The title of this week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, refers to the body of Torah laws that are easily understood by human intellect, such as not to steal, etc., as opposed to other laws which are non-rational, such as kashrut. In keeping with this theme, most of this week's reading discusses different "mishpatim", "laws" or "judgments". However, at the end it relates how the Jews accepted the Torah stating, "we will do and we will hear," expressing their willingness to perform G‑d's will whether they understood it or not. This commitment seems contradictory to the concept of rational "mishpatim". Also, one of the prominent mitzvahs listed is the prohibition to mix milk and meat, clearly a supra-rational commandment.

A Jew has strengthened his or her faith so much so as to become one with G‑d…

The Shelah begins his explanation with a comment on the verse: "This is my G‑d and I will praise Him; the G‑d of my fathers, and I will exalt Him". (Ex.15:2) In Hebrew, "I will praise Him" is one word composed of the words "I" and "Him", meaning that a Jew has strengthened his or her faith so much so as to become one with G‑d. In the next part, "the G‑d of my fathers" and "I will exalt Him" are separate phrases displaying the distance between the Jew and G‑d. This faith "of my fathers" is one that is inherited from the forefathers gratis. It may serve as a foundation, but our real goal is to realize G‑d's greatness and connect with Him. Why then does the verse seem to reverse the order, putting inherited faith after the attained one? Actually, the verse is referring to two levels of attained faith. Based upon inherent belief, (level 1) a Jew must work to believe that G‑d runs the world and one's life and (level 2) that "This is G‑d".

After understanding G‑d's Omnipresence and Omnipotence, a Jew reaches a state (level 3) in which he or she realizes that G‑d cannot be fully comprehended. At some point one must admit his or her understanding is limited and that the incomprehensible must be left to faith in the "G‑d of my fathers", i.e. "Where intellect ends, faith starts". At this level we perceive G‑d's loftiness: "I will exalt Him".

…we have limited intellectual understanding…

Therefore, even though most of the laws in Mishpatim appeal to our intellect, the declaration "We will do and we will hear" and the laws of milk and meat serve to remind us that we have limited intellectual understanding and must turn to our unquestioning faith in G‑d to truly serve Him.

Faith may seem abstract or theoretical, or to be put on the back burner till the going gets tough. Yet this is not as should be. Our belief in G‑d and his involvement in our lives is a constant and ongoing fact that we must strive to realize at every moment. Our days should be spent knowing that every challenge or event we encounter and every word we hear are sent by G‑d for our benefit. When we can't figure out "why am I stuck here" or "why did he have to say that", then trust in G‑d that it is meant to be this way, and perhaps later we will understand. Even if we don't "get it", as long as we believe that G‑d is in charge and the ultimate Cause, this is what we are meant to do. This is a crucial part of our relationship with G‑d.

Another interesting point is that the portion begins "And these are the statutes" (Ex. 21:1). "And" signifies a continuation of the previous Torah portion discussing Mt. Sinai. Rashi comments that just as the Ten Commandments were divinely given, so were the intellectually understandable statues of Mishpatim.

Happiness breaks all of the barriers.

If we could derive many of the statutes through our reason, why was it necessary for G‑d to command them? In fact though, the reason we are able to understand the statutes is because G‑d gave us the ability to do so at the time of Mt. Sinai. If not for this G‑d-given capability, we might not come to these obviously legitimate laws, and could even decree the opposite, G‑d forbid. This is true for all of humanity. The seven Noahide laws, for all humankind, must be fulfilled because G‑d commanded them - and not only because they make sense.

This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevarchim and Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar I, the first of the two Adar months in a Jewish leap year. Whereas Purim (Adar 14 & 15) is celebrated in the second of the two months, the birthday and anniversary of the death of Moses (Adar 7) is celebrated during the first. . The Talmud says, "We increase in happiness during Adar". During Adar, the concept of being happier is easy because there is much happy energy flowing into the world during this time. Happiness breaks all of the barriers. Don't wait for another invitation!

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul


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