by Janet Ruth Falon (Elkins Park, PA)

(The Ten Commandments are read during the Shavuot morning service.)

Rules are not meant to inhibit you,
to trap you behind bars where you are,
straddling evil and good,
one foot stretching toward each side,
but to reveal the extremes
that most of us, even if we extended our arms
as wide as the equator, wouldn’t reach.

The rules that say “you shall not”
strip off humanity’s holiday suit
to expose intent gone awry,
the bleakest, blackest wrongs
that can’t be made right
even by the fanciest footwork of lawyers
and medicine that proves exception,
(which may explain away why you do it,
and lighten your punishment).
It may make sense, but it is always wrong to murder.

The rules that say “you shall”
are the bunch of perfect carrots — and you love carrots — waiting for you on the farmer’s porch just down the road,
which you’ll never quite reach
but on the way there
you fling pocketsful of corn to the chickens
and pat the head of a brown-eyed cow
and pour water for the day-laborers.
You may never eat those carrots, but you’ll have taken the right road.

Janet Ruth Falon, the author of The Jewish Journaling Book (Jewish Lights, 2004), teaches a variety of writing classes at many places, including the University of Pennsylvania.  At the moment she is teaching journaling and creative-writing classes to people with cancer, and she’s working on a project that she hopes will be published as The Breast Cancer Journaling Workbook.

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