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.
Following the giving of the Ten Commandments in last week’s Torah portion,Parashat Mishpatim brings us a diverse collection of civil, criminal, ritual, and ethical laws. Included in the parashah is a section of text that has become relevant to a topic that is highly contested in our day.
Next month, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, a challenge to a restrictive Texas abortion law. It will be the first time in more than 20 years that the Supreme Court has heard an abortion case.
Anyone who has lived in New York City is familiar with the challenges of "small-space living." When I was apartment hunting in New York, I looked at one apartment where the kitchen was so small, the refrigerator was placed directly in front of the kitchen sink. In order to wash your dishes, the real estate agent explained, you could just stand off to the side and reach in. In the apartment I ended up taking, one of the bedrooms could only fit a bed — no other furniture at all. Luckily, my roommate was short enough to be able to stand underneath a loft bed to access a desk and a dresser.
Since I left New York, though, the concept of small-space living has come into vogue. HGTV, for example, currently airs three series on the glamour of living in spaces with an average size of 180 square feet. An article describes, "For some, the tiny house movement has become a way of life, adjusting to a smaller space and fewer possessions, with a goal of saving money and focusing on relationships and experiences."1
Just a few years after leaving New York City, when my husband and I moved into our not-so-tiny house, I remember wondering how we would ever fill the space. It was so much bigger than any of the apartments I'd lived in. I quickly got used to life in a house, and I'll admit that I much prefer it to the tiny apartment with the side-access sink. But a beautiful midrash on this week's Torah portion, Parashat T'rumah, suggests that God might think about things a little differently.
W.C. Fields said, "Never work with animals or children, [they steal the spotlight]." Though no one ever accused him of being a Torah scholar, his insight was certainly applicable to this week's Torah portion. Parashat Noach, the second portion in the Book of Genesis (and my bar mitzvah portion) is perhaps the most universally known and, at least by children, most adored portion in the entire Torah. This is in part, no doubt, because it has not one animal, but all animals — and they come in pairs! Later, God teaches us to value one another in the incident of the Tower of Babel.
In The Fires of Spring, the late prolific American author, James Michener, wrote: “For this is the journey that humans make: to find themselves. ... " In this week’s parashah, Lech L’cha, we read a similar imperative to find purpose in life, to listen to and live — as your true self.
In my experience as a living, breathing human being, regardless of gender, age, or orientation there is only one correct answer to the question, “Honey, does this outfit look OK?” The answer comes from the Torah in this week’s portion Vayeira, and is attributed to no greater authority than God: it is to say whatever is necessary to make the person in the outfit feel good about themselves and supported by you. Even if that means you have to lie, it is a mitzvah!
In this weekly podcast, we will offer insight into the weekly Torah portion, condensing 2,000 years of Jewish wisdom into just 10 minutes of modern-day commentary. This week Rabbi Rick Jacobs delves deep into parashat Yitro from the book of Exodus. Enjoy!
Three ways to listen:
In this weekly podcast, we will offer insight into the weekly Torah portion, condensing 2,000 years of Jewish wisdom into just 10 minutes of modern-day commentary. This week Rabbi Rick Jacobs delves deep into parashat Mishpatim from the book of Exodus. Enjoy!
Four ways to listen: