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On This Day -- Chronicle Online/The WORD 02/9/23

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah

February 9, 2023

18 Shevat 5783

Parashat Yitro

If you vividly remember a particular experience, you might say you remember it as if it were yesterday. And if you can, in fact, remember something that took place years ago as if it happened yesterday, that’s pretty darn good. However, the Torah challenges us to do even better than that. We’re supposed to remember arriving at Mount Sinai as if it happened today. At the very beginning of our Torah portion this week, the Torah describes the Children of Israel entering the Sinai Desert “on this day—בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה.” It would make more sense if the Torah said, “on that day—בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא.” Needless to say, it was an invitation to interpret the text creatively. The great biblical commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki of 11th-century Provence) wrote: “Since [these words] refer to the day when the Israelites came to Sinai to receive the Torah, they imply that the commandments of the Torah should be to you each day as something new, as though God had only given them to you for the first time on this day.” So, how do we do that? How do we make it feel as if we just received the Torah today? I imagine that there are lots of ways to do this, but in the Jewish tradition, we do so by re-enacting the giving of the Torah at least four times each week—Monday morning, Thursday morning, Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon—when we read publicly from the Torah. Our prayer leader plays the part of Moshe, going up on the bimah, which represents Mount. Sinai. The prayer leader then receives the Torah from the Ark and carries the Torah down to the congregation. Next, the Torah reader (now playing the part of Moshe) reads the words of the Torah out loud just as Moshe spoke God’s words to the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai. Those of us in the congregation are supposed to imagine that we are receiving those words from God just as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. In other words, we heard God’s words “on this day—בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה.” It keeps our relationship with God and our tradition fresh and new. It’s a good approach to relationships with people as well. It’s why birthday and anniversary celebrations are so important. Sure, those special days are an opportunity to remember something that happened in the past, but they are also an opportunity to tell someone that they are important to us “on this day—בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה.” Shalom, RAF.

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