Wow -- what a Har Sinai week I had at the training I went to last week. Spending six wonder-full days with Rabbis and rabbinical students at Elat Chayyim in New York. We studied together, we davvened together and we soared together. If you've never been there, check it out! (And you can order the Torah Cards and my jewelry through their gift shop -- just ask for Miryam or they can be ordered through Mercaz at (216)595-0707 -- ask for Larry)
A learning: I used to be afraid to put my own personal stuff into this D'var -- now I know that I need to put a little bit here.
So, a quick word about a beautiful young lady in a Hebrew School class for which I was a substitute teacher this past week. We had completed the assigned reading/exercises and had some time left over in the class. These are 12/13 year olds, some before, some after B/B-Mitzvah. We started talking about why we pray -- why do we spend 'x' amount of time in a building saying these t'filot in Hebrew or English? This lovely young lady, not yet a Bat Mitzvah, said "When we pray, we feel better." So much said in six little words. I actually stopped for a moment, smiling, to let her words sink in. And then this incredible class turned the discussion to why we need a 'boost' every day/ every week. Not bad for 12/13 year olds.
1. Parsha details: Ex 21:1-24:18, Num 28:9-15, Ex 30:11-16 (tri 23:20-24:18 + extra) [Haftorah II Kings 12:1-17 opt: Isaiah 66:1 & 24 (Rosh Khodesh)]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: Judgements -- 53 of them. Not bad for one Parsha. (53/613 = 8.6%) And if I have learned something over time, it is that timing is everything. In Torah, timing is expressed by positioning, what comes where. So why are these judgements here? Right after the Ten Commandments? And what exactly are judgements anyway?
Why are they here? They have to be. Part of me would expect to spend some significant amount of time in the wilderness 'getting ready' for the Ten Commandments and related items. After all, the children of Ya'akov are hardly devout, spiritual, learned folk -- one does not lose slavery in a few months. These are the same people that could not go by way of the Philistines because they would have turned back to Egypt. And now we are ready for the Ten Commandments AND the practical application thereof? (yeah, right!)
But here they are. Judgements for the new judges to judge -- among the people.
They are here because we will never be completely ready. And the time to start learning the WORK for which we have been chosen is now. (You thought we were chosen because we are better? Not hardly! We are/were chosen because the One knows we can do the work. The work of being witnesses and teachers and striving to be worthy examples.) Torah is both simply the road map and AHHH, The Road Map.
And so we have judgements here. First off, is how to treat a Hebrew worker, usually translated as slave or servant. The phrase indentured servant is probably the closest term to what this was like. A person (usually male) would be sold by the courts to pay of debts or a person would sell themselves because of poverty. And the term of this status would be up to six years -- unless the person wanted to stay in that status. The pierced ear denoted that voluntary status. And if you think this is an out-of-date concept, how many of you are stuck in jobs because of the money? How many work too many hours on too many days because we have a mortgage to pay, bills to pay, college to pay, and the list goes on. Perhaps Torah is telling us that if we have been in the same place for more than six years, it is because we elect to be there?
Most of these judgements are all about how to treat our neighbors -- and they are incredibly fair, especially for the time. Now this is the portion that many critics like to cite to show that Torah is barbaric: Eye for eye, etc. It does not take much imagination to see that what Torah is telling the courts, the judges, is to keep the punishment appropriate to the crime. These details tell the courts how to levy fines: "he shall pay as the judges determine." And there is even a recognition that one's servants are entitled to compensation for such injuries.
And what about the ox who was 'wont to gore... and its owner had been warned' and the owner then being liable? What a great solution to the vicious animal issues in courts today... And the liabilities for acts that cause damage, even if that was not the original intent of the action? Wow -- if laws were that responsible now....
And if one tortures someone in any way and they cry out to the One -- She WILL SURELY hear it.... tradition tells us that the tearful path of prayer is still WIDE OPEN. Have you ever prayed with tears? I remember some of mine -- they were indeed answered. And this is also an area where one should be VERY careful what the prayer says -- they are usually answered......
We are also told not to be part of a false report or to "follow a multitude to do evil" -- gang rule is not acceptable, and simply 'following orders' was not even acceptable back then. And some think Torah is not current? Hmmmm. Then we come to some animal issues -- even if you hate an animal's owner, you are not to mistreat the animal or the owner -- what's proper in the treatment of people or animals is not a function of who or what we like -- it is a function of what is proper.
Then we move on to a description of how coming into Canaan will take time -- it will not be overnight, or even in one year "lest the land become desolate". Change takes time -- and things happen in their own time. If we push too hard, too fast, destruction can occur. Push change only as fast as you can stay with it. Enjoy the process, inherit it little by little. I can really relate to this teaching -- I often push things. Sometimes we need to break things down into little bits -- "little by little" things move. Even when changing things through "baby steps", it is amazing to see the speed with which things do change. If we change too fast, then the "beast of the field will multiply" -- I've seen that a time or two. And yet, we must change -- little by little, with diligence and determination. Balancing Perseverance -- the overall theme of this Parsha -- we'll talk about this in it's own section below.
And Moshe tells the people everything and they agree to it "with one voice" -- wow! Then there is another example of incredible imagery in Torah -- the ceremony of the acceptance. Moshe writes the words down and reads them to the people. Pillars are set up as contract witnesses, one for each tribe. Sacrifices and visions, eating and drinking. The words, as strong and evocative as they are, must be a pale vestige of what happened as Moshe prepares for and ascends the mount for the famous forty days and forty nights.
