We are typically not at our best when we’re perplexed or in pain, when we’re exhausted, afraid, or enraged. Under such conditions, a knee-jerk response can make us appear out of character. Sometimes we react so vehemently that we become compelled to retract our words or apologize for our deeds. Unsettling times can yield ill-conceived infractions.
How can we rebalance? By revisiting our foundational values. The Ten Commandments in this week’s portion of Torah could not arrive at a better time. There is a fascinating detail in the text concerning their timing that sets the stage for God’s Sinai revelation. “On the third new month after their Exodus from Egypt, on this very day, the Israelites entered the Sinai wilderness” (Ex. 19:1). The wording about timing is precise. It doesn’t say ‘on that very day’ (ba-yom ha-hu). Instead the text says, ‘on this very day’ (ba-yom ha-zeh). God’s revealing power isn’t merely historic. It’s immediate. Here and now. It can, and perhaps should, feel like ‘Breaking News’.
Abraham Lincoln understood the power of personal intimacy with foundational documents. Thought-leader Bari Weiss teaches us about his ‘Electric chord’ speech of 1858 whereby our 16th President commandingly asserted that we can and do hold ideas and ideals and truths as self-evident even if we did not directly inherit them. Americans who do not descend from the Mayflower “look through that old Declaration and see themselves as though they were blood of the blood and flesh of the flesh of those who wrote it.” This is because their lives make its ideas personal, vivid, and preciousness.
Lincoln knew his Bible. He may even have known of the tradition that ‘all souls were present at Sinai’ which claims that every person can intimately experience the immediacy of its lessons. This President’s Day weekend invites an appreciation that it may have been from such a belief that Lincoln’s own conviction would emerge.
Today (ba-yom ha-zeh) as we look back through Sinai’s commanding Tablets, may we sense God’s liberating influence. May we feel particularly wary of idolizing status, wealth, ‘likes’ and retweets. May we remain maladjusted to falsehood. And, in curbing envy, may we rebalance our lives by living in God’s image by resting on the seventh day.
A sweet Shabbat to you.
Rabbi William Hamilton
Image courtesy of The Pucker Gallery | Lo Tirzach I, Oil on linen, 25.5 x 21.26