Yitro, By Rabbi Nathan Laufer, Scholar in Residence (1/25-29)
Thank you for hosting me as the SDJA scholar-in-residence in your wonderful community. It was a special privilege to be able to meet with and teach three groups of upper school students, two representative groups of parents, the entire school staff and faculty, the school’s senior leadership and several of the schools major donors. Having played a catalyzing role in the building of the school’s current, beautiful facility it was especially gratifying to see how far the school has developed in the past 15 years. I am confident that the school will continue to grow and be an important center for Jewish life in the greater San Diego Jewish community.
Last week the Jewish world read the Ten Commandments as part of “Yitro,” the Torah portion of the week. The Ten Commandments might be thought of as the “Constitution” of the Jewish people. Prior to the revelation of the Commandments from Mount Sinai, Moses gets the consent of the Jewish People to adhere to the principles enunciated in that Constitution: “All the people responded in unison and said: All that God says we will do.” One might think that obtaining such general, unanimous consent from the people would be sufficient. Nevertheless, at the close of this week’s Torah portion, “Mishpatim”, where, as the name of the portion implies, many of the civil and religious laws of the Jewish people are delineated in great detail, again Moses obtains the people’s consent, this time to the myriad of laws in the Book of the Covenant: “And they (the people) said: All that God says we will do and adhere to.”
There is an important educational principle embodied in Moses obtaining this double consent from the people. Some of us feel that what is important about Judaism is to “get” the general principles of Judaism – to feel Jewish, to respect, in general, the principles of Judaism and to lead an ethical life. Others believe, that it is precisely in the details of the 613 commandments – and in its adherence – that one fulfills God’s demands. The twin Torah portions of Yitro and Mishpatim teach us that God, as it were, is found in both: in understanding and embracing the foundational principles of Judaism as well as in the knowledge of, and best efforts to adhere to, its many details. Indeed, the expression “God is in the details” may very well have emerged from this week’s Torah portion. Moses understood, that both the principles and the details of Judaism, require the enthusiastic consent of the Jewish People if they are to be accepted and joyfully fulfilled.
As SDJA soon celebrates its 36th year anniversary, my wish and prayer for the school is that it continue to build itself upon the foundational principles of Jewish life while absorbing the rich details and spiritual wisdom that constitutes Jewish civilization over the past three thousand years. It is in the fusion of both, that God’s dream in the Bible for us to become “a holy people” can best be fulfilled.
With many thanks for the opportunity of being with you to share some Torah and with wishes to all of you for a Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Nathan Laufer