If you could start a society from scratch, what rules would you institute? What would be the underpinnings of your new Utopian society?
Last week I substituted for the Kitah Hey teacher in the Hebrew School, which is for kids in 6th and 7th grade. Since Shavuot is approaching next week, I’d thought I’d teach them about the holiday.
Shavuot celebrates G-d giving us the ten commandments from atop Mount Sinai and our becoming charged with upholding the Torah and spreading its teachings to the world. I understand the Ten Commandments as Judaism 101. G-d initially gave our people ten basic rules for us to live together as a holy society; with more details (mitvzot) to be added later.
So I asked the class, if they were to create a society from scratch, what would be the first ten principles they’d lay down?
They responded with:
When we then compared their ten to the original ten, we noted some differences. Interestingly, they felt the prohibition of adultery was not relevant, for they believed that nobody does that anymore! Kudos to the fidelity of MHJC parents! Or perhaps, this directive is just not on the radar of 12 and 13 year olds.
But of course, there’s one other striking contrast between the children’s ten and the original ten: the absence of G-d.
In Exodus, Chapter 20, the first four of the Commandments deal directly with our understanding and service of G-d:
1 And God spoke all these words, saying:
2 I am the L-RD your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.
3 You shall not make any graven images, nor any manner of likeness, of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;
4 You shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I the L-RD thy G-d am a jealous G-d,
6 You shalt not take the name of the L-RD thy G-d in vain; for the L-RD will not hold him guiltless those that take His name in vain.
7 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 8 Six days shall you shall labor, and do all your work; 9 but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the L-RD thy G-d…
These first four statements are God-centric. The next six deal with laws between man and his fellow. In the creation of our Jewish society, G-d is an essential and primary element.
In contrast, our American society is so open minded, so influenced by the idea of separation of Church and State, that we don’t even think of mandating Divine service . G-d is not viewed as an indispensable element of our modern day society.
Nonetheless, G-d has not become a disposable commodity. I officiated at wedding on Thursday where G-d was an essential element. Every act of the marriage was preceded by a blessing, recognizing and thanking G-d. In the foundational moment of two individuals becoming one unit, in the formation of a family, bringing G-d into the equation is still very common.
Why in our modern, scientific society do we still need G-d?
Shelly Rokofsky suggested that in the joys and trials and tribulations of our married lives, we want G-d as a partner, guide and confidant. This would also explain why in other lifecycle events such as baby namings, funerals and unveilings, people, even the most unaffiliated still desire a religious ceremony. With regards to marriage, I think it’s also because love is something surreal and magical. Even if you can explain the bliss we feel for our beloved as different hormones sparkling in our brains, it’s transcendental, and we recognize and thank a power greater than ourselves. Therefore, upon the public recognition of this love, we publicly thank G-d.
Societal priorities have changed dramatically over time, but our family values even in the 21st century still resonate with godliness.