Wednesday, January 31, 2018

My Words Fill The Sky With Flame; Might And Glory Gonna Be My Name (John Barlow & Bob Weir - "Estimated Prophet")

          For the past several weeks, my kids have been asking me questions about food. No, I don't get too many questions about Kashrut. However, I am asked numerous questions about food, calories, fat content, and exercise. Apparently, I have a new job in our family. Perhaps I have a certain degree of "street cred" with my kids because of my weight loss and because of my daily work-out; a regimen including push-ups, crunches, and an hour on the elliptical machine. I have become our family's personal trainer/nutritionist/life coach/guru. Before I was just a dad. Primarily their questions are about food, nutrition, exercise, and anatomy. Invariably my answers drift into making sure to get enough sleep, avoiding stressful situations, developing healthy outlets for stress so that no one becomes emotionally overwrought and overwhelmed, being extremely disciplined in these new behaviors. They listen, and engaging in trial and error, they figure out what works for them, and only then do they realize that the hardest part is putting it into disciplined practice.
            This week's Parsha is Yitro. Named after Moshe father-in-law, who happens to be a Midianite priest, the Parsha begins with Moshe leading B'nai Yisroel toward the wilderness of Midian where he meets up with his father-in-law, his wife, and his two sons. Yitro suggests that Moshe should create a bureaucracy whereby others administer the small everyday rulings required of a judge. Difficult legal issues would be administered by Moshe. Moshe is then commanded by God to bring B'nai Yisroel to Har Sinai. For three days they will purify themselves, clean their clothes, not have marital relations, and purify their souls for a revelation. There with the mountain smoking and thunder billowing from the heavens, God begins to speak. B'nai Yisroel is absolutely petrified and fearing death, they beg Moshe to go up the mountain as their Shaliach (appointed messenger). Moshe ascends the mountain and receives the Aseret HaDibrot (the Ten Commandments), then descends. Upon his descent, he tells B'nai Yisroel the Aseret HaDibrot. The Parsha concludes with B'nai Yisroel readily accepting the Ten Commandments, Moshe re-assures the people not to fear the thunder and the flames, God attests to the fact that B'nai Yisroel has accepted these commandments and then commands Moshe to build an altar of earth.
         The Ten Commandments are bound by several themes. The first five commandments are God-oriented. The second five commandments are people oriented. Violation of The Aseret HaDibrot is punishable by death. Through our modern perspective, we may not agree but we can understand the concept of capital punishment in terms of murder, testifying falsely, (in which false testimony leads to death), or even kidnapping. However, how do we explain capital punishment as a punishment for not honoring your parents, keeping the Shabbat or committing Avodah Zarah (Idolatry)? Certainly violating Shabbat or violating the first five commandments that are all God oriented does not necessarily hurt someone else. Even not honoring one's parents might not warrant capital punishment in today's day and age. So how do we understand that each commandment is punishable by death? We know that if we do not take care of our bodies, there is a chance our bodies will be hurt. If we don't eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise then our resistance is low and there is a chance we will get sick. If we don't fasten our seatbelts then there is a chance that we won't be able to walk away from an accident. If we drink too much and too often or if we smoke, we know that we are doing damage to our body. As human beings, we also have a soul. Just like we know to do things that help our physical existence, there are things that we do to help our spiritual existence. Failure to take care of our souls is also detrimental to our existence. Failure to take care of our souls leads to emptiness, purposelessness and a misguided existence. The first five commandments are about the welfare of our souls in the context of our direct relationship with God.  The first five commandments give us a sense of purpose for own existence in relation to God. The second five commandment is also about the welfare of our souls, however, these second five commandments are within the context of our relationship to our fellow man beginning with our parents. By violating these second five commandments, we not only hurt the other person but in a sense, we damage ourselves, we diminish the holiness within our souls. As such, we are sentencing ourselves to a spiritual death.
            In a sense, our own ignorance, our own anxieties, our own insecurities, our lack of purpose and our lack of focus imprison us. The Aseret HaDibrot offers us a means to transcend that which imprisons us. We are provided a blueprint to live a life that is part of a community (the second five commandments) and accounts for our own sense of self-worth and purpose (the first five commandments). The Aseret HaDibrot teaches us and commands us to transcend time and space by adding meaning and holiness to our lives. The Aseret HaDibrot teaches us that our spiritual well being is just as important as our physical well being. When our soul is complete, filled with a sense of purpose, filled with love, and filled with the acknowledgment that there is God, we are able to transcend the physical.  As I continue answering my kids' questions about nutrition, exercise and trying to be healthier, I find that my answers not only focus upon their physical health: their nutrition, their physical fitness, their physical development, and the habits that support their physical beings. My answers and my deep-seated concern focus upon their spiritual, emotional, and moral health: their ability to handle stress, their positive demeanor, their sense of faith, their concern for others, their tolerance for those who are different, and to be part of the world rather than retreat from it. Finally, I remind them that health is as much a physical orientation as it is a spiritual/emotional orientation.
Rav Yitz

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