken all ten at once, he got back up, wrote them himself and continued to lead the people from the wilderness to the Promised Land. So too, we continue to be a light in the wilderness until all can enter into the Promised Land.
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff
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