Parshat Yitro, February 6, 2021
Exodus, Chapter 19, verse 1 through Chapter 20, verse 23.
In this week’s Parsha, we, through our ancestors, are endowed with the giving of the Ten Commandments. This cataclysmic event gives us, the Jewish people, temporal boundaries, that is, boundaries between the time before and the time after the giving of the Law, marked by the blasting of the shofar. We read of spatial boundaries, for example, the boundary between the mountain and the people. There are gender boundaries--the men, for example, are commanded "do not go near a woman." But the boundaries go beyond gender, to the divide between oneself and one's neighbor, whom we now must recognize as different from us—we must not covet, the tenth commandment tells us, because we know that what is our neighbor's is not ours. These commandments articulate ethical boundaries as well, between what is right and what is wrong. The fifth commandment—what some have called the “hinge” between our love for God and our love for our fellow human beings—marks a boundary between generations: Honor thy father and thy mother.
And though we would never dare to describe any of these bounded domains as more sacred or special—remember that there is no hierarchy among the mitzvot—I think that the separation that is most meaningful to me is the boundary between Shabbat and all other days. Here in Yitro, we read Zachor et Yom HaShabbat L'Kodsho: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Later in the Torah, this mitzvah is repeated, with one important difference. There it reads, Shamor et Yom HaShabbat L'Kodsho.” “Observe (or GUARD) the Sabbath and keep it holy.” “Zachor” prompts us to positive observance of the Shabbat, for example, making Kiddush and having meals of mitzvah; “Shamor” instructs us to refrain from activities that will desecrate the Shabbat.
This dual treatment of Shabbat is alluded to in the beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat prayer, L'Cha Dodi. It begins, Shamor v'Zachor b’deebur echad. There we hear “zachor” and “shamor” in one utterance. That unity reflects our belief that God voiced these two words about Shabbat simultaneously. No more boundaries--God was harmonizing with himself! When we pray together and lift our voices in harmony, we should “zachor” ,remember, how much closer we are to God. And when we do acts of loving-kindness and create harmony among people, how much like God are we?
May we strive to create harmonies, by our voices and our actions, throughout our lives. Amen.