Washing My Hands of You!
"The L-rd rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He recompensed me." (Psalms 18:21)
It is illuminating how compliantly we all adhered to the ever-changing guidelines in order to avoid catching the Coronavirus, most especially our attentiveness to hand washing and the disinfecting of all our touchables. After all, we want to stay alive, so we do what’s right for us. Judaism also highlights the importance of washing one’s hands except that its rules are not inconsistent and reliant on questionable science with its questionable motives; it rules were given by G-d. Their aim, too, is to keep us alive, in this life and the next. In Judaism one is not permitted to pray without washing one’s hands, even if it means traveling the distance of four miles to do so. The moment a Jew gets out of bed in the morning one cannot take but a few steps without the mandatory washing of hands.. One cannot eat bread without washing one’s hands as well. All these are not just physical imperatives but they also have spiritual ramifications. For instance, our sages teach that when a person sleeps they are 1/60th dead. When the soul returns to the body the impurity of death still lingers upon the tips of the fingers and hands. Not washing has both spiritual and physical repercussions.
And so, since everything in this world is a message from the Heavens above, I can’t help but know that new “cleanliness protocols” around the globe, ushered in by the lovely Covid-19, is a wakeup call to us all: It’s time to clean up our acts. Our immoral behaviors are deadly. From adultery to theft, from gossip to disrespecting our parents and the elderly, from wasting seed to immodesty in all our behaviors, we are dirty. I’m reminded of the famous line by Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth who compulsively rubs her hands and pleads: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” The blood spot she sees is projected solely upon her hands by her own guilt for committing murder. Yes, we have to keep physically clean, but it is our crimes against G-d’s Torah that make us most dirty, and just as stress manifests as sickness, so does sin.
There is only so much that hand sanitizer can do for us. It certainly won’t wash our way into G-d’s good graces. For the past 49 days since the second day of Passover, the Jewish nation counted the passage of that time with a special prayer. There are a few reasons for doing so and one is to cleanse our souls from defilement. Each day we grapple with a trait that calls for “fixing”, i.e., purification. That spiritual preparation leads us into the Shavuot holiday, wherein the holy Torah was given on Mount Sinai by G‑d to the Jewish people, and as a gift to all humanity, more than 3,300 years ago. That gift is the eternal sanitizer and the only means through which we can refine ourselves. “...For God has come in order to exalt you, and in order that His awe shall be upon your faces, so that you shall not sin." Sadly, when this pandemic erupted, we dashed for the Purell and not so much for G-d. But on this holiday of Shavuot we are given the chance once again to grab our Torah with both hands, 'clean hands' and commit ourselves to being better Jews and better people. To be certain we really aren't as nice as we think we are. This holiday we read the Torah portion of the Ten Commandments, the purifying Decalogue of our souls. Here’s a quick review of them to see how well you are doing.
“I am the Lord, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” It is from this starting point that any of the commandments have relevance. Do you really believe in G-d? How do you believe in Him? Do you believe in a G-d that owes you something or does your belief have you realizing that every second of this gift called life you owe Him. Do you believe He is a loving G-d who will forgive you no matter how you live your life? Because if you do, then you believe in something, maybe Disneyland, but it’s certainly not G-d.
II “You shall have no other gods….” Though you may not have a golden calf in your living room, it does not mean you are guilt-free of idol worship. ANYTHING that comes between you and G-d is an idol, including your money, your fancy lifestyle, your fear, you anger, your own arrogance and your vanity.
III “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain.” How many times have you made a promise to G-d and not kept it? That’s calling upon G-d’s name in vain and it makes you a liar. The Talmud teaches that God hates liars. Have you perjured yourself in traffic court or on other occasions while you swore with your hand on the Bible? Have you sworn to a friend that something was true when it wasn’t? Have you said the wrong prayer on the wrong occasion calling down G-d’s holy name for no reason at all?
IV “Remember the seventh day and keep it holy.” Often people say I love my job, so it’s not like working on the Sabbath and it’s not hard. Very simply, nothing is hard for G-d. He created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. You think you are doing everything right, you know it all and have all the questions and the answers. After all, you know there were no cars in the desert, so you can drive on Shabbat, right? Ok, I’ll stop here because you're a scholar but I'll just add that there are thirty-nine categories of labor that are forbidden on Shabbat. Can you please list them for me please while you’re driving to shul?
V “Honor thy mother and father.” Most people think this decree means not to be rude to your parents. Did you know you are not even allowed to sit in your parents’ chair and you are not allowed to contradict them unless they oppose the Torah teachings, and even then with kid gloves? If you curse them or hit them, the Torah calls for the death penalty.
VI “Thou shalt not murder.” Did know that embarrassing a person in public, according to biblical exegetes, is tantamount to murder. Breaking someone’s pride and dignity and crushing their spirit is also regarded as a form of murder. Slandering and gossiping about people can kill their reputations and ruin their lives and you can effectively kill their potential with your dagger-like tongue.
VII “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Only you and G-d know the truth. But be certain, no excuse is good enough, not even that your own wife gained 20 pounds or that your husband doesn’t buy you flowers. Dressing provocatively, taunting and teasing and leading others down this road is a sin too. When you cheat, you cheat not just on your mate, but G-d as well.
VIII “Thou shalt not steal.” Manipulating someone’s mind or heart is considered stealing. When you make appointments and don’t show up, you're stealing people’s time. When you make salespeople believe you’re going to buy something when you have no intention to, you're stealing their time and emotions. Taking small things like grapes, artificial sweeteners, and not paying, things you deem as having no value, is the reason why G-d destroyed the world with a flood.
IX “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Perhaps you would not lie under oath, but any form of lying against another person’s good name, even to aggrandize yourself or your business, is a sin.
X “Though shalt not covet.” Maybe you don’t admit to lusting after your neighbor’s donkey, but have you bought things you cannot afford or simply wanted because you coveted with your heart and eyes. Have you hungered for your neighbor’s life or wife because they look better than your own? The Torah wisely admonishes you not to do so and to keep your eyes in your head. Coveting leads to the violation of all the other commandments. To covet is also your way of telling G-d He doesn’t know what He’s doing.
Oh, dear people of the Book, pick up the Book and wash your hands of sin.