Shabbat VaEthanan

Candles Friday 19th August 7:27pm
Havdalah 20th at 8:21pm

This week’s reading includes a repeat of the Ten Commandments and the Shema. Taken together, the first declaration of the Ten Commandments “I am the God who has taken you out of Egypt “and the Shema “Listen Israel, God is your God and there is only One God” we have the very core of Jewish ideas. We do not have complicated theologies telling us in detail how and what to believe, just these very basic general concepts.

In each statement there are two separate ideas. “I am God” is an existentialist statement. That there is such a thing as God. It is then up to us to find a way of making sense of this idea but more than that of trying to experience it. You can try to compel people to act. You can insist on behavior and then check to see if someone acts on it or not. But it is very hard to find out if someone really does believe in an idea even if they say they do. So “I Am” is like saying “I am your father or your mother.” That is the situation. The House of Israel has been associated with God one way or another for thousands of years. But it is up to you as an individual whether you want to have a relationship with your father or mother or not!

The Second part of the statement “I took you out of Egypt.” It is a reference to the past. God exists in history. Once again it is up to you whether you want to be part of that historical chain or not. The Torah can encourage but it cannot force.

And so with the Shema. God is connected to Israel, to the Jewish people. It is up to you whether you can or want to identify with them. And secondly there is only one God. God requires obedience to this single idea. You can’t be loyal to conflicting interests. Loyalty has to be unique. That means not worshipping other gods, other values, other ways of life.

Both of these are so hard and yet both are so rewarding. But they involve making positive decisions. They don’t happen accidentally or without effort. They invite you to commit. To be part of a great spiritual and physical project.