Our Biblical texts today stress how national and personal greatness comes through careful observance of the laws and rules that generations before us have learned through inspired reflection on experience. These rules foster sustained, meaningful relationships among us. Some of these may have at first been taught to us by our parents, who could give a mark of disapproval when we ignored them. We gradually learned that running into the street was not a good idea if we wanted to survive. Grabbing our friend’s toy was not good if we wanted to remain friends.
Then we started to value our parental advice for itself. It was not just good for ourselves, but was good for the entire set of relationships that we valued. They led to the kind of community that was good to live in. The rules were good not just for ourselves; they were good for everyone. Even when following them sometimes came at our own expense.
It was not always clear exactly how we should behave and under all circumstances precisely how we should act, especially when confronted with situations that previous generations had never faced. But while we continued to think about all that, drawing from what we had inherited and refining what we did, we started to enjoy the happiness that comes from knowing each other well, and being with each other well. All the rules were not just ways to behave. They gradually helped to form us in relationship with other people, all that is around us and from which we have come. It was not about a rigid following of rules after endlessly disputing which were applicable; it was about caring for ourselves, other people, and our widest possible surroundings. We realized how fulfilled we were by working to enhance the well-being of all of us. And in the moments when that happens, we feel great.