The Day After

[Parashat Mishpatim 2014]

The day after – whether after a celebratory time such as after a wedding, after the Bar or Bat Mitzvah of a child, after the birth of a baby, on the second day of a new job, after college graduation; or, after a difficult and heart-wrenching time such as after the death or burial of a loved one, the second day post-op or a the after receiving a life-threatening diagnosis, the day after the decision to divorce…  What happened yesterday was life-changing in some huge way, and then life patters on.  The day after.  For us, in our annual historical retelling, last week was standing at Sinai. The majesty was breathtaking, the moment was awe-inspiring.  And then, it is the next day. So, what happens the day after Sinai?

What happens the day after is life –how we live in a real way with the monumental change we just experienced. There are new understandings, new behaviors, new guidelines, new rules, for life has changed in that moment; it will never again be the same as it was before.  In Torah, at the conclusion of the revelation of law, the people declare to Moses that they will do all that God has commanded them (24:3); then they reiterate the promise with a further powerful phrase: “‘All that the Eternal has spoken we will faithfully do!’ ”—their words ‘naaseh v’nishma’, literally, “we will do and we will hear” (Exodus 24:7). In this case, the Israelites affirm their free choice to listen to God and be faithful to the covenant, to hear God’s voice with even greater clarity.

Understanding God, what God wants from us, or anything else for that matter, is all about learning to listen. The more we strive to listen and pay attention to the details and circumstances around us, the more we can fine-tune our actions to reflect what we have learned, and the better we will be able to discern what God is trying to tell us in that moment of life.

Mishpatim – These ancient rules for life are what we find here in this portion. Some make clear sense; some just are what they are. Some we like and some we don’t. Most apply, while some we have to adapt or abandon. The Mishpatim are primarily those laws dictated by reason and personal interaction, such as the prohibitions against theft and murder. Even if the Torah had not been given, we could probably agree that these are the kind of principles important in the function of a healthy society. Following the revelatory transcendence at Sinai, these imperatives about how we are to behave and to act toward one another communicate Godliness in relation to the everyday-ness of our human existence.

There is a Midrash, revealing this human vulnerability in living up to these ideals:

After God taught the Ten Commandments, Moses went up to heaven to get the Torah.  The angels tried to stop him.  They threw things at him.  They yelled at him.  They tried to scare him.  One angel said, “People lie. They can’t obey the Torah.”  Another angel said, “People steal. They can’t keep the Torah.”  Angel after angel had something to say.  Moses asked God for help.  God said, “If you want the Torah, you have to convince them.”  Moses thought.  Then Moses said: “Okay angels, every one of you who was a slave in Egypt, please raise your hand.”  Not one hand went up.  Moses said, The Torah says, “I am the Eternal, the God who took you out of Egypt.”  Then Moses said, “Who here has a mother or father?”  Not one angel answered.  Moses asked, “How can you do: Honor your father and mother?”  The angels were silent.  Then he said softly, “The Torah is for people, not angels.”  Then one angel said, “You’re right. People need the Torah.  They need help doing the right things.”  Every angel in heaven agreed. (Shabbat 78a)

Keeping in mind that we all need help and guidance, here are a number of spiritual imperatives that have arisen for me over these weeks and months in the presence of the physical and health challenges I have had:

  • Don’t ever say things can’t get worse; your thoughts go there and then there you are.
  • This collar I am in forces me to look up and really see what is in front of me.
  • Trust where your next step will be; if you were paying attention before, you saw where you needed to place your foot.
  • Love when you can, cry when you have to, be who you must it’s a part of the plan (yes, I like Dan Fogelberg!)
  • Be kind, even when you are in pain. Karma is a bitch.
  • Keep smelling the roses.
  • Stretch and strengthen mind and body; they follow one another.
  • Do whatever it takes to keep track of your whole self; you are more than your crisis.
  • Patience is an important middah to cultivate, and,
  • Waiting in the unknown is soooo hard – hence the ‘sovel – suffering’ in Savlanut (Patience).

The words of  parashat Mishpatim remind us that our interactions as human beings are meant to invoke God’s presence; that after the moment of revelation, after the instructions, even as we desire to ‘listen and do’, we need to remember that we will sometimes still need help doing the right things.  This Shabbat, as we once again read these mishpatim, let us be inspired to give reflection to our own personal imperatives that can enhance our daily living.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

    Jan 27, 2014 @ 12:10:19

    Your list of spiritual imperatives are relevant to everyone; I am adding the list to my calendar each Saturday so I am reminded when I reflect on the past and coming week.

    John E Lertzman
    Phone 212-233-0702
    Mobile 818-540-5733


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