Posted on February 16, 2017
Can you recite the Ten Commandments by heart?
I suspect not; most of us can’t. We usually remember, “Thou shalt not murder”—often misstated as “Thou shalt not kill”—and “Thou shalt not steal.” Most people kind of recall that there is something in there about honoring father and mother, and not swearing. Others might get the adultery part, or perhaps even the Sabbath. Few people remember all ten.
But whether we know them by heart or not these “Ten Statements” (the translation of the Hebrew Aseret haDibrot) from this week’s Torah portion of Yitro are supposed to be the only words God ever spoke directly to our people. Yet they are not really at the heart of our Judaism today. Why not?
Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Yitro 5777
Song to the Violent God
Posted on February 9, 2017
“God (YHVH) is a man of war! YHVH is His Name!” -- Exodus 15:3
The Torah portion of B’Shalach is justly famous for two reasons. First, it tells the great tale of the crossing of the yam suf, the Sea or Reeds (or perhaps the Red Sea itself) and the redemption of the people of Israel from destruction at the hands of Pharaoh’s army. Second, after the crossing, Moses and the people of Israel sing the magnificent Az Yashir Moshe, Moses’s Song, about their salvation through divine action. B’Shalach is always chanted on Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song, and it is celebrated with special musical services in virtually every Reform and Progressive synagogue in the world.
The story itself couldn’t be much more familiar, not only from the Torah text itself and every Passover Seder you have ever attended, but from the arts. The Exodus is featured in paintings, novels, and poems, and there have been a variety of mediocre film interpretations, ranging from “The Ten Commandments” to “The Prince of Egypt” to last year’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” Still, the story is worth hearing yet again.
Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On B'Shalach/Shabbat Shirah 5777