Q. What is the point of reading the Ten Commandments on Shavu’ot since everybody knows them anyhow?
Jews sometimes feel that it is all too hard to keep on trying to teach the world, and maybe we should opt for the quieter life. But after the Holocaust that is quite impossible if we are to remain true to ourselves. Our continuing task is expressed in an ethical will signed merely “Your Mother”, which appeared in a ghetto newspaper in 1940. It read:
“Judaism, my child, is the struggle to bring down God upon earth, a struggle for the sanctification of the human heart. This struggle your people wages not with physical force but with spirit, with sincere, heartfelt prayers, and by constant striving for truth and justice.
“So do you understand, my child, how we are distinct from others, and wherein lies the secret of our existence on earth? Knowing this, will your heart still be heavy, my child? Will you still say you cannot stand your fate? But you must, my child, for so were you commanded; it is your calling. This is your mission, your purpose on earth.
“You must go work alongside people of other nations… and you will tell them that they must come to a brotherhood of nations and to a union of all nations with God. You may ask: ‘How does one speak to them?’ This is how: ‘Thou shalt not murder; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not covet; love thy neighbour as thyself…’ Do these things and through their merit, my child, you will be victorious.”
This is why reading the Ten Commandments is necessary: it calls us to our task of proclaiming them more widely to the whole world. There’s always someone listening, and little seeds eventually burst forth into mighty flowers.