I have three good friends who have birthdays this week, but only one who I think would truly be psyched about a personalized Torah commentary. So happiest of birthday wishes to Emily, Elissa, and Sandy; and for Sandy, a bissel Torah...
On the Hebrew calendar, you were born on the 17th of Shvat in the year 5732, during the week when the Jewish community was reading parashat Yitro. Three major things happen in Yitro:
1) First, Yitro (or Jethro, as you might know him) chides Moses not to try to teach and adjudicate for the people all by himself. "You're going to burn out, you doofus," Yitro says (more or less) -- "get yourself some competent advisors, who share your awe of the Holy One, and let them help you."
2) Then Moses brings the people to the foot of Sinai and tells them to prepare themselves for three days. And in a cloud of smoke and fire, the voice of God speaks out (in such a way that, tradition tells us, every Jew throughout history was somehow, mystically, present) and declaims those famous utterances we call the Ten Commandments.
3) At the very end, God gives some instructions about the kind of altar the Israelites are to build: out of earth or found stones, not hewn ones, because wielding a tool against them will profane them.
The first lesson is a big one: that even the most wise and powerful leader needs a trusted cohort of colleagues. (Think Frodo and his companions, or Buffy and hers. Except, okay, don't think about them too closely, because I'm not really prepared to assert that either Frodo or Buffy is like Moses in a significant way. The point is, whether we're looking at Torah or at foundational geek texts, even our greatest hero doesn't work alone.) Then we get that radical moment when God speaks through the ages, reminding us to honor our progenitors, to refrain from cleaving to idols and from taking human life, and to sanctify our time through holy rest each week.
And then, at the end, there's that little filip about honoring the Eternal with what's whole, with what we find in creation. Those last lines are significant, I think. Today in lieu of bulls and sheep we offer our hearts, our words, and our intentions to God. The close of Yitro tells me that we need to bring our prayers and our mindfulness in a way that's whole. We don't need to construct something elaborate or "unnatural" to hold our intentions. God wants us to bring whatever we are to the whole and holy world; to use (and, by using, to sanctify) the stones that are already there.
Today, on your birthday, I wish you the blessings of your birth-portion: the cameraderie and companionship of trusted advisors and friends, the radical amazement of personal connection with the Source that nourishes you, and a deep awareness that the world as it is -- not the world as we might reshape it, but the very world we've got -- is the perfect stage on which to pour out your heart. Happy birthday.