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Mishpatim, judgements. Something we are asked to do all the time, every day. For better or for worse, we do them. Sometimes our judgements affect other people, sometimes making very significant impacts in their lives, sometimes even whether they live or die.
This Parsha lists over fifty judgements that are pretty clear, pretty straightforward. There are judgements about how to treat people, like workers -- people who have to depend on you for your fairness and kindness, people who don't have much in the way of immediate higher authority. And there is a warning not to cause people anguish, certainly not to the point where they are reduced to tears. If they are reduced to that point, they will cry to Highest Authority and that cry will be heard.
Crying prayers are still very potent -- the Rabbis tell us that the gate of tears is still open. I believe that -- I have prayer with tears streaming, just streaming down my cheeks, not knowing where else to turn. And those prayers were answered. One such prayer was about a week to ten days before my mother (a"h) died. I sat on the floor and if someone would have seen me, all they would have known was that I was crying. It was a potent prayer and the One heard it.
That was just a few months before I returned to pursuing my rabbinical training. My mother died a little over three years ago and my life has changed significantly. I no longer work for "Corporate America" and I have grown quite a bit. Today has been a day for talking about achieving that growth and about taking the time to achieve growth.
I talked last week about intense schedules -- and I do have one. And so the question becomes, do I have seep time. And I do -- I make it. Some of my fellow students and I were talking about time and one of them brought up the analogy of coffee (and I love coffee). He talked about instant coffee that is just that, but never as good as the "real thing". Then he talked about the old percolators that boil the water through the grinds for a very long time until the coffee is 'done'. And then there are drip coffee maker, espresso makers and one-cup coffee makers. They all make 'real' coffee and they all take different amounts of time. Which one is better? That's a matter of personal preference.
However, in all cases it is a mixture of the quality of the bean, the quality of the coffee maker and then, time, temperature (of water) and pressure. And the combination of those things that makes the perfect coffee for one coffee maker does not work in another. If you run an espresso maker for the time it took the old percolator, I wouldn't want to drink it -- it will be bitter and harsh if nothing else.
So how do you run a nation with an infinite number of coffee makers and varying amounts of pressure and hot water and a variety of coffee beans? With basic guidelines that people can work with and a few key points -- like don't hurt people unnecessarily in the execution of these rules. A common perception of law enactment is that it imposes restrictions on the populace -- and this is true. However, it also imposes restrictions on those who enforce the law (assuming it is a "just" law) to prevent those in power from using the law to, in fact, abuse in some way those who are subject to it.
When we are in a position of power it is critical to remember what rules and laws are about and to make sure that they do not serve just the agenda of those in power, but rather that they make life easier for people so that they may form community and help each other.
JOIN ME IN AUGUST!! I will be speaking at the Children of Abraham Journey Together Interfaith Chautauqua at Lakeside Ohio (Aug 17-24, 2002). It is a beautiful site and the conference was fantastic last year. Check out the website: http://childrenofabraham.homestead.com/index.html and join us!
1. Parsha details: Ex 21:1-24:18, Num 28:9-15, Ex 30:11-16 [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 Dibrot?
The simple answer is that they help bring the Ten Dibrot to a more practical applied level. And while that certainly applies, the simple answer seldom explains the deeper, more profound meanings. To get at some of those matters, let's take a closer look at what is happening here. These judgements are about the treatment of people -- it is an early discussion of damages and how they are to be determined and paid for. Even today, it is not hard to draw parallels between these ancient words and the words we talk today.
Within the descriptions of these judgements, is the core of treating people fairly and in a way that fosters their self-respect. The judgements are not given in sufficient detail to be "clear cut" and that is key to their implementation. Some of these require a great deal of thought on the part of the judge. But they are not just judgements for judges or else they would not be in this place.
So they are for us, all of us.
Last year during this Parsha (has it been a full year already?), I have the privilege of leyning Torah for quite a few of my fellow rabbinical students. And I had the honor of delivering a d'var. So what does one say to them about these judgements? I found myself talking about the particular section dealing with an oveyd, a worker. When you buy a worker's contract, you are to release him of it in six years. And if he marries another of your workers (he cannot marry a free woman while obligated -- but he keeps any wife he enters your service with), he does not get to leave with her or her children for they belong to the master. And if he doesn't want to leave, there is a ritual where he declares that he loves his master and his wife and kids. As I related this to today's world I realized that we still say the same thing -- I love my job, I love my wife and kids, so I remain a slave to the corporate world..... I had done that for 17 years at a Fortune 500 company. A "safe" job -- I used to wish they would give me one of those separation offers, but a woman with an ME (Mechanical Engineering), factory experience, 10 patents and who was one of the leading SAS programmers in the company was never so lucky. I had not realized that for 17 years I, too, had been a slave.
But I had been and it came to me in that precious moment. And I also learned that some of the most hidden meanings and enlightenments in hearing Torah are, in fact, deep inside us. And the power of Torah is indeed in the hearing of it -- the hearing and the understanding. If your Hebrew is good enough, then the power of what is being read can penetrate. If your Hebrew is not good enough, then hopefully, someone chants it in English for you to hear. If neither of these happens, ask a friend to read portions from as modern a translation (so at to not be impeded by the thees and thous and shalts) as possible and take turns, perhaps even closing your eyes to allow the words to swirl inside.
Even when I am the one chanting, I am also listening, for Torah chanting takes on a life of its own.
We are taught that there are various levels to the words of Torah: P'shat, Remez, Drash and Sod. These range from the simple face value understanding of the words and their connectivity to each other to the deep hidden meaning that connects us in our completeness with the One -- and everything in between.
3. Some Observations
The ceremony at the base of the Mount. "They saw the God of Israel" This section of text says very simply and powerfully. 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!
At this moment the spiritual people of Israel (not the children of the Ya'akov part, the manipulating, doing part) are atzley, close, being, blending with the Oneness. They are not blocked from envisioning the One. This root, KH-Z-H, carries with it a sense of future and of knowing. They came to envision enough of the sense of EHYE -- The One who will be -- that they are both nourished and slaked.
Is it any wonder that we are charged with being there? We are approaching the very holiday that recounts this culmination of the events that started in the low tight places of Mitzrayim, birthed through our own pains and fears, until we, too, are drinking and eating with the Most High.
The melody of chanting this Parsha is very soft and rhythmic, for the most part, rolling from one pasuk to the next, with an interesting soft flowing quality for the most part. The silences of the white spaces are profound when chanted aloud. Definitely a Parsha to be listened to and to allow to dwell within us for a bit.
4. Balancing Perseverance
This Parsha is truly about balancing perseverance. For me, it marks a full year of the time I have writing about these aspects of the Parsha. And I would like to thank Shulamit in particular and my fellow DLTI students in general for all of the encouragement to start to include more of these aspects and of myself in these divrei. So I guess, in my own way, it is about my own balancing of persevering.
That the Parsha is about the beauty that comes from knowing just how much power and might are to be blended with mercy and grace to nourish those who depend on us. This beauty is evidenced on how we treat each other and how we chose to live each day.
1. See the Thundering: Sit in a quiet place become as absolutely quiet as you can. Close your eyes and chase all of the rest of life out of your conscious thought. Focus on the quiet thundering sound of life in everything around you. See the thundering of life in the plants around you. Hear it breathe and feel that breath come into you. Hear your breath as it exits and know when it enters the plant. See the fire of the thunder of life all around you.
2. Fire and smoke: Consider a candle. Focus on the flame and see the fire as it connects and meets the Fire. Feel the fire within you and through you. See the smoke as it surrounds you and encompasses you. Expand the Fire within your heart and notice the gentleness of the fire. Expand the Fire within you Being and feel the Smoke as it permeates your very inner core. Accept the sense of Presence that surrounds and permeates you.
3. Anochi: Feel yourself connecting through the plumb line that connects us with the One and with the earth. Feel the Energy as it flows up and down through your innermost being. The flow strengthens and grows and fills and penetrates. It flows up to the Heavens and back through you and down to the earth and back. As it grows it permeates and enters the very fibers of your being as you become one with that flow. There is only One, only One.
ADS: ALEPH -- the Alliance for Jewish renewal. www.aleph.org If you aren't a member yet, please give very serious consideration to joining. The magazine, New Menorah, alone, is worth whatever you give. (Plus it helps pay for the rabbinic program where I am studying!)
You can order the Torah Cards and my jewelry through Mercaz at (216)595-0707 -- ask for Larry)
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) 2002 Candy Lobb All rights reserved