Shabbat Parashat Yitro

This week in Parashat Yitro, Moses climbs Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments as the Almighty enters into a special relationship with the Israelite community. Like any thoughtful parent, God sets out to determine the parameters of this relationship, wanting to clearly define the boundaries of human behavior by elucidating those rules that cannot be compromised.

What is most interesting to me about the Ten Commandments is that the vast majority (seven out of ten) are actually stated in the negative. God presents only three of these laws as positive commandments–articulating what we should do–while the other seven are what the tradition refers to as negative mitzvot, telling us what not to do.

The three positive commandments are presented as follows…
-I am the Lord Your God who brought you out of Egypt to be your God.
-Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
-Honor your father and your mother so your days will be long on this earth.

Now for the seven negative prohibitions…
Do not make for yourself a sculpted image. Do not swear falsely by God’s name. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not covet!

So how are we doing in this regard? How do we measure up to these eternal rules? I would say that we still have a long way to go!

That being said, it is interesting to note that while there are 248 positive commandments (corresponding to the parts of our body) in the entire Torah, there are actually 365 negative commandments (corresponding to the days of the year). Why is this so? Perhaps because human beings are sadly more apt to respond to being told ‘no’–for that is the lens with which we best relate to and understand the world.

In daily life, we are constantly confronting the negativity… as we are too often criticized (or criticizing), blamed (or blaming), as we become immersed in and overwhelmed by the plethora of negative comments we encounter around us. And while we definitely need to hear the word ‘no’ from time to time because there must be limits, boundaries, and restrictions in order to be able to exist in a universe with other human beings, we could all stand to hear and speak a little more often the word ‘yes’. Yes, we could each benefit from a little more positive feedback, a few additional compliments, some meaningful acknowledgement and affirmation as well as authentic support from family, friends, neighbors and even strangers.

This Shabbat, and in the weeks ahead, let us focus a little more on getting to ‘yes.’ In so doing, may we fully realize the power of positive thinking–as we choose to say ‘yes’ to God, ‘yes’ to Judaism, ‘yes’ to loving relationships, and ‘yes’ to a world that is filled with justice, peace and freedom.

– Rabbi Joseph H. Krakoff

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