d’var Torah for February 5, 2021

This week we will be reading from parashat Yitro. In many ways it is the apex of the Exodus experience because it is at this point Moses ascends Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments. 

There are a great number of equal and opposite Midrashim (Rabbinic stories) about this singular event in our history. One of my favorites is that according to the Zohar, God held Mt. Sinai over the Israelites as a Chuppah and used the 10 Commandments as a ketubah. Thus these midrashic interpretations are arguing that the receiving of Torah at Sinai was like a wedding between God and the Jewish people.

By reading the passage this way, God chose us, and we chose God. This is part of the core argument that we are the Chosen people. Sadly, throughout much of our history, the idea of chosenness has been used in derogatory fashions to persecute rather than to embrace the Jewish people. The classic example is that we have been chosen to suffer because of our religious convictions and failures to accept the teachings of other religious communities. This is a part (though not the entirety) of the history of anti-Semitism.

However, this being Shabbat, I think we should save this conversation for another day. Instead we can focus on the positive elements of being chosen as well as choosing. We are part of a tradition that chooses to embrace holiness. We are part of a people that should aspire to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” We are a part of a people that should impress upon our children the significance of taking time to remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. 

We were chosen not because we were more special than any other Ancient Near Eastern community. Instead we were chosen because we chose God. 

On this Shabbat, I would encourage you to do something to embrace what it means to be part of a chosen people. Even in this time of pandemic, we continue to have opportunities to do something out of the ordinary. Do something sacred. Do something holy. As our tradition teaches, to choose takes effort and conscious choice. If we do so, we can look at ourselves at the end of the day, and borrow a line from one of my favorite Indiana Jones movies, and say to ourselves “he(she) chose wisely.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff