Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah -Matot-Masei

Tradition has it that Torah provides us with 613 mitzvot (commonly translated as commandments). The representative “10 Commandments” serve only to symbolize the moral commitment necessary to honor our relationships with God and each other. Of course, the 613 are largely symbolic, as well. A document like the Torah that is open for interpretation of every text cannot be read to create absolutes. In fact, throughout time, sages have given us any number of differing understandings of the Torah’s requirements for our behaviors. I found an interesting take while studying this week.

Amongst the different narratives included in this week’s Torah portion, we receive the command to create 6 cities of refuge (num 36:13). As delineated, they provide a safe haven for those accused of murder pending appropriate and justice based legal processes.

The six cities represent God’s commitment to righteousness in the pursuit of justice. In the modern legal world, one could argue that Torah is mandating that nothing in the legal process is more important than “Due Process” – basic fairness. We consider a failure of Due Process to be an absolute failure of the entire legal system.

The anonymous author of Sefer HaChinuch ( a 13th-century commentary on Torah’s mitzvot) understood the importance of the inalienable rights to basic fairness. He (presumably a “he”) argued that the six cities represent the six most important of all mitzvot. From these six ideals, all conversations flow. As stated, they are “to believe in God, to avow God’s oneness, to renounce idolatry, to love God, to hold God in awe, and to avoid the temptation to sin.” The argument is that if one keeps one’s eyes focused, her/his decision-making will root in righteousness, and the resulting behaviors will help heal the world.

He affirmation does not tell us what we have to believe about God’s existence beyond accepting that some higher authority exists and that there is only one. We do not live in a world of competing deities. We should be in awe that some source beyond us controls more than we can wrap our heads around, and that our awe must be combined with love.

It seems so simple. How have we perverted the message, putting all sorts of boundaries around God, as if we have the power to protect or program God in our own myopia? Ultimately, it does not matter that we ever agree on what God is or what to call God. What matters is that we approach in awe and love. By extension, if we hold the Source of Creation in awe, we should hold every facet of creation in awe, as well. We can’t love God if we hold each other in disdain. As I continue to hear the stories about how people’s “god” hates certain people, holds others in disdain, or casts others aside, I want to ask folks standing at pulpits around the world, “Do your ears hear what your mouth is saying?”

Erik Einstein and Mickey Gavrielov gave us the ultimate instructions for healing the world. “Ani v’atah, neshaneh et ha-olam – you and I, we can change the world.” If we continue to create deeper trenches to separate us from each other, everyone loses. It’s time to turn back to love. It’s time for everyone to take a step back and listen to the late great Louie Armstrong sing, “What a wonderful world.” The entire song is about experiencing the awesomeness of love and beauty in the world. Whether you appreciate the music or not, sing along and commit to making its commitment to joy your teacher and the paradigm for your decision-making.

Shabbat Shalom.