Yitro – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis
We recall the exodus in our daily prayers but the Ten Commandments, the “Aseret Dibrot“ are not included. In the distant past the Ten Commandments were added to the recitation of the Shema but nowadays this is not so. It has been surmised that they were left out in order that the people would not think that these words would be considered the totality of Jewish belief.
Thirty-three centuries after they were first given, the Ten Commandments remain the simplest, most pragmatic guide to creation and the maintenance of a good society. To quote from the preamble of the American Constitution:
We hold these truths to be self-evident
They apply to all societies, both Jewish and non-Jewish, many alternatives have been tried, and most have ended in tears. There is a famous aphorism:
When all else fails, read the instructions
As Jews we are more than those ten “Dibrot”, those “words” and this is spelled out this week when God says:
וְאַתֶּ֧ם תִּֽהְיוּ־לִ֛י מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּֽהֲנִ֖ים וְג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ
And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation
We responded by saying:
כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָֹ֖ה נַֽעֲשֶׂ֑ה
All that the Lord has spoken we shall do
The covenant at Sinai was with all of us, men, women and children and we were committing ourselves to a relationship with God. It would not be a simple legal contract but would be total commitment; much as a marriage.
The Hebrew text actually speaks of “a kingdom of “Cohanim”, “priests” and yet in what sense were we ever a kingdom of priests? (The Cohanim were an elite within the nation, of the tribe of Levi and descendants of Aaron the first High Priest.)
That is what made Jews historically hard to lead. Chaim Weitzmann, the first president of Israel, famously said:
I head a nation of a million presidents.
The Lord may be our shepherd, but no Jew was ever a sheep.
At the Seder service we say:
In every generation it is the duty of each individual to regard himself as though he had gone forth out of Egypt
Perhaps we also need to recall that we were all there at Sinai but, becoming a “Kingdom of Priests” is an ongoing task.