A Tidbit of Torah – Parshat Yitro 5784

…the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and charge them to sanctify themselves today and tomorrow. Let them wash their clothes.

Sh’mot / Exodus 19:10

The Mekhilta1 comments upon this verse: There are tomorrows that are only in the future. In a collection of teachings by Gerer rabbis they expand upon the Mekhilta stating, “Not only on the day of the giving of the Torah but you should aspire to holiness in the future as well.”

We can only imagine the eager anticipation that rippled through the Israelite camp as our ancestors awaited their encounter with the Holy One. After being told to prepare for meeting God by focusing on their personal level of holiness the verse concludes anticlimactically with, “Wash your clothes”. While it is reasonable to assert that the Israelites who left Egypt had a limited wardrobe selection and were thus told to clean their clothing before meeting God, I would like to suggest a deeper, more enduring purpose. The Israelites are being told that in the quest for divine encounter they cannot forego the mundane and ordinary tasks that are the fabric of life. Even more, I believe we are being told that the sanctity of the Sinai experience is meant to suffuse the ordinary moments of our lives and pervade our business dealings, our shopping expeditions, our daily encounters with others.

That is the intent of the Mekhilta, to challenge us to bring our encounter with the sacred into our daily lives, allowing that moment of divine revelation to echo in our actions in the present. The covenantal agreement our ancestors entered, bound us as well as emissaries; our behavior being how we express our partnership with God each day and every day. Perhaps the best colloquial expression of this was articulated by Elwood Blues2, “We’re on a mission from God!”

Shabbat Shalom –

Rabbi David M. Eligberg

1 There are two articulations of the Mekhilta, a running interpretation of the Book of Exodus that is primarily focused on legal material. One is ascribed to Rabbi Yishmael, the other to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, both second century sages in the land of Israel.

2 From the movie The Blues Brothers featuring Elwood (Dan Akroyd) and his brother Joliet Jake (John Belushi). While capturing noble purpose in word their fulfillment of their mission leads to mayhem. (It is a comedy after all.)