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Ten Commandments

Radical Inclusion at Sinai

We have arrived. All of the stories; all the of the generations between Adam and Eve, and the matriarchs and patriarchs; and 400 years of slavery in Egypt now culminate in the Israelites’ triumphant redemption. They all lead to this singular moment: the Revelation at Sinai. In Parashat Yitro, Moses guides the Israelite people to Mt. Sinai where they encounter God, experiencing all the drama and glory of Revelation.

Biblical commentators consistently note that one of the exceptional aspects of the Revelation at Sinai is that it is a communal revelation. Every previous moment of revelation in the Torah consists of God speaking privately to an individual or two — Noah, Abraham, Moses, and so on. Private revelation is the most common in other religions as well: an individual experiences God and then shares that revelation more broadly.

D'var Torah By: 
Worthy Guardians for Years to Come
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Maurice A. Salth

At Mount Sinai God was pleased to hear the vast multitude of diverse Israelites say in one united voice: “All that the Eternal has spoken we will do!” (Exodus 19:8) and God wanted additional assurance that they would follow through on this commitment. God told them: “I require worthy guarantors that you will observe Torah.” And the people of Israel replied: “Sovereign of the Universe, our ancestors will be our guarantors.” God was unimpressed. “Your guarantors need guarantors themselves, for they have not been without fault,” said Adonai. And so they responded: “Our prophets will guarantee it.” God retorted: “I have found fault with them also.” Thus the people offered this pledge: “Let our children be our guarantors.” And with a smile God concurred: “These are excellent guarantors, because of them I will give it to you” (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:4). The b’rit, “covenant,” advances and Torah is revealed.

We All Will Die, But We Must Be Grateful

Sukkot is known in Rabbinic tradition as the "Festival of Our Joy" (Z'man Simchateinu, a name that derives from Leviticus 23:40: "You shall rejoice before the Eternal your God seven days"). Sukkot is the only festival for which the command to rejoice is given. It is a commandment — a mitzvah: us'mach'tem — "be happy!" 

D'var Torah By: 
The Sukkah and the Fragility of Peace
Davar Acher By: 
Neal Katz

Sukkot reminds me of the beautiful text of the Haskiveinu prayer in which we praise God for watching over us as we lie down for the evening. We also praise God for spreading over us a sukkah, or shelter, of peace. We close that prayer by blessing God, haporeis sukkat shalom aleinu, "whose shelter of peace is spread over us."

Monotheism and the Problem of Truth

"You shall have no other gods beside Me!" This is the first of Aseret HaDib'rot, literally the "Ten Declarations" or "Ten Commandments" found in this week's parashah, Va-et'chanan (see Deuteronomy 5:2-18; we recited a slightly different version earlier in the year in Parashat Yitro, Exodus, chapter 20). Aseret HaDib'rot lays out the central terms of an exclusive covenant between God and Israel. After a brief prologue in which God self-identifies as the One who freed Israel from Egyptian bondage, the first declaration occurs in the form of a command that Israel take no other gods in addition to the God of Israel: "You shall have no other gods beside Me!"

D'var Torah By: 
Relentless Striving for Truth Helps Us Connect to God
Davar Acher By: 
Dan Moskovitz

My teacher Dr. Revuen Firestone raises critical questions in his commentary on this week's parashah: Is there one "Truth" (with a capital T)? Can there be multiple truths? He concludes, as our Torah teaches, that some truths are beyond our understanding, some answers will always elude us. But we are duty bound as Jews to pursue them even if we are "striving after wind" (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

The Complex Commandment To Be Holy

The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:1-2)

Parashat K'doshim places before us one of the most difficult commandments in the whole Torah. It's not kashrut or Shabbat, or even the rules of sexual conduct, but rather, the admonition and the expectation to "be holy." Throughout the Torah, we are given rules and statues that tell us what to do. Here are we told what to be. A similar statement is found in Exodus 19:6, where we are commanded to be a "kingdom of priests and a holy people." But what does it mean to be holy? The parashah does not define what holiness is, nor does it tell us what it means to be holy. The guidance it gives us is in the specifics: the who, when, why, and how of the injunction.

D'var Torah By: 
The Limits on Our Pursuit of Holiness
Davar Acher By: 
Gregory S. Marx

What is the definition of chutzpah? It is believing that you are better than you really are or expressing a sense of entitlement. Maybe that's not a perfect definition, but we certainly know it when we see it.

We are living, psychologists tell us, in the "age of narcissism."1 More and more people express a sense of entitlement and privilege. In America we hear of so many speaking of their rights as citizens, while fewer and fewer vote2 or serve their country in the military3. In the synagogue community, so many leaders observe a precipitous decline in volunteerism and service. Far too many seek membership in order to receive services. We expect our clergy to bless our children and officiate at various life cycle events, but all too rarely see our belonging as a way to contribute to the greater good.

Can You Really Ask God That?

This week's Torah portion, Ki Tisainterrupts the description of the building of the Tabernacle with a long narrative section that includes the story of the Golden Calf, the smashing of the Ten Commandments, the carving of the second set of tablets, and — although perhaps less famously — the most chutzpadik (impertinent) question in the whole Torah.

The question comes after Moses has negotiated twice with God on behalf of the Israelites: first, with moderate success, when he asks God to forgive the people for the sin of the idolatrous Golden Calf; and second, when he successfully convinces God to lead the Israelites along the next stage of their journey.

But Moses' next negotiation with God is not on behalf of the Israelites, but for himself. Out of the blue, it seems, just as God has acceded to his second request, Moses speaks up again. "Oh, let me behold Your Presence!" he says to God (Exodus 33:18).

D'var Torah By: 
Anger and the Voice of (Almost) Reason
Davar Acher By: 
Rachel Ackerman

The dance between Moses and God is always a complicated one, and Ki Tisa offers us no exception.

Just as Moses nears the end of his 40 days and nights atop Mount Sinai and finishing touches are being put on the tablets, God urges Moses to hurry down the mountain because God wants to be left alone to destroy the Israelites for having built the Golden Calf.

But Moses begs God not to destroy these people, telling God that doing so would bring into question God's motives in the first place and make God out to be evil. And God relents to Moses.

Beyond the Noise

The Revelation on Mt. Sinai . . . the giving of the Ten Commandments . . . our Torah portion, Yitro, describes the scene with great fanfare. The text has given cinematographers plenty of good material: thunder and lightning, smoke rising up into the sky, the whole mountain shaking violently, and the loud blaring of a horn, sometimes specifically called a shofar. Miraculous? Inspiring? Awesome? Yes, our Sages teach, but it was also really, really noisy.

When the medieval rabbis read about Sinai, they focus our attention on that seemingly unimportant detail of just how loud it all must have been. One medieval commentator, the French rabbi known as Rashbam, teaches that the description of God answering Moses "in thunder" is really a metaphor about the volume of God's voice—God had to shout to be heard over all of the other noise at Sinai! (see Rashbam on Exodus 19:19). And God was shouting for good reason. "The blast [of the shofar] was louder than any sound that had ever been heard before," Rashbam's contemporary, the Spanish sage Ibn Ezra writes on Exodus 19:16.

D'var Torah By: 
The Gift of Sinai Is in Our Standing Together
Davar Acher By: 
Jill Perlman

In Yitro, we find ourselves at the base of Sinai encountering God as one people, as we receive Torah. It is a sacred moment meant to reverberate down the generations. We were all there. We all stood at Sinai.

Revelation is a gift. It disrupts our senses and prepares us for something entirely new. However, revelation of any kind, especially the sacred kind, doesn't just fall in our laps. We come to Sinai; Sinai doesn't come to us. The story of Sinai teaches us to prepare ourselves—for Revelation could be around the corner at any moment if our eyes are open.

One of the most profound gifts of Sinai as a model is that it teaches us that we need not travel alone on our spiritual journeys. When we gathered at the base of the mountain, we didn't show up alone. We arrived as one community.

So, What’s the Point? Ecclesiastes and Chol HaMo-eid Sukkot

Chances are that many of us are familiar only with the section of Ecclesiastes that begins "To everything there is a season," only because we've heard it at a funeral or – thanks to the late

D'var Torah By: 
Finding a Hopeful Message in Kohelet
Davar Acher By: 
Brian I. Michelson

It is all useless, Kohelet said, it is all useless. Everything is useless. (Ecclesiastes 1:2)1

Yom Kippur All Year Long

In the first part of this week's parashah, Acharei Mot/K'doshim, the Torah's fullest description of Yom Kippur appears.

D'var Torah By: 
Repentance and the Wilderness
Davar Acher By: 
Scott Hausman-Weiss

Rabbi Sherman offers us eternal lessons for the long-lasting effects that Yom Kippur can and should have on us throughout the year.

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