Torah Weekly

For the week ending 18 February 2012 / 24 Shevat 5772

Parshat Mishpatim

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Jewish People receive a series of laws concerning social justice. Topics include: Proper treatment of Jewish servants; a husband's obligations to his wife; penalties for hitting people and for cursing parents, judges and leaders; financial responsibilities for damaging people or their property, either by oneself or by one's animate or inanimate property, or by pitfalls that one created; payments for theft; not returning an object that one accepted responsibility to guard; the right to self-defense of a person being robbed.

Other topics include: Prohibitions against seduction; witchcraft, bestiality and sacrifices to idols. The Torah warns us to treat the convert, widow and orphan with dignity, and to avoid lying. Usury is forbidden and the rights over collateral are limited. Payment of obligations to the Temple should not be delayed, and the Jewish People must be holy, even concerning food. The Torah teaches the proper conduct for judges in court proceedings. The commandments of Shabbat and the Sabbatical year are outlined. Three times a year — Pesach, Shavuot and Succot — we are to come to the Temple. The Torah concludes this listing of laws with a law of kashrut — not to mix milk and meat.

G-d promises that He will lead the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, helping them conquer its inhabitants, and tells them that by fulfilling His commandments they will bring blessings to their nation. The people promise to do and listen to everything that G-d says. Moshe writes the Book of the Covenant, and reads it to the people. Moshe ascends the mountain to remain there for 40 days in order to receive the two Tablets of the Covenant.


So Close And Yet So Far Away

“...and you will bow down from a distance.” (24:1)

We perceive G-d in two ways. We believe that He is pre-existent, the Cause, the Creator and the Sustainer of all reality. He is far beyond and above. Ultimately distant. He precedes all beginning and transcends all ending. No creature can fathom Him, for what can the painting know of the Painter? He created thought so no thought can think of Him. He is utterly separate and distant beyond all concept of space and time.

And yet He is very, very near. He fills the world. There is no place or time where He is not. For if He were not there, that place could not be, that second would never take place. He fills all worlds and encompasses all worlds.

G-d is both transcendent and immanent.

It is the unique privilege of the Jewish People to proclaim these two seemingly opposite aspects of our perception of G-d. Many religions have a concept of G-d being supremely elevated above all. But they falter in their recognition of His imminence. They fail to understand that He is here right now. He sees all, knows the secrets of every living thing, and is interested in their every move.

When the Jewish People rise during their prayers and proclaim like the angels the Kedusha, this is how they praise the Creator:

“Holy, Holy, Holy, G-d, Master of Legions. The whole world is filled with His Glory.”

“Blessed is the glory of G-d from His place.”

The first statement depicts our relationship with G-d as immanent — the universe is “filled with His Glory.” No place or time can be devoid of Him. The second statement implies G-d’s transcendence, His utter separation and elevation from this world — “from His place.”

This is also the deeper meaning when the prophet Isaiah says “‘Peace to afar and to close at hand’ says G-d.” To the righteous who are faithful to these two beliefs, G-d radiates a constant stream of heavenly influence.

These two aspects also express themselves in the awe of Heaven on the one hand and the love of G-d on the other. A person is only awed by that which is above and beyond him. That which is near at hand doesn’t strike fear into his heart. It’s too close. On the other hand, love only flourishes in closeness. It’s difficult to love when there is no contact.

“...and you will bow down from a distance.”

The hidden meaning of this verse in this week’s parsha is that bowing — fear and awe are the natural partners of distance — G-d’s transcendence.

Another understanding of this verse is that bowing implies the drawing down of Heavenly energy into all the worlds. It is for this reason that we bow in the prayer Aleinu when we say “And we bend our knees and bow.” Our physical actions give substance to a spiritual reality, the drawing down of holiness. Thus Moshe is telling Aharon, Nadav, Avihu and seventy of the elders of Yisrael that they will bring down the lofty spiritual influences into all the worlds by their bowing.

  • Sources: Kedushas Levi, Arizal

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