D’var Torah for Friday, September 23, 2021

During Shabbat, Chol HaMo-eid Sukkot, we have both a special Torah reading and haftarah reading. The Torah reading comes to us from Exodus 33:12-34:26. This is the section where, following the incident of the golden calf and the breaking of the 10 Commandments, God instructs Moses to carve two more sets of tablets and ascend Mt. Sinai. It is here where we learn of the 13 attributes of God’s merciful nature, which we chanted throughout the High Holy Days. It is also where Moses carves the second set of 10 Commandments into the tablets. 

The first set of tablets were written by the finger of God, but here, they are written exclusively by human hand. What is really fascinating is that this set of commandments looks almost nothing like the first. The first set, one could argue were focused on mostly general ethical principles that can apply to almost any society. These include the prohibitions against lying, stealing, adultery and murder.

However, in Exodus 34, the commandments are much more Israelite specific. They include the prohibitions against idolatry, offerings, and the instructions to keep the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. This is why this section is read during Sukkot, as it is a reminder to keep the commandments regarding our fall harvest festival. This section of the story then ends with the mitzvah to not “boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 34:26), but that is a conversation for another day.

What are we to make of all of this? Does this mean there are actually three versions of the 10 Commandments? Possibly. But another important point is the emphasis our tradition placed on the agricultural festivals including Sukkot. That is because the fall harvest was so essential to the survival of the community, it was important to celebrate and give thanks. 

As we are less and less tied to the land, it is easier to take food and sustenance for granted. But having just come out of a major fast into a harvest celebration, our tradition is connecting the heart, mind, soul and stomach, with the important concept of gratitude. 

On this Shabbat where we celebrate creation and the harvest, may we be reminded to give thanks for the blessings we have in our lives and to also continue to work to make sure that all are able to celebrate with full stomachs and full hearts by contributing to our ongoing Youth Group food drive and supporting organizations like mazon.org, the Rhoda Bloom Food Pantry, People to People and other organizations that are doing this important work. 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff