Friday, February 13, 2015

Torah Thoughts on Mishpatim

This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim (Ex. 21:1-24:18) follows directly after the children of Israel retreat from the voice of God and ask Moses to get the rest of the Law for them.  God gives Moses the laws of a just society.  God sets forth laws of property and damages, lending, penalties for crimes and strict prohibitions against idolatry.  Moses tells the commands to the people, they respond with a resounding, “All the things that the Lord has commanded we will do!” and Moses writes them down as the Book of the Covenant.  Animal sacrifices are made to God, and Moses reads the laws that he has written down.   This time, the people respond, “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do and we will hear”.  

Do the people have the words backwards?  Would it not make more sense to say, “we will hear and we will do”?  Most of the classic commentators understand it as eagerness; we will do what God has commanded, and if God has more to command, we will hear that, too!  Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, however, brings a spiritual light on the phrase, saying,

“’We shall do” refers to the revealed—that is to the commandments that one can fulfill, on one’s own level.  ‘We shall hear’ refers to the hidden==that is, to things that one cannot grasp.  For around each commandment, there are other things, which belong to the class of the hidden.  The commandment itself one can fulfill; but the spiritual work that surrounds the commandment is largely unknown, hidden.  This too is the relation between Torah and prayer: the Torah can be known and fulfilled; while prayer is generated in that area that surrounds each commandment, which is enigmatic.  For hearing is a function of the heart, as in Solomon’s prayer: “Give your servant a hearing heart”.  And the heart expresses itself to God in prayer.

May we fulfill God’s revealed commandments, and may we come to know the hiddenness that surrounds them.  Shabbat Shalom.

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