“If you listen to Me and keep my covenant, you will be a precious treasure to Me among all the peoples. … You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”1

The narrative of the giving of the Torah is divided into two sections. It begins in Parshat Yitro and extends into this week’s Torah reading: Mishpatim.

To become a holy nation, G‑d provides an action plan. That action plan is the Torah, an ancient narrative expressing Divine wisdom. To grow into “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” requires the development of great sensitivity. The Torah’s mitzvot exemplify such heightened sensitivity.

An Example of Holiness

As just one examples of how mitzvot help us become a holy nation, let’s take a deeper look at the prohibition of mixing milk and meat, which is enumerated three times in the Torah,2 the first of which is in this week’s portion. This mitzvah is a chok, a law we accept as divinely decreed despite its incomprehensibility. Nevertheless, the commentaries do offer some explanations.

Nachmanides,3 a leading medieval rabbi and scholar, explains: “We must not become a cruel people that is not compassionate, by milking the mother and extracting its milk to seethe therein its kid.” Avoidance of this moral insensitivity is in keeping with our mission of becoming a holy nation.

The Talmud explains that the three repetitions teach that we are prohibited from cooking, eating, or deriving any benefit from the mixture of meat and milk.

The Torah’s prohibitions of other “mixtures” are not as extreme. We are prohibited from grafting two species of trees, but we are permitted to eat the fruit resulting from such a graft (that’s why we can eat nectarines). Regarding the mixture of wool and linen, we are prohibited from wearing such a garment but not from making it.

Why are such exacting measures taken regarding the mixture of meat and milk, and how does it further our mission of becoming a holy nation?

In Kabbalistic terms, meat represents the Divine attribute of strict judgment (gevurah), while milk reflects the attribute of kindness (chesed). Thus, the mixture of meat and milk would correspond to the interaction of opposing spiritual forces.4 Since judgment and kindness produce opposite effects, their mixture will result in a “corruption” of the spiritual forces that they embody. In other words, mixing meat and milk is harmful to us, spiritually. A “holy nation” must be sensitive not only to physical but also spiritual outcomes.

Sparking Enthusiasm Even in the Mundane

We can learn a further lesson regarding sensitivity from a deeper understanding of the scene at Sinai, described at the end of Parashat Mishpatim. “The glory of G‑d rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered the mountain.”5 The next verse states: “The appearance of the glory of G‑d was like a consuming fire.”

The Rebbe6 points out that at the top of a mountain, nothing grows. Thus, the question can be asked: What was there for the “consuming fire” to burn or consume?

Rashi comments that “the cloud was like smoke.” The Rebbe notes that it was not actual smoke since there wasn’t any fuel to burn. Rather, the “consuming fire” of G‑d emitted something resembling smoke.

Here comes the heightened sensitivity: The smoke represents the burning desire of the people to escape the confines of corporeal existence and ascend to connect with their Creator. Normally, smoke is made when there is some fuel present. At Mount Sinai, G‑d suspended normal reality and made a “consuming fire” that emanated from the mountain itself—“fire from a rock.”

We are to learn from this that even “inanimate” parts of our lives can spark enthusiasm. One can mistakenly think that enthusiasm or “fire” is reserved just for special occasions or for Torah study. It might appear that mundane, petty, chores and actions are disconnected from any higher purpose.

Not so, says the Rebbe. We’re to remember that on Mount Sinai, even the inanimate rock burned. Likewise, even the most simple, mundane acts can be brought alive with the fire and energy of Torah inspiration when directed properly.

Parshat Mishpatim teaches us how to become a holy people. There’s no better time to get started than right now.

Making It Relevant

  1. Develop a current action plan, with realistic goals and timelines, that include regular Torah study and mitzvot observance.
  2. Begin to implement your plan by basing decisions and actions on furthering your mission to make yourself part of a holy nation.
  3. Revise and update your plan as you progress.