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Parshat Yitro: Exodus 18:1-20:23;
Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-9:6.
W by did God give the Torah
to a group of recently
freed slaves who had
no concept of freedom
or personal power? To a
ragtag people who had no
military training or higher
education of any sort?
Why didn't God give the
Torah to a mighty nation
that had a land of its own
and an army and wealth?
The answer can be found
in one of my favorite mov-
ies, Willie Wonka and the
As you may remember,
Wonka has a contest to
determine who will take over the
factory. The only candidates, invited
by a Golden Ticket, are children. He
explains to Charlie, the eventual win-
ner, that he did not want an adult
to take over because adults can be
cynical and set in their thoughts and
Wonka wanted a child who
believed in wonder, who was open
to all of life's possibilities. He wanted
a child who was willing to take a
chance on greatness and transform
himself into a creator of enchant-
God did not want to deal with a
people that were fully formed, that
no longer needed to learn anything
or change in any way. God wanted
to create a people who believed that
they could become a new kind of
people — a people of priests, a holy
God wanted people who were will-
ing to enter into a new kind of rela-
tionship, one based on trust and not
terror, and to grow through knowl-
edge and acts of kindness.
The Children of Israel were
oppressed in Egypt, but God remind-
ed them that they were not slaves,
nor property, but human beings with
infinite value and potential.
The Ten Commandments are not
just a set of rules. They are God's
reminder to us of our capacity to
form healthy relationships and just
societies. They remind us
that we can nurture our
inner lives and give the
best of ourselves to those
we love the most.
Just one example is
Shabbat, one of the great-
est gifts the Jewish people
gave the world. For one
day a week we do not have
the burden of the out-
side adult world. We can
reclaim the childlike sense
of wonder that we had
when we were younger. We
take time to enjoy a meal. We spend
time with friends and loved ones.
As a great master once said, we have
nowhere to go, nothing to do and no
one to be.
The enemies of spirituality today
are cynicism and self-righteousness.
We have seen everything and done
everything, and nothing impresses us
anymore. We look for the next new
thing, but even that bores us quickly.
We feel superior to those who do
not believe exactly as we do. Instead
of a childlike sense of wonder at the
world, we have a childish expecta-
tion that the world will bend to our
When it does not, we act in anger
and cruelty and justify it by telling
ourselves that someday everyone will
believe as we do.
This was the approach of Pharaoh,
and it cost him and his people dearly.
We, today, are offered a chance in
every generation to break the cycle
of cynicism and suffering. By living
our lives by the values of the Torah,
we can regain our sense of wonder
and joy in an increasingly cruel
world. God has given us our Golden
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Aaron Bergman is a rabbi at Adat Shalom
Synagogue in Farmington Hills.
January 31 • 2013