Parashat Yitro Torah Reading: Exodus 18:1-20:23
During this week's Torah reading, an extraordinary thing is going to happen. We are going to stand as a community to receive Torah again as our Torah reader, Harold Labush, reads for us the biblical account of the revelation at Mount Sinai.
Why are we going to stand?
Standing is, of course, one accessible way of demonstrating the importance of the text. Although all of the Torah is precious to us, and there is an infinite amount we can learn from Torah, the moment of revelation at Sinai is unique. This revelation is the Torah's first collective revelation (up to this moment, God has communicated with individuals up to now (Abraham, Isaac, Rebekkah, Moses . . .). Now, at Sinai, the entire people Israel are gathered together and experience this moment of revelation as a collective. Indeed, the homiletic rabbinic genre of Midrash teaches us that every Jewish soul of every generation . . . each of us . . . was present at Sinai, not just the generation alive at that time.
Standing is also an active rather than a passive position. For most of the year, we sit comfortably in our seats while Harold reads the words of the Torah to us. We follow along in the Hebrew, we read the accompanying English, we browse the commentaries or day dream. But when we arrive at this unique moment of divine communication we do not sit back and contemplate the text from a distance, we enter into the moment by standing as a community, a covenanted community.
Many of you may have already heard my favorite Peanuts cartoon:
Charlie Brown, Sally and Snoopy are sitting on a big sofa.
Charlie has a huge book on his lap and he is reading to Sally. He is reading the Genesis story of the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah and how Lot and his wife are escaping the city. Against God's instructions, Lot's wife turns back and looks at the destruction behind her and she is turned into a pillar of salt.
Sally is listening to this story wide-eyed and completely absorbed in the plot. She is soaking in every word.
Snoopy, at the far end of the sofa, looks back at Charlie and says: "But, what happened to their dog!"
Each of these three is a role model:
Charlie is the role model of teacher of Torah (close to my heart, of course). He is passing on the tradition.
Sally is the role model of student. Engaged totally in the tradition being transmitted to her.
But Snoopy is my hero. Because Snoopy doesn't just read the story, or listen to the story, he inserts himself into the story.
That is what we do when we stand for tomorrow morning's account of the revelation at Sinai . . . we emulate Snoopy and see ourselves reflected in the words of Torah.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.