Mishpatim – Wholly Love

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

imagesSometimes everything aligns to come together in one perfect moment.

This morning, my daughter had asked me to make her a cup of tea to take to school. I looked in the cabinet. Her favorite brand was right there. Check. Her favorite organic sweetener was right there. Check. I opened another door to search for a disposable travel cup. Right in front were the cups, with the exact corresponding number of lids, and the exact number of cardboard sleeves that slide over the cup to make it easy to hold. Check. I made the tea, looped the string over to the right, snapped the lid into place aligning the opening just right, and looking at this cup of tea; I felt that everything was in order and utterly perfect.

A moment later, my daughter was gagging and spitting out her breakfast. I had made eggs, and I grabbed an unwashed spatula out of the dishwasher, forgetting that I had used that very spatula last night to scoop salmon out of a pan.  Ok, so even though the perfect moment only lasted a moment, it didn’t make it any less perfect. Moments have magic in them, and the mundane is anything but. When we live only for the high points, the grand gesture, and the peak experience, we miss out on where life happens.

And so it is with this week’s Torah portion, “Mishapatim”, which is sandwiched in between two peak experiences. In last week’s Torah portion, “Yitro”, we received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. In next week’s Torah portion, “Terumah”, we read about the building of the holy Tabernacle, the Arc of the Covenant, and the indwelling of God’s presence.

In between these spiritual high points lies this week’s Torah portion, “Mishpatim”, which means “Laws,” where we read the seemingly mundane laws of damages and compensation for various types of injuries and losses.   Commentators explain that “these laws” – which are pretty hard to get excited about – nevertheless are part and parcel of the Ten Commandments, no less worthy, no less holy, no less divine.   In fact, the Torah, which is divine, cannot be compartmentalized at all, because it is not the nature of divinity or holiness to be stratified, to be “less than”, or “more than”, “a little” or “a lot.”

Because our minds are linear and compartmentalized, however, we need to learn all of the separate parts of Torah, to come to understand its wholeness.   Unlike the way we view things, Torah doesn’t differentiate between any and all areas of life, or between the so-called “worldly realm” and the sacred realm”, because these realms are inexorably intertwined and connected. Our days and lives are not divided between “God’s time” and “our time”, “God’s domain” and “our personal space”.   It is one holistic connection, regardless of our inability to perceive it as so.

In “Mishpatim,” God tells us what holy looks like – Act responsibly with people and their possessions. If you hurt someone, make it right. Be exceedingly careful and honest in this world… – because our character shows up in how we handle all of the day-to-day things, no matter how small. And while there are many times when we feel especially elevated and close to God, such as the High Holy Days, or the Sabbath, or a peak life experience, it is also through the day-to-day seemingly ordinary and routine behaviors that we are just as connected.  Thus, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

In his famous poem, William Blake writes:

To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in your hand

And eternity in an hour.

Infinite holiness lies in doing the right thing or the kind thing, even when unnoticed or appreciated.   In the loving comfort of a cup of tea is an eternal heaven. The wholeness that we all seek can be found in a moment of holiness. You just have to notice them.

 

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