This portion encompasses most of the volumes our sages compiled in the Talmud regarding Jewish law, known as the oral Torah. All of the commandments, statutes, ordinances and decrees mentioned here, as well as the remaining in the written Torah are contextualized and explained by our sages for us to live as the God of Israel wants us to. Thus we assimilate that the kind of love He commands us to have for each other is factually an ethical principle.
There is a way to love each other by safeguarding the integrity and dignity of life in the material world, as a reflection of the ways and attributes of God’s love. Our sages make us aware that after the divine announcement of the Ten Commandments in the previous parshat Yitro, the Creator delineates for us what the Decalogue comprises as a code for life to be lived by humankind in general and by the Jewish people in particular, for the latter are assigned in the Torah as the bearers, keepers and guardians of God’s will for the world He created.
Therefore God’s will is more relevant for Jews, for He imparted it to the children of Israel, as we read in His Torah. The fulfillment of all these laws implies an exclusive approach to them, which means that assuming such duty excludes any other approach. Hence we see so many divine warnings against idol worship in this portion as well as in the Torah, and dozens more in the Hebrew Scriptures compiled in the TaNaKh.
It is thus, for we are constantly reminded by our God that His ways and attributes do not cohabit with anything different from them, and the difference is in regards to “idols” and “alien gods” we translate here as ego’s fantasies and illusions with their negative trends. These are the major threats to live God’s ways as our life and the length of our days with the goodness these give us for the sake of goodness in all facets and expressions of life.
This goodness is precisely the ethical frame we referred above, and it is threatened by our tendency to live more in ego’s materialistic desires than in love’s ways and attributes. God knows our human nature, therefore He provides the power and strength we need to face our own illusions and fantasies, and keep living and walking the paths of goodness as our essence and true identity.
“Behold, I send an angel before you to keep you by the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.” (Exodus 23:20)
Our sages teach us that angels don’t have free will, meaning that they only know the nature and purpose of what they are commanded to do, and nothing different from that. In this context we can also understand “angel” as the immutable and exclusive ethical frame of goodness as the ruling principle of God’s creation. Thus we assimilate that goodness is the cause, the means and the end for which we live in this world, and the end is to lead all levels and expressions of consciousness to the “place” the Creator has prepared as the time and space where we bond eternally with Him.
This place has a two-fold quality; one as Jerusalem and its Temple that represent the permanent awareness of our connection with God, and also as the spiritual realm where He dwells eternally.
“Take heed of him, and hearken to his voice; be not rebellious against him; for he will not pardon your transgression; for My name is in him.” (23:21)
This verse explains the exclusive quality of goodness that does not mix, compromise or cohabit with anything alien to its ways and attributes. Thus we understand that all our transgressions and negative expressions are committed against goodness as a rebellion against it, for goodness does not embrace (“pardon”) wickedness, for God’s name (His ways) is in goodness. Again king David reminds us this.
“Give thanks to God, for He is good; His loving kindness is eternal.” (Psalms 106:1, 107:1, 118:1, 136:2; I Chronicles 16:34)
Indeed goodness is eternal as the Creator. Thus we also assimilate that goodness transcends time and space, while evil is a temporal illusory perception of negative traits and trends in human consciousness for the purpose of being a reference for us to choose goodness.
“But if you shall indeed hearken to his voice, and do all that I speak. Then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and an adversary to thine adversaries.” (Exodus 23:22)
If goodness is with us, what could be against? Let’s be aware that the warnings in these verses are made to us as individuals, conjugated in the second person singular. They are about our own personal battles against ego’s materialistic fantasies and illusions along with their negative trends.
“For My angel shall go before you, and bring you in to the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Canaanite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite; and I will cut them off.” (23:23)
These are the nations God commands us to battle, conquer, subjugate and destroy, in order to occupy and settle in the Promised Land as the realm of consciousness where goodness rules all aspects of life. Our sages tells us that they represent archetypal negative traits in human consciousness, defined as haughtiness, coveting, lust, anger, indifference and indolence, along with their proxies named envy, hatred, cruelty, ruthlessness, mockery, intolerance, prejudice, et al.
“You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their doings. And you shall utterly overthrow them, and break in pieces their pillars.” (23:24)
The first part of this verse tells us about the ruling and controlling nature of the negative traits and trends mentioned before. These idolatrous powers are imposed to be served as obsessions, attachments and addictions that must be eradicated from our consciousness. Thus we realize that all the commandments, ordinances, statutes and decrees God gives us in His Torah are not only part of the ethical and moral frame to love each other, but also the shield and armor against ego’s fantasies and illusions that trigger negative traits and trends out of unfunded beliefs or feelings of lack, for in goodness there is no lack. These are the ones that separate us from each other and make us reject each other, hate each other, and transgress against each other, as we are commanded not to do by following the legal rulings discussed in the Talmud.
As long as we allow the angel of goodness guide our discernment, thoughts, emotions, feelings, speech and actions, God’s love is always with us to bring us to the place He has prepared.