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2.17.2017 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri Feb 17, 2017 10:11 pm
by RabbiMark
This week’s parsha offers us two distinct perspectives on encountering the world of the Divine (i.e., a spiritual awakening). The more well-known involves the Israelites’ receiving of the Ten Commandments. The Torah goes into great detail about the emotional realities of this moment, primarily describing the community’s great fear and awe from dealing with such an overwhelming encounter. This human/GD encounter provides us with a model for a certain type of spiritual awakening, one in which GD’s presence is made known to us in an overwhelming and spectacular fashion. Exodus 20:15 describes blaring shofars, smoking mountains, and other super-natural events. In these scenarios, humans are generally passive participants, mainly bearing witness to a power much greater than ourselves, beyond our level of comprehension.

Notably, just prior to the Revelation, the Torah describes another type of spiritual awakening. This second type is one that we experience when we establish a soul connection with another person and often requires a more active and engaged form of spiritual awareness.

At the very beginning of the parsha, we are introduced to Yitro (Jethro), Moses’s father-in-law. Yitro is a Midianite priest, who our tradition views as a wise and holy person. Having heard about all that GD had done to release of the Israelites from slavery, Yitro sets out to meet up with Moses and the rest of the Israelites in the wilderness. Upon their reunion, Yitro quickly becomes aware of the great struggles Moses and the Israelites are enduring in order to maintain a level of civility amongst various members of community. Moses had been acting as the sole point of contact for those seeking GD's insight into how to deal with the concerns and issues, both large and small.

Yitro respectfully rebukes Moses for trying to do too much and, with GD's blessing, provides him with an alternative solution for setting up a more effective leadership structure. He suggests selecting trusted, righteous individuals - organized into several hierarchical levels of leadership - to attend to the concerns and needs of the community. In this alternative system, many more people are empowered and have a hand in maintaining the spiritual well-being of the community.

Prior to this restructuring, Moses, whom our tradition considers to be the humblest person who ever lived, has overextended himself. He fails to recognize his own limitations and, in so doing, unwittingly inflicts negative consequences on the community and on himself. In his effort to be all to all (which ultimately only GD is capable of), regardless of whether his intentions were noble or selfish, Moses diminished a connection to his own soul, leaving himself vulnerable and compromised, unable to fully connect to others. It took a trusted advisor to point out the flaws in his behaviors and to offer an alternative.

Since we have little to no control over moments of Revelation, like receiving the Ten Commandments, opportunities to attend to the needs of others, such as the system Yitro suggested, provide us with a more accessible means of encountering GD. The Torah states that all the individuals chosen for these leadership roles were righteous, GD-fearing people. And while they may have been upright in behavior, they were not selected because they already had a highly developed relationship with GD. We can understand this to mean that they displayed a willingness to listen deeply to others, with an ear towards both compassion and justice. Thus, listening to others with an open mind and with proper intention is an authentic means towards connecting with GD, both the GDliness within ourselves and in others.

Furthermore, the Torah describes that once this leadership system was put into place, it allowed all members of the community to find themselves in a place of peace. This wording can be understood to apply to the entire community, both those in leadership positions and members of the community. And we also can be assured that when we approach our relationships, whether it be our friends, family, co-workers, bosses, sponsors, sponsees, neighbors, etc., with an open heart and an open mind, we can have faith that one thing we will find is an encounter with the Divine.

Shabbat Shalom,
Chaplain Adam Siegel