By Reb David
This week’s Torah portion (Yitro) brings the Ten Commandments, the Revelation at Sinai in which the people directly heard the divine Voice. The Ten Commandments are wow, a first collective covenant that is our ongoing blueprint for ethical living: one God, no others, no images of God that might falsify or confuse, keep the Sabbath, honor parents, don’t murder, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet.
What a world-rocking experience it must have been to stand at Sinai. No words are adequate to describe the scene: Sinai burned, heaven and earth mingled, people heard God, they confused their senses and saw thunder – wow! Is there any way to prepare for such an experience?
In fact, there is. Moses prepared the people for three days. They washed their clothes (an act of physical purification), stepped back from the mountain (to observe a separate, sacred space), and withdrew from physical relations (to focus internally rather than externally) (Ex. 19:11-14). God might be ever-present, but we limited humans need some preparation simply to show up.
Showing up is no small thing. Being fully present in our own lives, much less being fully present to the Fullest Presence, requires consistent effort to become effortless. The scene at Sinai teaches that we can show up with physical purification, stepping back, and withdrawing into inner realms. Most of all, showing up requires loving intention. As poet Coach Minx wrote in 2009:
show up – not because you should
not because you must but
because of the magnitude of love
because of the magnetic force of compassion
show up – because you can
because life has come knocking
and you are there to answer
not when or then
but in the immediate potency of the call
show up – not because it is time or timely
not because it is easy or tough, smooth or rough
not because it is reasonable or not
but because this is what matters
no matter what next
show up – because it feels right and real
because it makes your heart sing or sob
because it might ache or break
if you did not
because joy lives in the present
in your presence
just show up
When we show up, we live the Kotzker Rebbe’s answer to the deepest query of spiritual life: “Where is the dwelling place of God? God dwells wherever we let God in.” When we show up so radically, fully present and real, Revelation is unavoidable. Suddenly we are transported, as if we stand again at Sinai, and we hear the Voice anew.
* * *
And is it a coincidence that this week also is Tu B’shevat, the New Year for the Trees and the first Jewish hint of spring in the northern hemisphere? Sap starts to flow in Israel’s almond trees, a metaphor for the deep preparation happening behind the veils of physical vision. Spring is preparing to show up even amidst the winter. Same with us: if we show up, and see sap and seed with the proverbial eye of our open heart, we too can prepare to receive the Revelation of spring in our lives. Keyn yehi ratzon: may it be so for us all.