3. Some Observations
White spaces -- lots of them in this Parsha. This is a very easy Parsha to find in Torah because of it positioning relative to the Song, the Ten Commandments and its own wonderful spacing. Probably very old material and then some. The spaces should be read when the Parsha is chanted or read aloud. These are important openings.
Israel needs to hear and absorb these Mishpatim. There is much more to them than just the simple text of the judgement itself. So was Israel silent between each judgement? Did they ask questions? Did Moshe explain how to implement them? What is Torah saying by the white space?
Perhaps that is a space for our own details of how these judgements are to be enforced. Perhaps the white space is there because the application of these judgements must be made on a case-by-case basis. Torah would be unwieldy and way too large if it included even a little bit of the practical application of these judgements -- these are things that the judges are to administer. Perhaps the white space is for them.
And then there is the ceremony at the base of the Mount. "They saw the God of Israel" This section of text is incredibly powerful. 24:11 says: "V'el atziley B'ney Yisra'el lo shalakh yado; vayekhezu et HaElohim, vayoch'lu vayish'tu." And against the nobles (atziley) of B'ney Yisrael, He did not send his hand; And they envisioned Elohim, and they ate and they drank.
How literally would you translate this pasuk? Did they eat food? Or did they 'eat up' their vision? Did they drink liquid? Or did they 'drink in' what they were experiencing? And what exactly does the Glory of God look like? -- like devouring fire on the top of the mount....
And then there is the reference to Elohey Yisra'el -- the God of Israel -- and not the God of Abraham, Isaac, or even Jacob. Just Israel, just the Most Spiritual is there on the mount, 'seen' above stones of crystal blue sapphire. What an image!
A little side bar here -- Y'hoshua (Joshua) goes up the mount with Moshe, at least part way. He will not be part of the calf fiasco because he was attending to Moshe's needs (or waiting to attend to them....) He is over twenty already, but we do not yet know much more about him.
The melody of chanting this Parsha is very soft and rhythmic, for the most part, rolling from one pasuk to the next. Some of the more definitive judgements are bit sharper, but the whole Parsha has an interesting soft flowing quality. The silences of the white spaces have an interesting effect, as well. Definitely a Parsha to be listened to and to allow to dwell within us for a bit.
4. Balancing Perseverance
Some of our teachers tell us that this Parsha is about balancing perseverance. Being a Life Coach, I am easily attracted to anything that says 'balance' -- but how do we apply this to perseverance? Perhaps the most telling part is in the both the description of the transition of the Land and in the mishpatim, the judgements, themselves. These are wonderful judgements, quite deep and compassionate for their time. With more application than most might think from a light reading -- but isn't it always that way with Torah.
Perhaps the perseverance is in helping to establish fair and compassionate judgement systems. That is never an easy task. And to be compassionate and fair takes a lot of attention to detail and careful implementation. We certainly don't have a system anywhere in the world that is truly fair and compassionate. The process to go there will not be easy.
Or maybe the balancing of the persevering means to not lose track of ourselves in our quests? Isn't that an easy trap to fall into. Balance -- that ever elusive quality. Perseverance, sticking to something, even through the rough spots. Recognizing that the process of accomplishing anything is never easy or truly quick. So hard for our 'instant gratification' culture to put their arms around.
And yet change is all around us. Persevering must mean keeping ourselves grounded and yet spirited throughout the process -- balanced. Anchored and high minded, realistic with lofty goals -- bit by bit, little by little. Keeping at it, steady but no rashly. Mindful that if we treat our fellow person fairly and justly, we might just accomplish things and be lucky enough to catch sight of the Glory of the One, that we might be nourished and refreshed.
5 Special Shabbat
This week, Shabbat is Shabbat Shekalim and Rosh Khodesh. Two special readings from Torah accompany the weekly Parsha. One reminding us that the yearly obligation of a half a shekel was expected of everyone (everyone being defined as males over twenty.....), whether rich or poor. Torah explains that a shekel is twenty Geyrah. These little translations or explanations are always interesting. To whom are they being made? Who is it that knows what a Geyrah is but not a Shekel?
This is a census tax to see how big the army (or potential army) is. But there is more to it than that. You see, it counts souls (not that children and women didn't have souls -- they just didn't need to be 'redeemed' since they would not be part of the military. But all sould, whether rich or poor are the same. Each soul is precious, regardless of the wrapping (person) it comes in.
This obligation of the half shekel tax comes due at this time of the year, so we read where it was first instituted. It is for service of the Tent of Meeting -- in other words -- community. Each neshama is to contribute to the service, regardless of wealth.
And then it is also Rosh Khodesh. So we read about the special sacrifice that would have happened in the Temple. New Moons are powerful times.
In most synagogues, three Torahs are brought out of the Ark and read from this Shabbat. Traditional services are very influenced by these additional qualities to this Shabbat as Hallel (half) is added to the liturgy and some other special t'filot are recited.
1. White space: See and hear the white spaces in Torah between each mishpat. Envelop the silence and let it envelop you. Drink in the white space and allow it to wash over and into you.
2. Envision: vayekhezu et HaElohim, vayoch'lu vayish'tu." And they envisioned Elohim, and they ate and they drank. What would this be like? Can you see yourself as a member of Atziley?
3. Glory: "the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount" See also the cloud into which Moshe entered. What would that feel like, sound like, be like?
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved