YISRO (Exodus, 18:1-20:23) — “Honor thy … SELF!”

We’re all familiar with the two Tablets of the Ten Commandments.  You know, those tall stone tablets, rounded at the top that show up on Jewish illustrations everywhere.  Well, it seems that all those artists got the picture wrong.  The Tablets, each a cubit (somewhere between 18 and twenty-four inches) high, a cubit wide, and a half-cubit thick, were made of sapphire.  They were not rounded.  Held together they would form a perfect cube.

Each Tablet was engraved with five of the Ten Commandments.  It has been pointed out that the Commandments on the first Tablet deal with man’s relationship with G-d, while the second Tablet addresses his relationship his fellow man.

An examination of second tablets seems to agree with that explanation.  The prohibitions of 6) murder, 7) adultery, 8 ) kidnapping, (the Eighth Commandment is not a ban on stealing – that prohibition is in Leviticus, 19:11 – but that’s a Torah Talk for some other day.) 9) bearing false witness, and 10) coveting what your neighbor has are all Mitzvahs that govern getting along with other humans.

Most of the first Tablet appears to work as well.  1) Belief in G-d, prohibitions of 2) idol worship and 3) swearing falsely in G-d’s name, and 4) observing the Sabbath are all Mitzvahs that tell us how to properly respect our Creator.

 So, the explanation of “G-d-Mitzvahs” on Tablet #1 and “Humanity-Mitzvahs” on Tablet #2 is at least 90% accurate.  Where we run into trouble is at Commandment #5 – Honor your father and your mother.  The last time I checked, parents are human beings (although some teenagers might tend to disagree!)  What are parents doing on G-d’s Tablet?!  Shouldn’t the Mitzvah of honoring one’s parents fall in the category of Mitzvahs between fellow human beings?

The answer is obvious.  Our Sages tell us that there are three partners in the creation of a human being.  While one’s human parents are the physical creators of a child, it is G-d who provides the soul that gives life and spirituality to an otherwise lifeless clump of DNA.  One might be tempted to honor only G-d as the REAL Creator.  (And, of course, the need to honor one’s parents does not override his obligation to honor G-d.  If a parent tells a child to violate the Torah, the Torah exempts him from obeying the parent’s command.  It is the approximate equivalent of a sergeant telling a private to disobey the General.  Perhaps that’s why honoring one’s parents is the LAST of the first five!)  The Torah tells us that by honoring our parents, we are honoring G-d as well.

The G-d/parent correlation assists us in relating to both.  We refer to G-d in human terms.  He is “our Father, our King…”  Did you ever wonder what G-d’s voice sounds like?  Is it high-pitched or low?  Is He a bass or a tenor?  Well, apparently, G-d uses different voices when speaking to different prophets.  The voice Moses heard at the Burning Bush was that of Amram, his father!  I guess if you and I were prophets, you would hear your Dad, and I would hear mine!

Seeing G-d as a father assists us in realizing that the all-powerful Master of the World loves us dearly.  It helps us to see that even when He does something that we don’t understand, it is done with love and compassion.  It is something that our Father, in His Infinite Wisdom knows to be in our best interest.  (See “Divine Patience and Human Acceptance”.)

It also allows us to see our parents in the proper light.  Our parents are G-d’s partners in bringing us into the world.  He would not have made them His partners had He not given them the Divine inspiration and wisdom they would need to guide us.  If our parents tell us something, we should not be too quick to dismiss them.  (For those times when our parents seem NOT to demonstrate such Divine inspiration, see three paragraphs above, and one paragraph below.)

It also sends an important message to us as parents.  You are G-d’s partner in raising your child.  G-d is relying on you to do your job.  You are not your child’s friend.  You are his guide.  You are your child’s mentor; you are her rabbi.  Take the job seriously.  Your child is looking for you for guidance. (Whether he admits it or not!)  Don’t let him or her down.  Don’t let HIM down.  You can be a good role model.  You MUST be a good role model.  After all, you’ve been given top billing on the Tablets.  You represent your Divine Partner.

And, one more thing, moms and dads.  Are you scared, frustrated, at your wits’ end?  Are you overwhelmed by your parental responsibilities, and unsure what to do next?

Ask your Partner for help.  He knows how to assist you.  He’s been in this business for quite a while.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

“American Idol Worship – Does G-d Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?” (2013)

Is it appropriate for players like Tim Tebow to make grand gestures of prayer to a Master of the World Who has His Hands full dealing with things that are much more important, like whether people who are out of work will find a way to make their mortgage payments?…

Read more.

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“Ouch!” (2010)

Jethro, the high priest of Midian, was impressed.  His son-in-law, Moses,… had led his People out of Egypt.  He had led them triumphantly through the Red Sea, and presided over the defeat of the Amalekites who had attacked them.

Jethro heard about it all, and wanted to join Moses in celebrating G-d’s salvation …  Jethro brought offerings and sacrifices to G-d.

The miracles of the Exodus changed Jethro’s life.  He had already given up his life of idol worship, but had not yet found “the true religion.”  He now embraced Judaism…

But, something was amiss.  Jethro was ill at ease…

Read more.

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“Modern-Day Prophecy” (2009)

… our people experienced more than a one-time prophecy at Mount Sinai.  The legacy that we possess as a result of that miraculous day is more than just the Torah itself.  The entire prophecy of the Revelation is permanently installed on our spiritual “hard drive.”  You and I stood at Mount Sinai, and to this day, that inspiration enables us to reject anything that is less than genuine Torah.   … If that prophecy works so well, why is there so much assimilation?  Why are we not all sustained in our religious devotion by the prophecy of seeing Moses communicate with G-d 3500 years ago?  …

Read more.

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“But Rabbi, How Come YOU Can Come to Work on Shabbos?!”  (2007)

…I work for a large corporation with many employees.  Ironically, I am the only Jew in the company who’s allowed to “work” on Shabbos.

Yes, every Saturday, bright and early, I walk to work.  I go into the kitchen to make sure our food service staff is maintaining our kosher standards.  I go into our synagogue and oversee the Sabbath Services.   I make sure the appropriate prayers are recited, and I deliver a sermon.  (Sh-sh-sh!  Don’t tell anyone – sometimes my sermons are recycled Torah Talks! :-)) What am I doing at work?!…

Read more.

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“Honor thy … Self!” (2005)

…  It has been pointed out that the Commandments on the first Tablet deal with man’s relationship with G-d, while the second Tablet addresses his relationship his fellow man.

… the explanation of “G-d-Mitzvahs” on Tablet #1 and “Humanity-Mitzvahs” on Tablet #2 is at least 90% accurate.  Where we run into trouble is at Commandment #5 — Honor your father and your mother.  The last time I checked, parents are human beings (although some teenagers might tend to disagree!)  What are parents doing on G-d’s Tablet?!  …

Read more.

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“The Sword and the Stone” (2003)

…This prohibition goes further than banning the cutting of stone for the Altar.  It forbids any contact at all with iron.  The Altar was plastered twice a year; the plaster had to be applied with a nonmetallic applicator.  If a piece of iron so much as TOUCHED the Altar, it invalidated the Altar, and the stone needed to be replaced.

Isn’t this a bit much?  If you want to establish a symbolic link between a chisel cutting a stone and a sword cutting a person, that is understandable.  But a piece of iron TOUCHING the Altar?!  If a carpenter was doing repairs in the Temple, and his hammer accidentally brushed against the side of the Altar, why should the stones need to be replaced?…

Read more.

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“Divine Patience and Human Acceptance” (2002)

…Sometimes G-d’s patience with Evil is difficult to understand.

A famous Jewish author has sold millions of books, claiming to explain why bad things happen to good people.  His basic theory is that G-d can’t help it. (R”L) This author describes G-d as an impotent, grandfatherly figure who is powerless to save people from disease and other tragedy.  The G-d, (or should I say, “god”) of this man’s theology is there as a shoulder to cry on; someone to turn to for inspiration; little more.

I call this approach “religious atheism.”  You don’t have to be angry at G-d and you don’t have to deny His existence. You can believe in Him; just pretend that He is confronted by powers that even He can’t overcome, and you can still be a “believer.”

It is very comforting.  The only problem is that it isn’t Judaism…

Read more.

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“Hey, What About the Other 603?” (2001)

…There was a time when the Ten Commandments were recited as part of the morning service…the rabbis of the Talmud removed it from the liturgy and banned public readings of the Ten Commandments…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2013 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on January 26, 2005 at 10:12 am  Leave a Comment  

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