Sinai Scholars Program Gives Horowitz New Perspective

[Archived from January 09, 2009]

[by Siona Horowitz]

I was honored when I was accepted into the Sinai Scholars program at the University of Central Florida. Found on many campuses through Chabad, Sinai Scholars is a chance to further your Jewish education by having weekly lessons with a rabbi where you discuss and debate each of the 10 commandments and learn how they pertain to life at this day and age.

Not only did I learn more about my culture and what the Jewish people believe in, but I also went on a journey through self-hood and realized how much Judaism has and always will impact my life. This was as much as a spiritual journey as it was a scholarship learning experience. At the end, I was awarded a stipend, but the knowledge that I obtained is priceless.
Below is an essay I wrote after the completion of the program, where I take you through the lessons and what I learned. [Editor’s note: The original essay was too long to include in full, so the material that follows is excerpted from the whole.]
My Journey Has Just Begun

When I was first accepted into Sinai Scholars, I knew that I was going on a journey to further my Jewish education. I did not, however, know that this journey would be such a profound, eye opening experience – a journey that would help me throughout every path of life. From each lesson, I took with me important keys that would continue to open my eyes, mind, and heart to Judaism and how Judaism enriches my life.

Through the very first commandment, “I am Hashem, your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt…” I learned that although G-d started something, He wants me to continue with it. G-d has put into my very hands the gift of life, as well as the gift of freedom, which He meant for me to cherish and pass on to many further generations. In a sense, we as the Jewish people owe it to G-d to worship Him and continue practicing our faith.

With the second commandment, “You shall have no other G-d besides me”, it is obvious that G-d wanted to engrain into our body and soul that no one else could have made life, as we know it, occur. We need G-d to be, it is as simple as that.

One thing that I have done as a Conservative Jew is celebrating Shabbat with my mother and sister. Every Friday night, my mom, sister, and dog Hershey would gather around the table to light candles, say the prayers and eat challah (yes, even the dog!). I did not and do not, however, keep Shabbat holy the way that G-d intended. He tells us in the fourth commandment, “Remember the Shabbat day, to keep it holy.”

I never understood the point of “resting on Shabbat”. G-d did not want us to loll around and sleep all day on Saturdays, He intended for us to allow ourselves a day to reflect on who we are, why we work so hard, and what we work so hard for. Shabbat is not just a day for remembering G-d, but also a day for us to take a break from the hectic lifestyles we live and proactively focus on our mind and body.

I have always loved my parents, but I have abhorred parents of my friends who are alcoholics, abusive and simply unloving. When G-d commands us to “Honor thy mother and father,” I always assumed that meant to respect the fact that they were older and a little wiser, however, I could never dream of respecting the parents of my friends who were so repugnant. Now I understand that we must honor our parents for what they represent, which is G-d himself.

Our parents partnered with G-d to make us come into being, so we have to acknowledge the fact that our parents are our creators, as is G-d. I love this concept of Judaism – that although our parents’ actions may be downright cruel, we should still respect and honor the fact that they brought us into being with the help of Hashem. I feel as if this idea brings peace to the world, especially for children who hate their parents. They need to accept the fact that their parents were also made by G-d, so by honoring our parents, we are honoring G-d.

Throughout this journey, I have learned that Jews value life because G-d (like our parents) gave us the breath of life in the first place. However, I used to believe that those who killed others, raped children, and other bad people did not deserve to live. I used to think that “Thou shall not kill” was reserved to not taking our own lives or those lives who have been good, virtuous people. I now know that no life is more valuable then another.

The body of a person is a direct connection between the physical world and the spiritual world. Since man has the essence of G-d, killing another human being would mean you are destroying that essence inside of them. You are killing G-d. With that, you are killing the universe that G-d constructed and gave to this person. And who has the right to do that? Now I know that everyone was made in G-d’s image, and it is up to Him to decide when he wants to stop projecting that particular depiction.

Since I was a little girl, I have always been in love with love, a hopeless romantic. I now know that this love inside of me has been given to me as a blessing from G-d. The lesson in which we studied the commandment “Thou shall not commit adultery” touched me the most out of all of the lessons. It’s kind of funny because the lesson had nothing to do with adultery within itself, but rather the lesson examined the way that Judaism views love and the sacred bond of marriage. I always knew in my heart that G-d intended for each of us to have a soul mate, but I had no idea that was a Jewish concept.

I learned that I should not covet because people have a bond with their property, that we are drawn to the belongings that we have because G-d intended for us to elevate them to their highest potential. I am drawn to the things that I want, the things that were all along meant to be mine. The spark of G-d draws us to objects, and when we find the object that is meant for us and us alone, we know it, we just know.

In the same lesson we also learned that “thou shall not steal” because when stealing, we break virtually every other commandment. It goes back to the fact that we are personally connected to certain objects. When theft occurs, there is a premature disconnect between a person and what is rightfully their object.

In the last lesson, we examined the truth. “Thou shall not take the name of Hashem your G-d in vain” and “Do not bear false testimony against your neighbor” are two commandments that are interrelated with the underlying concept of staying true to yourself and others. When being truthful, we must understand the concept that speech is our bridge between thought and action, our internal universe with the external universe. Through speech (utterances), G-d created the world and gave it life force. We must always be truthful in our speech in order to make the world a better place.

My examination of the Ten Commandments is not an event that occurred after eight weeks, but is rather a process that I will continue to expand on and use in my daily life. My journey through Sinai Scholars is one that has just begun, for this new plethora of knowledge has opening my mind, body and soul to so much more than I could have hoped for.

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