Parshat Yitro: The marriage of the Creator and Israel

The Torah as the marriage certificate between God and Israel is the most complex document that has ever existed, for it reveals the Creator’s ways and attributes to make them manifest in the world by Israel. This marriage also implies more commonalities than differences between the parts, for they must share the same values and principles to make it work. Thus also works in our interactions with each other, which usually work better when we have fundamental things in common.

In the case of the Creator and Israel is evidently more intricate than that, for we are talking about a multidimensional bond of metaphysical characteristics from which certain amount of their ways and attributes are mutually agreed to be integrated in human consciousness, and expressed through action in the material world. As Jews we are entitled to read the Written Torah, learn its content and its purpose, and fulfill them in the ways the Oral Torah tells us to.

This is not all, for fulfilling them is not just the end but also the means and the cause, based on the fact that this marriage defines Israel’s identity. We can summarize these by acknowledging and becoming aware that goodness is the cause and the purpose of God’s creation, and to manifest goodness as an ethical and moral principle to rule and direct life in the world. Thus we assimilate king David’s reiterative understanding of God’s ways and attributes.

“Thank God for He is good, for the world is His loving kindness”, also translated “for His loving kindness is eternal” (Psalms 106:1, 107:1, 118:1, 136:2; I Chronicles 16:34)

Hence we realize that goodness is the whole point, and we know it is, for without goodness there is nothing to live by, with or for.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:2)

We must be compelled to understand the first commandment of the Decalogue, not only as the inalienable principle of God’s existence and His domain over His creation, but as the goodness by which we His people came to exist in freedom from the destructive traits and trends of negative beliefs, emotions, feelings and instincts. Being taken out and redeemed from the lowest levels of human consciousness is indeed and act of love, and in our case from the greatest love of all.

Goodness is the cause of our freedom, and goodness is the purpose of our freedom. Thus we become aware that goodness is not meant to be exchanged, compromised or submitted to anything different from its ways and attributes. Therefore in goodness there is no space or time to dwell or cohabit with materialistic illusions and fantasies as the idols created by a self-centered approach to life.

“You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or 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. You shall not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God (…)” (20:3-4)

The second commandment deals with the essential condition to keep this marriage working, and that is faithfulness. If we marry someone, it is presumable that we don’t have to go after others simply because our chosen one is good and plenty enough for what we want. Yet we are talking about something far beyond and different from “someone”, that indeed is unfathomable and beyond understanding, far greater that transcends time and space which we have summarized as goodness, thanks to king David.

Hence we have all the conceivable reasons not to be unfaithful to God, and by extension to the goodness with which He created all and sustains all. However, we as His spouse are human with a consciousness that strives to properly exercise free will in order to make the right choices, though He expects us to choose goodness over anything else. Here is where idols come up as the cause for making the wrong choices.

In our contemporary “civilized” times we have to define “the idols we create for ourselves”, and how we worship them. Let’s take God’s words from the verse above and try to adapt them to our current times and lifestyles. Indeed we make them, and this means that they do not have an existence of their own. We create idols with the likeness to reflect what we want to be, to have or to experience, based on ego’s fantasies and illusions derived from beliefs or feelings of lack.

We can understand “anything that is in heaven above” as ideological beliefs based on prejudice, cultural preference, social environment or human condition, for heaven is allegorically related to mind and thought. While “anything that is in the earth beneath” relates to emotions and feelings that drive us to act and behave based on what makes us feel and sense in certain ways, regarding bodily needs. Finally, “anything that is in the water under the earth” relates to human basic instincts that drive our body to be the way is divinely designed to function.

All these sound natural to human condition and consciousness as long as those particular expressions of consciousness don’t make of them idols that we worship and allow them to control every aspect and expression of life. In this sense we can translate idol worship as negative attachments, obsessions and addictions to all of the above. God’s warning or admonition is against what we individually choose to think or believe, feel, sense and physically experience that is not inspired or caused by the goodness He wants us to share as the common bond with Him, and the foundation of our marriage to Him.

In other words, the warning is against our own fabricated fantasies and illusions. Hence we understand God’s jealousy as the exclusivity He wants us to have for His ways and attributes, that do not cohabit with anything different from them. If He tells us about His jealousy in our marriage to Him, more so we should be jealous in our relationship with Him, especially with the awareness that He is the Creator of all.

“You shall not make with Me gods of silver, or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourself.” (20:19)

The second part of the admonition is to mix God’s ways and attributes with ego’s fantasies and illusions (thus we understand the “not make with Me”), either be ideas or principles that may appear as “precious” as gold, or material assets or possessions that look as “valuable” as silver. Everything in the material world is temporary and has temporal relative value unworthy to accumulate for ego’s illusory belief or feeling of having and possessing more than necessary.

This makes us recall the oriental proverb that “rich is not the one who has more, but the one who need less”. Ultimately, what God is warning us about has to be with anything we imagine or create for ourselves to which we become obsessed, attached or addicted, as a replacement of the goodness He wants to share with us. This is the goodness we find in His name as how He relates to us, and with which we are constantly blessed.

“(…) in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned, I will come unto you and bless you.” (20:20)

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.
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