Life Lessons from the Torah Portion
Parshat Mishpatim Exodus 21:1–24:18
After the awesome and somewhat frightening experience at the foot of Mount Sinai we read the following:
“And these ( Ve-Eileh) are the ordinances that you shall set before them.” (Exodus 21:1)
Rashi explains that the words ”, “And these,-Ve-Eileh” are meant to add another dimension to what has been previously stated (Tanchuma Mishpatim 3).That is to say, that just as the momentous words spoken at Mount Sinai were spiritually elevating and dramatic so are these words which focus on mundane issues intended to be . Just as the commandments that G-d revealed with the ten declarations at Mount Sinai were to be a revelation of G-d in this world, the same would be true of these statutes and ordinances .
My father Harav Baruch Kempinski (z’l) taught that when we were commanded at mount Sinai, ”Six days of the week you shall work and on the seventh day you shall rest” (Exodus 20:9) that the first part of the statement was as much a commandment as the latter. Our role is not to separate from the world in order to become more holy, but rather to elevate the world in all that we do. Our mission is not to separate the physical from the spiritual but rather combine the two.
How does one unite the physical with the spiritual? How does one take physical reality and raise it to its spiritual purpose? How does one achieve” And these ( Ve-Eileh) are the ordinances”.
The secret of how one can achieve that is ensconced in words spoken by the people of Israel after Moshe’s description of the statutes.
“And he ( Moshe) took the book of the covenant, and read in the hearing of the people; and they said: ‘All that Hashem hath spoken we will do, and we will listen.”
“To do” is to obey while “to listen” is to contemplate and understand.
“Rabbi Eleazar said: ‘When the Israelites gave precedence to “we will do” over “we will listen,” a Heavenly Voice went forth and exclaimed to them, Who revealed to My children this secret, which is employed by the Ministering Angels, as it is written (Psalms 103:20), ‘Bless Hashem, ye angels of His. Ye mighty in strength that do (oseh) His word, that hearken (lishmoa) unto the voice of His word.” First they fulfill and then they hearken?” (Shabbat 88 a)
Mortal men always try to understand what they are being asked to do, first. Only after this understanding can they choose whether or not to act. Angels, on the other hand, first “do” what they are being asked to do by G-d. Understanding, if needed, will come from the doing.
As a child is given his first set of Teffilin ( Phylacteries) at his Bar Mitzvah he is taught the unusual ritual of putting them on. First they are placed on his arm near the heart and then the strap is wrapped seven times around the arm. Then we leave the Teffilin Shel Yad (the tefillin of the arm) and the Teffilin Shel Rosh is placed above the forehead and the straps hang down across his chest. Then we return to the strap on the arm and it is wrapped around the hand and the ring finger and the Betrothal verses are recited from the book of Hoshea.
We wrap the leather straps around the arm first because it represents “doing” out of obedience first .Yet it remains incomplete. Doing without understanding is not connected to ultimate purpose.
Only after the obedience of action can one truly enter into the deeper understanding of contemplation. It is then that the Teffilin Shel Rosh is affixed to the head.
Only when we begin with the humble actions of obedience, and then taste the sublime depths of contemplation can we enter into the act of betrothal symbolized by the wrapping of the strap around the ring finger.
It is then that the verses of Betrothal from the book of Hoshea are declared. “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In lovingkindness and in compassion, And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know Hashem.… ( Hoshea 2:19-20)
At this point the straps and the knots form three Hebrew letters that are made up in one of Names of G-d ( Sha-Dai)
Obedience and then contemplation followed by betrothal enable us to wear G-d’s name wrapped upon us.
This then is the secret of uplifting the physical into the spiritual. Our symbols rituals and actions become the platform of deeper understanding and it is that platform that enables greater intimacy
“What we do” is not simply viewed as an obligation but rather as an opportunity.
This affords an understanding in a verse in the book of Jeremiah
Hashem who is the hope (Mikveh) of Israel, (Jeremiah 17:13)
The words “the hope (Mikveh) ” is not simply hope but whispers another concept . That of the womb like Mikveh or ritual pool. The obedience to Hashem’s wishes gives us the unique opportunity to immerse in His will and His purpose. In that purifying experience we inevitably enter into deeper relationship and meaning
Lichvod HaBar Mitzva shel Noam Elnatan ben Yonatan Shalom
LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved