Today is DAY THIRTY-NINE, which makes FIVE WEEKS and FOUR DAYS of the Omer.
Twice this weekend I experienced major failures of the technology we've been relying on these past few months. Yesterday our Closing Assembly for the last day of Religious School was foiled by an international Zoom outage. On Saturday, in the middle of our first Zoom bat mitzvah, my computer suddenly froze. Rabbi David said it was as if a trap door had opened on the bimah and swallowed me. It took me a little while (and a reboot) to find my way back, while fortunately Rabbi David and Cantor Sarah were there to keep the service running.
There are two ways to respond to these experiences. The first is to be frustrated and angry with the technology. That would be understandable. With so much of our lives disrupted—can't one thing work the way it's supposed to?! But that approach won't make us feel better, and it won't make the technology more reliable.
Instead, I am taking this as an opportunity to be grateful for how successful our technological backup plans have been over these past few months. We have grown used to clearly seeing and hearing people anywhere in the world at the push of a button. It has become common to gather for meetings, study, and services with Kol Dorot adults and children, groups of all sizes—all from our homes.
Mah rabu ma-asecha, Adonai! How great are Your works, O God! What a powerful, community-saving blessing technology has been for us during this crisis. And yes, it's far from perfect. But after this weekend, every meeting and lesson that goes smoothly for me today will be an opportunity to be amazed again.
I wish you and your loved ones a healthy and good week.
Torah for Today
As we approach Shavuot, the holiday that commemorates the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, we are basing our day-by-day teachings on each of the Ten Commandments.
Commandment #1: "I am Adonai your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of slavery."
Before we can talk about the First Commandment, we have to answer the question: "What is the First Commandment?" You might think that since the Ten Commandments are foundational to Western morality and law, we would agree on what they actually are. But that is not the case. As you can see in the chart below, Jews number the Ten Commandments differently from Christians. And different Christian denominations identify the Commandments differently from each other (and from the Jews).
The confusion lies with the first line that God speaks during the revelation at Mount Sinai. God says, "I am Adonai your God." Christian commentators fairly argue that this cannot be the First Commandment, because it's...not a command. It doesn't tell us to do or not to do anything. So they group it with the next verse, "You shall have no other gods..." and call them together the First Commandment.
How does Judaism explain having a First Commandment that isn't a command? The answer lies in the Hebrew phrase "Aseret HaDibrot." This is translated as "The Ten Commandments," but it really means something more like "The Ten Utterances" or "The Ten Sayings." To be sure, most of them are commandments (i.e. "Thou shalt not steal.) But this first utterance is something different. "I am Adonai your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of slavery." Speaking directly to the entire nation of Israelites for the first (and last) time, God identifies God's relationship to the people. God names the basis for God's authority to deliver not just the Ten Commandments, but all 613 mitzvot of the Torah to follow.
The First Commandment is not actually a commandment at all, but it's a relationship, a prerequisite for commandedness and covenant for us, as it was for our ancestors.
In Case You Missed It
Catch up on or revisit Shabbat: