Here's the d'var Torah I wrote for this week's portion back in 2007, originally published at the now-defunct Radical Torah.
This week's Torah portion, Yitro, invites us to join our ancestors in preparation, purification, and encounter. We're invited to follow Moses toward the place where God will descend into creation -- to follow Moses inward, into the Sinai of our hearts -- and to cluster together as a community at the base of the mountain, to hear the unfolding of revelation.
At this moment in our story, the Israelites have just been freed from slavery. They are probably feeling overwhelmed, and maybe scared, and almost certainly fragile. And this is when God speaks to them -- not when they're well-rested, settled in a new place, or prepared for a new chapter in their lives.
I can relate to that. I imagine most of us can. Maybe you've left a difficult job, or made a challenging transition. Maybe you're out of the hospital and the longed-for world seems too bright, your nerves too raw. Maybe you don't know why you're at the base of this mountain, but you are, and now there's a Voice speaking directly to your core in a way that makes you tremble, a way you know you'll never forget. We're all in this together, but what each of us hears comes through her or his ears alone.
Here's some of what I hear.
Listen up! I am the Eternal force for transformation Who brings you forth from Mitzrayim, from all of your tight places. Everything and anything that you perceive, with your narrow consciousness, to be confining -- the prison of your body, the constrictions of your life or your obligations -- can be opened. I am that which opens, which liberates you from slaveries.
Any attempt you make to depict Me, to crystallize and concretize infinity in terms you can understand, can only ever be incomplete. Your best images and sculptures, your shelves of texts, even your earnest longings to speak to one another about Me will always yield an imperfect result which you must take care never to worship.
Take your words seriously. Mean what you say. The words you speak create realities, and your promises bind you. Measure your speech carefully, because I am present in every interaction.
Remember the need for rest. Take not only one day out of seven, but one hour out of seven, one minute out of seven, not for doing but simply for being. To do otherwise is to risk binding yourself to ego and expectations, and in so doing you will lose sight of what matters, and that will harm you.
Give honor to your father and your mother, to those who brought you into the world and nurtured you. Give honor to all those who act as guides and mentors to you on your way, who show you how to become the person you want to be.
Honor the lives of other living beings. Honor the commitments of fidelity which you make, one to another. Honor the implicit covenant of respect which endures between you and your fellows.
When you look into the lives of others, you may see things which you desire -- spouse and possessions, career, relationships. You may long for her mindset, or for his certainty. But remember that coveting is a worm which will eat you from the inside. Know that the life you have is the life you need, and that your dreams are possible. Learn how and when to work for what you desire, and also to let go and let things unfold as they will.
Remember that your body is the house of holiness in which your essence dwells; treat it with the love and respect which you accord to every holy thing. Remember too that your body is ever-changing, as the world around you is ever-changing, and honor that impermanence which makes change possible.
Keep listening. Tune your radios to My frequency. I am the Eternal Who speaks the world into being: this conversation is everlasting.