Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Mishpatim
Last week, we read the top “10 Things Ever Said From Atop A Mountain.” Colloquially, they are the “10 Commandments” but the Hebrew is less clear (see last week’s commentary). The final words of the Torah portion exhibits Moses’ attempt to convey all that God had said. The people were too afraid to hear it for themselves, so Moses had to be the conduit through which God communicated.
I get to this reading, and every year I worry, “Let me get this straight. They were too afraid of the God who just freed them from Egypt and recapture, oh, and did so with the most amazing miracles. Too afraid? Really?”
Fear is debilitating. Fear is a form of slavery. No, nothing like the horrors of our American past (and present), but fear enslaves people, oppressing them and making them incompetent to live healthy lives with hope and faith. Fear is the antithesis of faith. That said, how many times do we hear people talk about the “Fear of God.” Why should I fear the source of love and redemption? It really does not make sense, but there is truth in the proliferation of the thought. Fear is not faith, and too many “religious” people operate more out of fear than faith.
Faith is a partnership with something or someone beyond anything definable or tangible. Faith roots us in a sense of security that allows us to feel whole while at the same time, affirming each other’s dignity without threatening or feeling threatened.
In this light, I find that the beginning of this week’s Torah portion makes perfect sense. It begins with slavery. The people are too insecure to hear God’s blessing straight from God. They are not yet equipped to understand blessing – especially their own. The slave mentality keeps people from feeling deserving of blessing even when it stares them in the face. We know the syndrome of an abused child unable to appreciate liberating love – always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The Torah’s magic roots in its approach to human psychology. The blessings will always fall on deaf ears if we are emotionally incapable of hearing and experiencing them. We know from the rest of the Torah story that before we could enter the land “flowing with milk and honey,” God needed to address a new generation. It takes transcending the slave experience to thrive in freedom. This truth is timeless. Despite the abundance of blessings, we stay enslaved to our pain. As per the Torah’s instruction, each of us bears the responsibility for helping to push people into freedom.
Thousands of houses of worship fold in this country every year. They die out of irrelevance. Irrelevance happens because they sell fear. We make idols out of religious practices, convinced that if we dot “I’s” and cross “T’s,” then, and only then, will God be happy. The need to bludgeon each other with our own versions of what God demands is the most arrogant and sinful of behaviors. Thinking that we can fit all of God into our personal insecure boxes serves only to make God finite and myopic. Even in the face of a miracle, too may lack the faith necessary to appreciate its reality. The greatest miracle we ignore is – each other.
The Quran teaches that God created everyone differently so that we could grow in each relationship. Judaism teaches (Talmud) that we cannot be good Jews unless we respect the dignity of the community around us, for it too is from God. The Gospels remind us that church is not a building; it is the building of community. Sacred to each of our traditions is this call to celebrate each other. Each of us made in the likeness of divinity, imbued with faith. Our tradition teaches that we are the angels, the beings endowed with the power of love and support, the power to heal and germinate well-being. Maimonides teaches us the evil is the absence of intentional good. Where we fail to accept our power for good, the world falls apart around us. As the song made famous by Frank Sinatra goes, “Love is a many splendored thing.” Let’s try it. Shabbat Shalom.