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Parashat Yitro

February 5, 2021
23 Sh'vat 5781
Parashat Yitro
Exodus 18:1 - 20:23

Dear Friends,

This week we read the Ten Commandments. It seemed an appropriate time to ask the children of the Tehillah Hebrew School to create their own rules for a good world. They each wrote down their own list.

First, we asked what would be five things we would ask people not to do. Here are some of their thoughts:

If you borrow something give it back/don’t take without asking

Don’t destroy someone’s home

Don’t steal

Don’t murder

Don’t insult people (this came up more than once)

Don’t disrespect others

Don’t break the rules

Don’t hurt anyone

Don’t cut down living trees

Don’t be mean toward animals

Don’t be rude to people based on how they look.


Here are some of the things they thought we should be doing:



Drink water

Be kind (this was also repeated)

Educate each other

Help others

Compliment constantly

Say thank you and you’re welcome

Be grateful/ be happy (or as someone else said, be grateful for what you have)

Follow the rules in case of emergency

Always do the right thing

Do whatever it takes to be more productive

Always make sure you’ve washed your hands

If you’re tired, go to sleep

Be respectful

Help others

Take care of the planet

Love yourself just the way you are

Treat yourself kindly

Have a treat

Treat others the way you want to be treated

Recycle your trash

Pick up your dog’s poop

Help your neighbor

Wear a mask

Stay 6 feet away.

We share these lists with you knowing that they are not far from the other laws that we will encounter in next week’s Torah portion and beyond. Our children have absorbed so much of what we have taught them. It strikes me that our children by and large did not try to legislate our negative emotions, even as they encouraged our more positive ones. 

For me the most difficult of the Ten Commandments is the last one: "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:14)

What does it mean to covet?  Is it to desire what another has?  What is the danger in aspiring to have that which another has? Why is this prohibition here along with murder, theft, adultery, and bearing false witness? Of all the things we are told not to do, this act is the one that we are most likely to be guilty of, desiring that which another has.

To quote Shakespeare:

"When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,


"Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

(Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

      For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

      That then I scorn to change my state with kings." (Sonnet 29)

In the sonnet, we have an example of deep despair leading to the desire for what others have. This state of despair is a very dangerous place to be, and can lead to actions and behaviors that are detrimental to those around us. Unlike the speaker in this sonnet, we may not have easy access to the tools to get out of this state of despair.

Our children’s responses may help us contend with the distress call implicit in this last commandment. How do we manage when we find ourselves in a negative state of mind? I invite you to look at their list and focus on the tools that they have provided us – kindness, gratitude, caring for the world around us, and love. In these days many have found themselves in dark places. This commandment recognizes that possibility. It is up to us to find the tools to counteract these impulses and listen to what we have taught our children.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, June 15 2021 5 Tammuz 5781