motzei Shabbos: Mishpatim 5781

Imagine what the first Shabbos was like, after G-d created the heavens and earth. A project like none other that existed at that time; a project that will only be given a complete renewal upon the appearance of the new heavens and the new earth (Isaiah 65:17). Abraham Heschel explains that when we observe Shabbos, we are celebrating the creation of the world, to the extent that we may even take part in the renewal of the seventh day. Perhaps, this may be envisioned as actually entering that space that Heschel refers to as “an island in time.”

In parashas Mishpatim, a reminder to keep the Sabbath is given, immediately following the commandment about the Shemitah year. The juxtaposition of this reminder with the commandment in regard to the Shemitah cycle is important: what is the implication? The seventh year when the land is permitted to lie fallow, follows six years of work on the land. This cycle is akin to the day of rest that follows a six day work week. Both of these observances point towards the Millennial Sabbath, that follows six thousand years of history.

In like manner that during the first six years of the Shemitah cycle, the land is sown, and produce is gathered, the same may be true in regard to the six thousand years of history. G-d’s divine plan is continuously sown through His words, and hashgacha (guidance). The Shemitah year may be likened to the abundance of blessings that will be poured out upon us, when we are gathered into the land of Israel. The Sabbath also points towards these blessings, inasmuch that chazal explain we can even get a glimpse of Olam Haba (the World to Come) on Shabbos.

Heritage – 4

B”H

Photo by Abhilash Mishra from Pexels

When the Revelation occurred at Mt. Sinai, B’nei Yisrael were cautioned against drawing too close to the mountain. When H’Shem was present at Sinai, amidst the thunder and lightning, the status of the mountain was akin to a level of kedushah (holiness), whereby the people were compelled to keep a distance. Afterwards, when the long shofar (trumpet) blasts were sounded, the verbal barricade was lifted. Apparently, there was no inherent holiness present within the structure of Mount Sinai in and of itself. Only when H’Shem’s presence rested on the mountain, in the visible form of the spectacular firework display that surrounded His presence, were the people forbidden to draw near.

Religion itself, may seem barren to us at times, like the landscape of Sinai, when its truths are put upon a pedestal, repeated as dogma without explanation, and upheld without inquiry. Their initial appeal may encompass our attention for a while; yet, their significance may become diminished, unless explored, enhanced, and reviewed. The Talmud mentions that when a soul appears, at the time of Judgment, it is asked, whether it examined the truths of wisdom by asking questions, subsequently, gaining a practical understanding, capable of being applied to one’s life (Shabbos 31a).

According to Abraham Heschel, the ultimate questions that religion claims to answer must be recovered (Heschel, G-d in Search of Man, ch. 1). The answers provided to us, that we claim to uphold, when professing a traditional religious belief, may become disconnected from our lives, like a balloon that becomes untethered from the string in one’s hand, floating aloft in the sky, unless we can articulate the relevance of the truths that are gleaned from religion. This is essential, in regard to walking on the derech (path) of our ancestors, albeit, in a postmodern world.

The wisdom of Heschel’s insight points towards the need to make religion relevant in our lives, even in the present moment. Otherwise, there continues to be a disconnect, wherein the truths of belief and practice are not integrated into the actuality of our lives. If we lose sight of the existential significance of our religious tenets, then religion may lose its immediacy. The burden is placed upon mankind to re-establish a connection to G-d. To make truth relevant again, by asking meaningful questions about life, then, searching our religious perspective for the answers.

“But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.”

– Deuteronomy 30:14, JPS 1917 Tanach

daily contemplation: Fanning the Flames

B”H

February 18, 2020

“He that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.” – Exodus 22:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Torah instructs that if a fire, lit by a person burning off his own field, gets out of control, and consumes grain in storage, stalks of corn, or a neighbors field, the person who is responsible for tending the fire is held accountable. He must make restitution for the damage incurred to his neighbor’s property.

How much more so for the individual, who is not able to keep his anger in check? We need to make amends for harsh words spoken in times of disquietude. How so? One recommendation is to stop fanning the flames of discontent. Instead of permitting ourselves to get worked up over something, we should douse the flames of anger with understanding and compassion.

“Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.”

– Exodus 35:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

It is forbidden to kindle a fire on Shabbos. According to Abraham Heschel, this would include “the fire of righteous indignation” (Heschel, The Sabbath). On the Sabbath, there is a sense of acceptance of the provision of G-d. This is symbolized by the two portions of manna, that B’nei Yisrael received on Friday mornings, while in the desert for forty years. There is no room for being upset about perceived personal injustices, insults, or displeasures, on the day that symbolizes wholeness, completion, and rest.