Parashat Yitro – Erev Shabbat 5 February 2021
Week of 31 January -6 February 2021
Torah portion: Exodus 18:1-20:23 Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1-7:6 ;9 :5-6
Theme: Standing at Sinai
For someone like myself, brought up in the Anglican Church with the Book of Common Prayer, the idea of the people of Israel “standing’ at Sinai to hear the Ten Commandments, might induce some envy. The recitation of the Ten Commandments by the rector was part of the service of Holy Communion, and we heard them while kneeling—on bare wooden kneelers in the case of the church my family attended. Yet the experience, as I look back on it, now evokes a sense of kinship with those who stood at Sinai.
It began: “Hear the Law [sic] of God which was given to Israel in old time.” We did not just hear the Laws; we responded to each one by chanting, “Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.” This was our version of “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (Ex 19:8) The final response was “Lord, have mercy upon us, and write all these thy laws in our hearts, we beseech thee.” The repeated request for mercy was an acknowledgment that we had failed in our obedience to the Commandments. The repeated request that the lord should write the laws in our hearts was an appeal for help so that we could do better in the future. In the words of the rubric, “the people [were]…asking God’s mercy for their transgressions in the past, and grace to keep his laws in time to come.” In that era, Holy Communion alternated with Morning Prayer as the principal Sunday morning service. So every two weeks we admitted that we had failed and asked for help so we could do better. This was repeated later in the service when we confessed “our manifold sins and wickedness’ and asked the lord to “forgive us all that is past.” Looking back, I feel reasonably confident that nobody in the parish had actually committed murder. Yet, since we were only human, how many of us would have been angry with a brother or sister (Mt 5:21-22) or transgressed one or some of the other nine commandments?
So why does this trip down memory lane to my Anglican childhood bring to my mind the people of Israel standing at Sinai? The clue is in the word ‘people’ and in the repeated words ‘our’ and ‘us’. Keeping the Commandments was and is a collective responsibility and failing to keep them a cause for collective regret. Nobody could claim to be a saint and point a finger at the sinners in the next pew. We all fell short and we all asked the lord to forgive us and help us to do better.
For Reflection and Discussion: When John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a young man, he was told: “You must either find companions or make them. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” For months now the pandemic has impacted religious observance for people of all faiths. Yet staying at home is not to practise ‘solitary religion’; it is to safeguard the health of others. And thanks to technology, even while staying at home we do not need to be alone. The recent launch of Bat Kol International is a wonderful example of how we can still be together. Thank you to all those who have worked to make it happen.
Bibliography: For texts of the Book of Common Prayer, visit justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp; the story about John Wesley is found in J.B.Wakely, Anecdotes of the Wesleys, pp.84-85, at books.google.com
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2010