From time to time, the leader of a Torah study session or Shabbat services will ask the group to come up with an Eleventh Commandment. (The Ten Commandments Moses received on Mount Sinai are well known but often misunderstood.) One of the earliest of these Eleventh Commandments was Holocaust survivor Emil Fackenheim’s instruction to survive as Jews and not give Hitler a posthumous victory. I have my own favorite Eleventh Commandment. It doesn’t seem as awesome, but I think it offers all of us some meaningful opportunities to make the world a better place.
Asked for such a commandment several years ago, I answered, “You shall cut each other some slack.” People laughed. Some may have considered it a goofball response. Granted, I’m quite capable of that. Not long after, I repeated my Eleventh Commandment at Friday-night services. More laughter greeted me. (Afterwards, a woman who has studied and taken classes with me provided a minority report that I really had something.) I suspect that on both occasions, those who heard my pronouncement thought it too humble—too simple—in regard to weightier subjects like avoiding idolatry, honoring parents, and not murdering, kidnapping and coveting one’s neighbor’s wife. On the other hand, my Eleventh Commandment may have made people uncomfortable. Human nature too often seems to resist cutting slack for others.
Case in point: My youngest son, Aaron, married Jeremy Kueffner last Friday in Stowe, Vermont. Aaron and Jeremy had been partners for several years. When Aaron broke the glass at the end of the ceremony—conducted by a justice of the peace—to maintain a link with Jewish tradition, a real marriage had taken place. Two people who love and complement each other had been joined as one.
My oldest son, Seth, put it best. (My middle son, Yosi, perhaps aping me, read from a children’s book with a very deep message about two people who love each other.) I can only give you the gist of Seth’s wedding comments, the most eloquent and moving I’ve ever heard. They went roughly like this: The U.S. just landed a new Mars Rover. It reminded Seth—a sci-buff—of Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry’s position that creation contained many sentient life forms and our highest duty was to respect and protect each, to live in harmony within a great whole. Trust me, Seth put it better.
Of course, the families and friends gathered had no brief against the wedding of two men. But my Eleventh Commandment revealed itself in a somewhat unexpected but delightful way. My brother-in-law Michael is a small-town Texas conservative. He’s a practicing Catholic, too. But he came to the wedding. And he told me something as meaningful as anything Seth said. “I don’t approve of gay marriage. But I came here to support my nephew.”
Imagine how much better our world would be if everyone—in spite of disagreements—cut each other some slack. It’s not all that difficult. Because in doing so, we don’t have to accept each other’s beliefs. All we have to do is acknowledge them. As I wrote in God’s Others, different isn’t bad. It’s simply different.
Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.
Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at email@example.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.