NEWS: THINKING TORAH

The sanctity of normalcy

The Jewish people the world over are all reading the same passages in the Torah. We are in the Book of Shemot. If ever there was a dramatic work this is it. Moshe standing defiantly before Pharaoh declaring, "Let my people go," the Ten Plagues, the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire leading Israel through the desert by day and by night, the splitting of the sea and the drowning of Pharaoh and his Egyptian chariots. This is stuff surely worthy of Cecil B. DeMille. As if that were not enough we then get the revelation at Sinai, thunder, lightning, a thick cloud and the voice of God declaring, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt."  

Where can all this possibly lead?  This is a hard act to follow!  How do you live Jewish life after the drama of the Ten Plagues, the Splitting of the Sea, and the thunderous revelation at Sinai?!  It has to be all downhill from there. The Torah's answer is normalcy, which is often boring. 

It is in the quotidian that Jewish life is inaugurated and lived. What was the first Jewish national experience that launched this dramatic set of events?  It wasn't a dramatic speech by a Jewish Lenin in Finland Station. It wasn't Daniel Ortega (anyone remember him?) in the central square of Managua in Nicaragua. It wasn't the evil dictator Castro triumphantly entering Havana. Does anybody remember?  What is it that launched this series of amazing history changing events?  

It was a family meal. Norman Rockwell, where were you when we needed you?!  All that drama, all those amazing spectacles with God intervening in nature and history, began with a family meal. On that first night when God passed over the houses of the Israelites, what were our ancestors doing?  They were doing what God had instructed them two weeks earlier. They were sitting down to a family meal of matzoh and maror (bitter herbs), and lamb prepared over an open fire. Anything more normal and regular than that?  The whole drama of the Exodus began in a family meal. 

How is that possible that these powerful moments of God in history should begin with something as normal, regular, at times boring and prosaic, as a family meal?  That of course is the point of it all. Jewish living is about everyday life. It is not about heaven. It is about normal human activity and the ways to sustain them with the sanctity and beauty of the mitzvot. 

After these epoch-making events the great construction project of the Torah is presented, the Tabernacle in the desert. That portable synagogue, or temple, is laid out exactly like any home. It has three sections: the courtyard of the Mishkan is parallel to the reception area, the foyer or living room of any house; the Holy with its table and candelabra parallels the dining room of every home; and the Holy of Holies is the most intimate area of any home, the sleeping quarters. God and Israel share a normal home. The great dramatic events of the Book of Shemot, the summons to Pharaoh, "Let my people go," the Ten Plagues, the Splitting of the Sea, the revelation at Sinai, are bracketed by two regular activities. They begin with a family meal and they culminate in the building of a family home. 

How did we continue Jewish life after all those dramatic events?  How are we still here to this day?  How have we been capable time after time, century after century, of renewal?  The answer is really quite simple and possibly boring. We stay committed to the simple things in life. That's where life is lived; in the sanctity of normalcy and the beauty of the boring. That is what this boring article is about. 

Posted: 1/2/2014 1:41:35 PM
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