"We are closer to G-d when we are asking the questions, than when we think we have the answers" Heschel

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mishpatim - lots of laws and lots of love

FNQ Parsha  - 5 q's and a thought
  1. Why did G-d give us so many rules?
  2. Does G-d really care about all the details or is it really only the intentions that matter?
  3. How can I be expected to develop a deep spiritual connection with laws that are so mundane? (see below)
  4. Can a parent truly love their child if they don't give them rules and limits?
  5. Who is greater? A person who complies with all of the laws because he understands them or a person who complies with all of the laws even though there are some he doesn't understand. 
When Parshas Mishpatim comes around there is a phenomenon which occurs both in the text of the Chumash itself and perhaps more notably in the “experience” of one who studies it. This phenomenon can be most simply be called boredom. From creation until maamad Har Sinai, Bereishis to Mishpatim, the Chumash has been packed with exciting and gripping stories. The reader has been able to connect to events and personalities; perhaps he has even been able to feel that he is part of the unfolding history of the world and more precisely the history of the Bnei Avraham, Yitzchak v’Yaakov. Then, immediately following the climax of the entire story at Har Sinai, the story line seems to stop and the excitement seems to completely whither away.
If this dilemma doesn’t bother you, then please stop reading now. If your connection to Torah is so pure and
exalted that detailed lists of laws are equally as exciting as the shaping and proliferation of Am Yisrael then the following is not for you. I am in awe of you and I strive to be on your level. But to me this issue is a yearly (actually daily) challenge that I am forced to face.
A list of laws, such as the one in this parsha, begs the question: Are we excited and inspired by this dimension of Yiddishkeit? Do we connect with the intricate and detailed laws that make up most of our religion?
Rashi in the beginning of our Parsha teaches that just as the Aseres Hadibros were taught at Har Sinai, so too were the Mitzvos and dinim in our Parsha. What is the significance of this teaching? Rav Kalonymus Kalman HaLevi Epshtein, the Maor VaSehemesh teaches a fundamental concept on Rashi’s coattails. The entire experience at Har Sinai was replete with fireworks, trembling, nervous sweating, intimidating sounds and a whole host of moving sensations and physical experiences which made for the setting of the loftiest spiritual experience in the history of mankind. Chazal inspire us that that incredible moment was not meant to be a one time event, but rather, “Just as there it was in dread and fear and trembling and quaking, so too for us it must be in dread, fear, trembling and quaking.” The Maor VaShemesh (as well as many other Chassidic Masters: the Baal HaTanya, Kedushas Levi, Chovas HaTalmidim) is teaching a monumental principle in Torah Study as well as in every realm of Jewish practice. In every dimension of our service of G-D, especially in those that are not intrinsically exhilarating, emotional and passionate such as the study of monetary laws and damages we must strive to experience them the same way as did our ancestors at Har Sinai. He says, “because of our great sins the generations have become so low and this has been forgotten. Not only do people not study Torah with this trepidation and passion, but they don’t even pray with passion!! As we saw with Rebbi Akiva who would begin davening on one side of the room and end up on another. And for sure people don’t study Torah like this, in the way we saw with many Tanaim, who were encircled by a wall of fire just like by Har Sinai, even when they were learning very complicated and mundane areas of Torah!”

Perhaps after hearing this, one could conclude that such passion and excitement is simply unattainable in the “dry” areas of our service of G-D. In response to this the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Likutei Sichos used the Gemmara in Eruvin, 54b, to explain the opening pasuk of our Parsha as follows
Lifneihem shares a connection with the Hebrew word, panim, which has several meanings, including "inner dimensions." In this context, the verse instructs us that when teaching a student these judgments, one should expose him to their inner meaning. He should not be taught the laws as a dry canon, but should be shown the motivating principle behind them. Moreover, instead of telling a student: "This is the law. Discover the motivating principle yourself," the concepts should be taught in a manner which sits well within the student's understanding. [Link]

Elsewhere in a correspondence (Likkutei Sichos, 2, Pg. 354), the Rebbe, based on the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, explained that Torah needs to be placed not only lifneihem, but rather lipenimiyusam, into their essence's. Torah, even the Mishpatim must be put into our hearts and souls. He says that especially in our times people tend to relate to things as intellectual and more mind-oriented. As a response to this challenge the Torah explicitly demands of us to put the mundane laws into the depths of our spiritual soul. May we merit to never, chas veshalom, be “bored” by any part of Torah, but rather to be excited, energized and impassioned by even the minute details. As it is written, “Pekudei Hashem yesharim mesamchei lev, Mitzvas Hashem bara MeIras Eynayim!” (The orders of G-d are upright, gladdening the heart; the command of G-d is clear brightening the eyes)
Good Shabbos

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