Headlines »

March 29, 2020 – 1:21 am | 0 views

Until morning is a phrase of promise and hope. The night is dark and desolate, but it won’t last forever. We might be anxious and fearful, perhaps disappointed and bitter, but it won’t last forever. Until morning. When the morning dawns, the fog will lift, the sun will shine, and …

Read the full story »
Parsha Insights

Where Biblical law and Torah tale is brought vividly to life

Concepts

The Jewish perspective on topical and controversial subjects

Life Cycle

Probing for meaning in our journey and its milestones.

Yearly Cycle

Discover depth and mystique in the annual Jewish festivals

Rabbi’s Desk

Seeking life’s lessons in news items and current events

Home » Free Choice, Yitro

Mishpatim: We Matter

Submitted by on February 20, 2020 – 10:22 amNo Comment | 89 views

When you read the Torah portion that we chant in the synagogue this week, you wonder why G-d even cares. Does the Creator of heaven and earth have nothing better to do with His time than devise laws about the differences between liabilities carried by paid and unpaid custodians? Does the G-d of the entire universe need to legislate laws for personal injury and property damage? Does He even care?

The answer is that He does and only because we matter to Him. If you had been a king over a vast empire, you would not have written the specific bylaws for each city and the legislation for each infraction. You would have had a ministerium and bureaucrats to handle that kind of minutia. Yet, when your little children got themselves into a scrape, you would have gotten down on your hands and knees to solve their problem.

Here you would suddenly be setting policy and instituting consequences for minor infractions. At home, you would police your children’s behavior and oversee every detail. Why? Legislating the laws for millions of people is beneath you but legislating the laws for your two toddlers is not? The answer is, yes. Because the toddlers are part of you. You love them and are invested in their welfare. Making order in their world, makes order in your world.

Your children matter to you in ways that your citizens never can. To your citizens, you are the mighty king; lofty and beyond reach. To your children, you are plainly dad and when their noses run, you are the one to wipe it.

The same is true of G-d. He legislates every small detail of our lives in the Torah. From the size of our prayer shawl to the length of Shabbat. From the compensation for property damage to the penalty for rape. Every detail is important to G-d because we are important to G-d. Every detail matters because we matter. We are His children and children matter.

He Cares
It is not uncommon for people to assume that G-d couldn’t care less if we eat this food or that, if we plant our gardens on this day or that. G-d is concerned with global and cosmic matters. G-d prevents earthquakes and world wars. Small details like this are beneath Him.

The fact is that if you look deeply into my eyes, you will see a reflection of yourself. That is because eyes are windows into the soul and in the soul, you matter more than I. I have written before that the difference between soul and soil is the same as the difference between the U and I. The soul is focused on you and the soil (from which the body derives) is focused on I. When you look into my eyes, the windows of my soul, you see you, not I, because the soul is focused on U.

If this is true of the soul, which is only a slice of G-d, imagine how much truer this is of G-d Himself. Our sages taught that the Jews saw G-d at the Red Sea as a young warrior and at Mount Sinai as a wizened scholar. The Chassidic masters taught that G-d did not change appearances from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai. G-d remained the same. The people who were looking at Him changed.

When you love someone, you unconsciously reflect aspects of their personality. If they are calm and patient, it rubs off on you. If they are energetic and vibrant, that rubs off too. The Chassidic Masters taught that G-d chooses to do the same. He is so invested in our welfare that He reflects our state of mind. If we are young and hotheaded like a warrior in battle, G-d takes on that guise and He, therefore, appears that way to us. When we feel wizened and ready for Torah, G-d takes on that guise and, therefore, appears to us as an old wise man.

When we look at G-d, we think we are seeing G-d. The fact is that we are seeing a reflection of ourselves. G-d makes Himself so transparent that He is not even visible. All we can see is a reflection of us.

It now makes perfect sense that G-d cares about the minute details of my life. When G-d thinks about me, He becomes me, and the details of my life become important to Him.

Thus, G-d doesn’t focus on things that we perceive as important to Him. He focuses the lion’s share of His attention on things that are important to us. So, yes, G-d cares much more about the food we eat and the company we keep than he cares about global and cosmic matters. He needs to take care of natural disasters and global shifts, but that is not where His passion lies. To Him, these things don’t matter (other than in how they impact people). Only we matter.

Can I Do For G-d
This concept is unique to Judaism. If you should ask a Catholic Priest what you can do for G-d, you would likely be told that G-d is perfect and does not require an imperfect human’s help. If you had asked a Muslim Imam, he might have explained that G-d is All-Powerful and that He can obliterate our entire lives with a single swipe. He doesn’t need us, we need Him.

Judaism teaches that there is something that we can do for G-d. As powerful as G-d is, He cannot force humans to obey His rules of their free will. For that, He needs us to make that choice. Without our cooperation, His plan would fail. And since we are so important to G-d, our lifestyle choices are also important to Him. So, when you ask what you can do for G-d, the answer is to live life as He wants you to live it. Because it is important to Him that you choose His way. In the words of our sages, G-d says, “it is a pleasure for me that I have spoken, and my word has been fulfilled.”

In the Detail
How can this be? How can G-d care about such little things? We can indeed understand that G-d cares about us because we are His children, but how can an infinite G-d care about finite little things? An elephant can’t fit into my knapsack. Mount Everest can’t fit into your backyard. The complex strategies for preserving world peace can’t fit into the mind of a toddler. Yet, large and complex as these things are, they are still finite. How can the infinite interests of the Almighty G-d fit into the infinitesimal matters that are important to little finite me?

The answer is that G-d is not infinite any more than He is finite. He is the Creator of infinity and finitude. Compared to G-d, both are equal. Let me put it another way. Which is closer to infinity, one or a billion? The answer is that compared to infinity, one and a trillion are equally distant. Similarly, compared to G-d, infinity and finitude are equally distant. If G-d is too big to care about what I wear and how I behave, then He is too big to care about world crises and about the infinite expanse of celestial spheres. Both are equally infinitesimal compared to G-d.

The only way G-d can fit Himself into the cast of either infinite or finite things, large or small, is because He is Omnipotent and capable of anything. If He is Omnipotent enough to make himself care about the large things, He is Omnipotent enough to make himself care about the little things. If He can make Himself care about the large picture, He can make Himself care about the details.

Since little old U and little old I are important to G-d, He makes a point of fitting into the infinitesimal matters that concern us. He gets down on the living room floor with us and settles our squabbles. He sets down rules, lays out consequences, and makes sure that we learn how to grow up and behave properly.

Why, because He has it in for us more than others? No, because He loves us more than others.

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also Comments Feed via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.