How you do anything is how you do everything.
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:
- 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…
- 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.”
- 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: