Parshat Yitro: Claire Segal

Claire Segal, Bucks County, Pennsylvania


It’s Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah)–it’s a new beginning, folks! Are you ready to take the entire Torah upon yourselves? It’s a new start!

Okay, no. That was thousands of years ago. However, it is the beginning of a new semester. And, in this new semester, many of us are yearning to take advantage of every moment that we have here, because where we will be this upcoming August–mentally, physically, emotionally–is unknown to us, and will always be until that exact moment in time.

But, we know all of that–we just don’t want to admit it because it means that the unknown is ahead of us, and that is fearful: the fear of the unknown. So, I am here to propose something that is known: us. And here. And this moment, here and now. We know where we are now, in this time and place, and that is the only moment that you will ever know yourself in completion–your present self.

Many times, we tell ourselves that we will do things later: we’ll deal with it later, we’ll get to it later, we’ll become better later. We tend to procrastinate for two main reasons. The first is that we don’t have the time in the present moment–and that’s okay. The second, however, is because we are scared: We are afraid of dealing with things, of change. We are afraid that we will do things wrong and that others will reply to us in a negative way. If we procrastinate, we don’t have to deal with fear yet. We can run from responsibility.

Let’s put that thought on pause for a moment.

In this week’s parsha, we receive the Torah: our lifeline–our instruction manual, our water, our way of life. Without it, not a single one of us would be here right now. In parshat Yitro, our beloved Ten Commandments are given to us, five on each tablet, side by side. We are taught as little kids that the first five represent the relationship between man and G-d and that the second five represent the relationship between man and man. However, as most like to point out, the fifth commandment, to honor one’s parents, seems to violate that. I don’t know about you, but regarding the fifth commandment’s connection to Hashem, I was taught that Hashem is our third parent, and that is how it relates to the connection between man and G-d.

But, as there always is when it comes to Torah, it is also so much more.

What many believe is that the tenth commandment, to not covet, doesn’t have to do with the relationship between man and man, just like the fifth doesn’t have to do with G-d and man.

…Or so you think.

You might be thinking, “If the fifth commandment doesn’t seem to fit in its place, and neither does the tenth, why not just switch them and get back to the food?”

Excellent question, my fellow hungry Machomie. Let’s delve a little bit further into this topic with the help of Chassidut.

The fifth commandment seems to represent the relationship between man and man because it is us, people, honoring our parents, who are also people.

Humanity represents the impossible. People are finite beings: meaning, we are born, we live, and we cease to exist. Yet, we are capable of infinity. We, to a certain extent, are infinity. Human beings have the capability and the gift of procreation. In other terms, although we, as individuals, are finite, there is infinity within us: our potential.

Our potential to be is endless. Our potential of possibility is endless. Our potential to grow is endless.

The way that we are created–our bodies and the ability to procreate–signifies our potential for infinity.

Infiniteness is Hashem: the One Who was, is, and will be for eternity.

And, that is why the fifth commandment, to honor one’s father and mother, is on the side representing the relationship between man and G-d: because we are an extension of their infinity.

Awesome, but what about the tenth commandment then?

The tenth commandment, to not covet, seems to belong better on the side of man to G-d. It is a commandment based on thought, not action. If it was based in action, like the seventh commandment, to not commit adultery, or the eighth commandment, to not steal, then it would be clear how it relates to man and man.

However, the tenth commandment is based on thought, as we have established. And so, being based on thought, it should be on the side portraying the connection between man and G-d, because He is the only One Who knows our thoughts. In addition, aren’t we offending Him because us being jealous of another is basically us telling G-d that what He gave us isn’t good enough?

But, as we know, the tenth commandment is on the second tablet, and not the first–so there has to be reason for its place.

Human relationships are extremely powerful. What makes them different than the relationship between any other species is that the way that we communicate isn’t always expressed verbally. Two people can be in the same room, side by side or in opposite corners, and the love, or tension, or passion, between the two will be felt by both and by anyone who walks into the room.

This connection between two souls extends to more than love or hate. Have you ever thought about someone and then a little later, that person texts you? Or if you think about someone, and then they walk into the room? Believe it or not, when you think of someone, you connect to that person’s neshama, and it awakens.

When we are jealous of someone, what does it say about our relationship with that person?

When we are in אחדות, in unity, we feel for others like we feel for ourselves and vice versa–we, in other words, are one, or אחד, the root of אחדות.

On the other hand, when we are not, jealousy floats up to the surface. Jealousy affects our relationships with others. It makes us think of others differently, and it tends to bring negativity into the picture. When we are jealous of others, there is no way for us to ever be in אחדות.

This week, we stand by Har Sinai in אחדות, ready to receive our Torah.

This week, we stand at the beginning of a new semester in אחדות, ready to learn our Torah.

Let’s take the most out of this semester and keep standing in אחדות; being one is our neshama’s natural state, but not necessarily our body’s, so it’s obviously very much easier said than done.

But, let’s try. Let’s try now, and not procrastinate. We only have a few months left until we leave each other, so let’s at least disperse as one.

Shabbat Shalom!


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