Today was the first time I heard the recitation of the Ten Commandments in synagogue. Or at least the first time I paid attention.
We stand for this part of the Torah portion and then the reader chants one after the next, enumerating the 10 statements that God spoke at Sinai. We read this today, on the holiday of Shavuot, which recalls the Giving of the Torah.
Recalls, but it’s an active giving, today and every day. Every morning when we rise, we greet the world anew, as if it is our very first day. And every morning, each of us makes a choice – to live according to a particular moral code or to run helter-skelter through life.
We may not realize we are actively committing every day, but we are. Last night, we talked about Torah until nearly midnight, the crackling fire in the backyard our only light. The children bounced balls on the driveway and laid on towels on the balcony, gazing up at a star-filled sky.
Six of us gathered around the table to contemplate the deeper meanings behind the day. This day. Every day. The fact that we have a day at all.
How often do we sit down with friends to discuss lofty subjects? How often do we get pulled along in the drone of everyday life almost without thinking or noticing?
Do you run down the street and see the bat house high up in a tree across from the golf course? Do you smell the fragrant flowering tree? Do you spot pink and yellow and stark white against the green and over the manmade landscape all around?
I know the 10 Commandments. Who doesn’t? And yet hearing them today enveloped me in a kind of awe. These words. These 10 instructions common to all in the western world. Do we know them? Do we have the proper reverence?
The first one:
I am Adonai, your God, who took you out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.
The context matters. God is God, but only He could liberate us from slavery. Literal? Metaphor? It’s your choice to discern the meaning that fits you best. God is God to us because He freed us.
Commonly known as you shall not have any other gods, but really translated better as you shall not bow to the gods of others in my presence. And if you believe God is all around, omnipresent, omnipotent, then you understand that as no other gods, ever. Just the one.
The god of ambition? The god of acquisition? The god of jealousy? The god of comparison? No other gods. Just the one.
Stop striving for the Mercedes or the mansion or whatever you think will bring happiness. We live now in an age of enlightenment. Gone are the industrial years. We are knee-deep in the thicket of the intellectual era, and too many people are going on retreat, meditating, dropping out of the rat race to live on an island or start a farm or bake more.
Why do you think? This is no coincidence. We’ve worked hard, and now it’s time to work our minds and our hearts.
The time to connect with the divine is now. The infinite. Ponder the meaning of everything. Of us.
Number four (skipping ahead): Remember the Sabbath day and sanctify it.
Take a day off. Rest. Shut down your smart phone. Talk to your children.
Play a game. Walk among the trees. Bless your food. Bless the people you love.
You don’t always have to write a blog. You don’t always have to check Facebook. One day each week, make it sacred. Because doing so makes you sacred.
Numbers 6 through 10 are short, staccato, to the point:
Don’t cheat on your spouse.
Don’t bear false witness.
Just don’t. It’s not worth it. These things bring you down, man. And all the do’s and don’ts of the moral code of life are really about restoring your soul to its divine origin. It’s not about anyone else. It’s not about pleasing the rabbi or fitting into the synagogue community.
It’s about you.
Eternal salvation, whatever that means.
Your soul reigning higher than your ego.
Don’t kill. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t testify falsely. Don’t covet.
All of these things depend upon looking outside of ourselves, thinking our salvation lies in the arms of another or in the eradication of another or in having more than another.
If every relationship is a mirror, what does it mean if you contemplate killing another soul? What are you doing to yourself?
These 10 commandments are pretty easy. If we want to simplify it, we might say that this is the recipe for a good life. Be good. Do good. Even if it’s hard sometimes.
Today is my little guy’s birthday. His middle name, Matan, means gift, or giving. The holiday of Shavuot, right now, is also known as Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah.
Notice it’s not past tense. Active gerund. Happening now.
That’s because we reenact this act of giving and receiving every single day. That’s no small thing.
When Shaya was born, I named his after my father’s father and gave him this middle name because I was so grateful. My precious son. My beautiful family. Three wonderful children. True gifts from God.
And I wanted him to know forever, the tears I shed were tears of gratitude and joy, at the beauty and the bounty of life, the everlasting promise.