The Day After Sinai

February 12, 2021
By Beth Mordecai
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The Day After Sinai

Parashat Mishpatim contains one of the largest collections of mitzvoth of any single parashah. It ranges from the laws of slavery, to property damage, to personal injury law, to some agricultural laws. If you can think of a legal matter that is about the proper functioning of society, it can be found in Mishpatim.

It is a good reminder that our tradition has a lot to say about matters that we might more readily consider being universal.

Biblical scholars often refer to some of the chapters of this parashah as the Covenant Code, that is to say it is the agreement that the people of Israel made with God and each other to have a society that was based on the rule of law. In other words, our relationship with God is made manifest in the way we organize and structure our everyday lives.

But what about peak religious experiences? What about the highs of a magnificent prayer service or the majesty of taking in the beauty of nature? Surely if we could see ourselves as worthy, each of us, I imagine, would want to have a ‘burning bush’ moment where we perceive the presence of God directly and personally. Surely that kind of encounter is deeper and more meaningful than properly guarding my ox from goring my fellow’s ox.

Yet, Mishpatim comes precisely at the right moment to teach us a valuable lesson about the life lived through Torah. Last week we received the revelation at Sinai where all of our senses were on fire just as Mount Sinai was. We beheld the awesomeness of God, as we were the fortunate recipients of God’s law and trust. But we can’t stay at that moment forever. We must journey forward equipped with the instructions and inspired by the experience so that we might forge a just society based on love of God, Torah and love of fellow human beings.

This is the lesson of our reading this week. That even though we get great nourishment from the exceptional and ecstatic religious experience, those cannot be the basic scaffolding around which our religious lives must be built. Rather it is in the day-to-day details of interpersonal relationships, that our commitment to Torah is truly made manifest in the world.

Shabbat Shalom

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