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Torah Commentary
Yitro (February 18, 2017)

Ilana Symons

In Yitro, we read the most important contract made in the history of the Jewish people: The Ten Commandments. There is a lot of pomp and circumstance leading up to G-d’s pronouncements. Then, “the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking and… they fell back and stood at a distance.” (Exodus 20:15) They feared G-d, and the responsibilities that G-d set before them.

As a Religious School teacher, I frequently meet students who shy back from the Jewish responsibilities they are taught. They ask me why what we’re studying is important, if they’ll ever use these archaic Jewish principles, stories and language, and how Judaism will play a role in their lives. My goal is for them to leave class with a drive to be a part of our ongoing story, a drive I discovered around their age. I want them to leave my class with a personal interpretation of what being a Jew means.

In that vein, I’d like to propose my interpretation of the Ten Commandments, one that can be followed every day and makes the responsibilities of being a Jew accessible to my students, to me and to the 21st century Jew.

1. (I am the Lord your G-d.) You are a Jew. You are a new link in a chain of Jewish history that spans thousands of years. G-d chose your people, and now you have a choice. Choose G-d, choose Judaism. Be proud of your choice.

2. (Do not make any idols. You shall have no other gods before me.) Through your life, you will find many things to “worship”: a new band, an actor you love, a TV show you can’t stop watching. Know that they will pass, but the impact you let them have on you will last forever.

3. (Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.) We are made b’ztelem Elohim, in the image of G-d. Speak with reverence to everyone you meet, as you are speaking to G-d’s likeness.

4. (Remember Shabbat and keep it holy.) You will find holy spaces and times for you and for others. Respect those places and times and keep them with you always.

5. (Honor your mother and father.) Family wants to love you. Family will help you be the best you. Family can be your number one support system. Let them into your life.

6.(Do not murder.) Life is precious as much as it is short. Do not hurt anyone’s chances of living a full life, in quantity and quality.

7. (Do not commit adultery.) There is a value in loyalty that makes relationships holy. As much as you want your loved ones to be loyal to you, be loyal to them.

8. (Do not steal.) You will be put in situations where there is an easy way and a right way. Choose what is right. You will feel infinitely better than you would have felt getting something you did not deserve.

9. (Do not lie.) False means lead to false ends. Speak honestly, and speak from the heart.

10. (Do not covet what is your neighbors.) Your life is your life. What someone else has will not make you better. Find a way to value what you already have.

May we all, whether Religious School student or graduate, find the strength and courage to follow our own version of the Ten Commandments.

Ilana Symons is a sophomore at New York University and a Religious School teacher
at Temple Emanu-El. She is hoping to pursue rabbinic studies and was greatly influenced
by her involvement in Jewish youth groups and her home congregation in Pittsburgh.

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