Parashat Sh'mot

The Torah's Accessibility

The Torah was given early on--available to anyone who seeks it.

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Provided by the Jewish Outreach Institute, an organization dedicated to creating a more open and welcoming Judaism.

This portion details a pivotal moment (or a series of pivotal moments that are tied together) in the history of the Jewish people. While it begins with Egyptian slavery (and explains how the Israelites landed in that state of affairs), it includes the launch of the ancient Israelites on their desert journey of 40 years during which time its identity as a people was forged. It is this collective memory that is embedded in the psyche of the individual Jew and what often makes it so hard for those on the outside of the community to enter.

jewish outreach instituteIt is the language of memory that often separates the outsider from the insider, although it is often camouflaged simply as vocabulary or a form of cultural literacy. As it has been said, Jews are not a people with history; rather they are a people with memory. And our lives are woven into the tapestry of this collective memory each day that we live our lives within the context of Jewish community.

Revealing the Torah

Early in the journey God reveals the Torah to the Jewish people, epitomized in this portion as the Ten Commandments (or ten utterances which is a more honest translation of the Hebrew). One might have expected that the giving of Torah would be later, a culmination event, or perhaps a reward for making it through the desert, just before entry into the Promised Land.

Perhaps it comes early to teach us that it is accessible to all, early on, regardless of where in the process of journey is each individual (and we are all on different places in our own journeys). It comes early to make it available to the largest group of people, the mixed multitude that joined the Israelites as they left Egypt behind. It comes early to demonstrate that it is indeed accessible to all those who would seek to drink from its life-giving waters and be satiated as a result.

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute and the author of numerous books about Jewish spirituality.