Wednesday, January 22, 2014

January 22, 2014 - Mishpatim... A Doing and A Understanding

The Exodus is in full swing.  We have escaped slavery in Egypt, crossed the Red Sea and been to Mount Sinai.  As the revelation, the giving of the law, continues, we find numerous teachings.  In this week's portion, Moses takes on the huge task of relaying the commandments to the people.  Among the notable and quotable in this week's Torah episode, we find the great response of the Israelites to Moses' question of whether they would take on this charge, "na'aseh v'nishmah - we will do and we will understand." (Ex. 24:7)  There are many comments, interpretations and teachings that explain the seemingly strange order of this reply.  "Why?" the commentators ask would Torah state "doing" and then "understanding?"  

At first glance, we could assume there is a great lesson about doing something, truly experiencing it, before we can understand the depth of its meaning.  I love this meaning.  I appreciate the idea that all learning is a process, from one stage to the next and this leads to a deeper understanding.  There is another lesson in this phrase that I have discovered this year.  As we study this parsha, we become more and more aware of the human element in all its laws.  This portion, Mishpatim, means judgments.  It pertains, largely, to the laws that require human interpretation and adjudication.  This is where I discover a new meaning of this great phrase.  That working with the laws, the judgments that require seeing another's perspective, require, "a doing" and "an understanding."  
For example, we learn that you shall not show deference to the rich or the poor (Ex. 23:2-3) and that even when finding an enemy's lost ox, you must return it (Ex. 23:4).  In these examples, there needs to be an acknowledgement, an understanding of what needs to be one, and an action.  Much or our Jewish tradition requires this of us.  It is a rich treasure trove of ethics, laws and stories.  If we fulfill the mitzvot, the commandments, blindly - without the understanding - we are not living up to our end of the agreement in Exodus 24:7.  Nor are we doing our part if we simply strive to understand them.  It is the balance between the doing and the understanding that we must attain.  It is knowing that returning lost property, to even our "enemy", is the right thing to do...and we must do it.  It is knowing that despite our pity for the less fortunate, they too are obligated to the law, and it must be carried out...lived by.  

As this Shabbat draws near, may we all find time to study, to understand our rich and beautiful tradition and find the time to live it!