I get a Mazel Tov! Mazel Tov! I became a Zayde! It’s crazy but it’s true. Our oldest son had his first child – a beautiful little girl, with big squishy cheeks and the softest tufts of fuzzy hair. And she does the most amazing things! She sleeps! And she says, “Wa, wa, wa!” And she can be awake too! And when she’s awake she looks at you with eyes of wonder and trust and you can’t help but want to love this little angel nugget.
I bought her a unicorn, and a bunny blankey, and a bear the size of a 5 year old, and the cutest little booties and socks and headbands, and anything pink and frilly and princess-y. (Her Bubbie bought all sorts of things her Mommy and Tatty actually asked for, like diapers and wipes, and utilitarian onesies. And Bubbie bought things they didn’t ask for but will need like baby bath soap and a baby nail clipper. But I bought her a unicorn. And now you know all there is to know about what our grandparenting styles will be.)
As soon as I saw this still-to-be-named snuggle monkey I knew I wanted to use her inspiration for a dvar Torah so I skimmed through the Torah reading. But there are no smooshy cheek baby munchkins in this week’s parsha.
The major chunk of this week’s Torah portion deals with the days leading up to the revelation at Mt. Sinai and then that great and auspicious moment, which includes the announcing of the Ten Commandments. This moment is the greatest moment of connection with the divine that there ever was and in some sense it stands at the climax of Creation, so it’s not like there aren’t things to talk about. Just there aren’t any explicit references to perfect little baby toes. (OMG, they are so cute I just want to eat them. But I know she’ll need them, and my daughter in law will be upset, so I refrain. But still . . . look at the little baby feet!)
In the verses before that great moment of revelation we have a verse that troubles some of my more Modern friends and might be controversial. But I think I get it. In Ex 19:5, after the Jews have encamped at Sinai, G-d says to Moshe, “And now, if you will listen well to My voice, and guard My covenant, then you will be for Me a treasure from among all the nations – for the whole earth is mine.” The next verse goes on to tell how we will be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation and then instructs Moshe to tell all this to Israel. In a sense, these verses are the preamble to the Ten Commandments. They also serve as a type of mission statement for the Jewish people.
One problem though, is that there seems to be a phrase that it out of place. G-d says that if we “guard his covenant”, let’s assume that means to accept and abide by the upcoming commandments, then we will be 1) a treasure from among all the nations, 2) a Kingdom of Priests and 3) a Holy Nation. But if that’s the intention then what is the phrase, “for the whole earth is mine,” doing there? It should have said something like, “the whole earth is mine, but if you guard my covenant then you will be a treasured nation, and a Kingdom of Priests,” etc.
My little love puff inspired understanding is like this; I love all my children. I love the one who plays Fortnight like he was studying for the X-Box AP exam, I love the beautiful one who looks at me with her judgey eyes and a just little bit of disdain, I love the drama princess, the reformed miscreant, the easy going scholar, and the new father. I love them all. But this little smoosh bunny! She’s my treasure – my heart is full just thinking about her. G-d says, I love all the nations – for the whole earth is mine. All of humanity has a special place in creation. Every person is created in the image of G-d and carries aspects of divinity within himself or herself. And yet, this little nation is going to be something special. You, little Jewish people, you sons and daughters of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you beautifully stubborn and delightfully faithful people, you are going to be my treasure, if you accept this role. (The role of bringing my “name” into the world – that’s what it means to be a Kingdom of Priests – and the role of living lives dedicated to more than just gratification of the physical and emotional self – that’s what it means to be a Holy Nation.) (1)
I know that the idea that we are a treasured nation doesn’t sit well with everyone. It makes some of my friends and colleagues uneasy. It really rubs my students the wrong way too. They are quick to call foul because if we think we’re a treasured nation and have a special relationship with G-d, then we must think that we’re better than other people. Where is the “all men are created equal” in that?
Often I find that answers to this question attempt to use something like the Orwellian, “but some are more equal than others” approach. Or they just outright disregard the plain meaning of the verse. But not only am I more of a literalist but I’m also not afraid to call it like I see it.
The Torah is saying, the Creator is saying, that if we, as a people, accept the mission to represent Him on Earth and to live lives of holiness, lives dedicated to more than just our own satisfaction, we are a treasure, we are precious to Him.
I don’t know if the Creator swoons over cheeks and toes the way I do over that snuggle kitten, but I think I understand what a treasure is.
(1) At the risk of being overly technical, the Hebrew word “KI” which was previously translated as “for” can have a variety of meanings depending on context. I’m suggesting now that it be translated as “rather” [Elah]. So the verse would be, “you would be the treasured of all nations, rather than just the love I have for the whole world, which is mine.”