Mishpatim: Wholly Love

How you do anything is how you do everything.

– Anonymous

The Perfect Moment

Sometimes everything aligns to come together in one perfect moment. 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.

The Perfect Moment – Ruined

A moment later, my daughter was gagging and spitting out her breakfast. I had also made hers eggs, and I mindlessly grabbed an unwashed spatula out of the dishwasher, forgetting that I had used it the previous 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 the Torah portion, “Mishapatim,” which is sandwiched in between two peak experiences. In the previous Torah portion, “Yitro,” we received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. In the following Torah portion, “Terumah,” we will read about the building of the holy Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, and the indwelling of God’s presence.

In between these spiritual high points lies “Mishpatim,” which means “Laws,” where we read the seemingly mundane laws of damages and compensation for various types of injuries and losses.

Holistic Holiness – It’s All One

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. 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 the palm of 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. These moments are magic. You just have to notice them.  

Internalize & Actualize:

  1. How would you finish these sentence stems?

If I commit to dealing with people fairly and benevolently…

If I bring more awareness and presence to my life today…

If pay more attention to how I deal with people today…  

If I bring 5 percent more integrity into my life…

If I remain loyal to the values I believe are right…

If I am more truthful in my dealings with people today…

If I bring a higher level of self-esteem to my dealings with people today…

  1. Pick the one above that most resonates with you and is most urgent that you change/shift in your life. Now write down five practical ways you can start making the “if” to a “when.”

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  1. We all do numerous kind and positive things for others during that day that often go unnoticed, both to ourselves and perhaps to others. Recognize the power that each small action has. Write down ten things you can recall from the past week that you did out of goodness for others in your life, including strangers (e.g. let the person with one thing go ahead of you in line, held the door open, etc.). You will be surprised how many acts of kindness you do. Give yourself the credit you deserve for bringing such holiness into the mundane!

Ten actions out of goodness:

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Kedoshim -Authentic Freedom

The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.

                          David Foster Wallace, author of Infinite Jest

There is a difference between being “free” and having a “free-for-all”. Having left Egypt, the Jews were no longer slaves and were “free”. But what does freedom look like?The Egyptian Pharaoh was considered to be a “god.” He could enslave a nation, decree genocide, act outside of all reason, and he answered to no one. In being “free” to act with impunity, Pharaoh nevertheless brought widespread death and destruction to his country. So, is that what “freedom” looks like? If so, then really, what’s the point? Surely, it must mean something else.

A New Paradigm of Freedom

In liberating the Jewish people from slavery, God had to teach us what freedom – true freedom – looks like. Without a paradigm or model to go on, God had to teach us from the ground up. The kind of freedom God wanted us to embrace was a certain kind of freedom, the freedom of being “congruent”.

Being congruent means that the actions of your external self are consistent with the values of your internal being. Essentially, it means being authentic and true to yourself. The question is, however, as we can see from the example of Pharaoh, who was evil inside and out, is which self are we, and what kind of person do we want to authentically express?

Having been slaves in Egypt for over two hundred years, how could the newly- liberated Jew know what his or her real self was? How could a newly-freed slave understand his or her potential much less how to actualize it?

The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzrayim”, which means “narrowness” or “constraint.” Leaving Egypt for the desert was going from a place of constricted boundaries to a place of no boundaries. To avoid the external chaos of a “free-for- all”, as well as the internal panic of being in a state of “free-fall”, God had to teach us what being a truly free human being looks like, and how to create our internal controls.   So the Jews had to learn both “how” to be as well as “what” to be.

One of the main themes of this week’s Torah portions, “Kedoshim”, deals with the laws of prohibited relationships. Previously, it was the laws of proper speech – what comes out of your mouth. Before that, it was the laws of kosher animals – what goes into your mouth. Laws, laws and more laws. It seems that there is no part of our lives, our relationships, our behaviors, even our bodies, which is not governed by Torah law.   That is because Judaism is an inside/outside religion.

So is this just a new form of slavery? After all, when we were slaves in Egypt, Pharaoh certainly controlled us.   In so doing, however, Pharaoh wanted to crush us, to break us down utterly. In total contrast, God wants to build us up, to cultivate our character so that we understand who we truly are – a holy people.

The Freedom to be Holy

 For us to be holy, however, we must be “whole”. We must be congruent. We must be holy both inside and out. In governing all of the myriad aspects of our lives, God is teaching us that Judaism is not compartmentalized, but is a seamless integrated holistic way of being.

Therefore, we can’t say – “This is for God, but that is not.” We can’t say, “Before, I was on God’s time, but now I am on my time.” We can’t say, “What I do or say over here matters, but over there it does not.” And we certainly can’t say, “Well, this is just business…”

And so whether it’s governing what we eat, how we speak, how we conduct business, how we treat others, how we conduct our intimate relationships, etc. etc. etc.… it ALL matters. In an integrated seamless holistic life, everything HAS to matter. And therefore, we can look at each law that God gives us as another nuance and refinement, another pathway and connection, to help us close the gap between the external being and the internal selves that represent our true godly essence.

When we were delivered from Egypt, we were given the gift of freedom. To stay, free, however, is another story. Staying free means embracing freedom as a responsibility to be earned, integrated and owned – in other words, being congruent. When we can do that, no one and nothing can ever enslave us again. And that is what freedom – true freedom – really looks like.

Things To Ponder:

  1. Is there some area of your life where you are not congruent? If so, what one step can you take to close the gap?
  2. When and how will you do it?
  3. Why is this important to you and what will be different in your life – and about you?
  4. How will you know when you are being more congruent?
  5. How will other people in your life know that you are being more congruent?
  6. How does having more congruence enlarge or empower you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.