21/22 Feb: Shabbat Shekalim (Mishpatim) : Shabbat comes in 5:11 pm, ends 6:15 pm
After the drama of the divine revelation and giving of the Decalogue at Sinai, comes Parashat Mishpatim, a collection of laws covering, for the most part, the people’s relationships with each other. God has great plans for this people, and in these laws we begin to see the outline of the society that God wants them to build. God reveals the essence of the covenant with Israel in this Parashah; indeed, it is known as the Book of the Covenant (Sefer ha-brit), from its powerful ending.There Moshe records the laws, sets up twelve pillars representing the Tribes of Israel, offers sacrifices and inducts the people into their new relationship with each other and with God. The people respond with enthusiasm, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do and we will obey” (na’aseh v’nishma; Ex. 24:7). The second word they use, nishma, carries a range of meanings: we will hear, we will understand, we will obey. But first they will do, and by their actions they will generate an understanding of the society that they are building.
Rabbi Paul Arberman
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman