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Home » Mishpatim

Mishpatim: Finding G-d

Submitted by on January 26, 2019 – 10:39 pmNo Comment | 123 views

Finding G-d in the synagogue is no big deal, that is where you expect Him to be. Finding G-d in your home can be a little trickier, but still not so surprising. Finding G-d at your place of work or at play, in a social setting, at a party, or at a sporting event, that is a feat.

A rabbi once asked his students where G-d can be found? Some said in the Torah, others said in the soul, yet others said in a good deed, but the rabbi turned them all down. Finally, when they were done, the rabbi shared his insight. G-d can be found, wherever you let Him in.

The question before us is this, where do we let G-d in? Is there room for Him in our hearts and homes, our parties and social clubs? Is He welcome there or are there places we would rather not bump into Him?

Transcendence

The Torah portion that we read this week begins with the words, “And these are the ordinances that you [Moses] shall set before them.”[1] G-d was telling Moses that it is not sufficient to teach the laws, or even to repeat them several times till the students memorize them. It is necessary to explain them in a way that they understand it. When we understand something, it becomes part of us, and we remember it.

The Torah then launches into the laws of slavery and begins with the words, “When you acquire a slave.” If you link the last words of the previous verse to the first words of this verse, an interesting statement emerges. Set the Torah before them [teach it to them] until they acquire it and make it their own.

Yet, this interpretation doesn’t fit with the literal meaning of the words. If we are talking about acquiring the Torah to the point that we understand it and make it ours, why is slavery the subject of acquisition? Don’t we master the Torah when we acquire it, aren’t we acquiring mastery rather than slavery?

Herein lies the difference between acquiring conventional worldly wisdom and acquiring G-dly wisdom. When we acquire Divine wisdom, we grow humble and submissive rather than conceited and overbearing. We recognize that the wisdom we have absorbed transcends us. And though we have acquired it and made it part of us, the wisdom hasn’t descended to our level. On the contrary, we have ascended to its level. It isn’t our wisdom, it is G-d’s wisdom. We merely made a home for it in our minds. Moreover, we learn that the wisdom and us are both part of G-d, which is why we feel so humble.[2]

Integration

Nevertheless, ascending to this level of transcendence doesn’t negate the imminence of our daily living. We can lead a normal life—waking in the morning, going to work, coming home to our children, going out with friends, vacationing with family, all while absorbing G-d’s transcendental wisdom. The two need not be incompatible. They can merge and be one. The holy can be normal, and the normal can be holy.

What does this mean? After all, studying Torah entails sitting in front of a book and concentrating on our studies. How can we do that at work, the store, on vacation, or at home? How can we integrate the transcendence of G-dly study with tactile activities such as traveling, playing, working, and relaxing?

The answer is that though we can’t actually study during those times, we can bring the holiness and transcendence of the Torah with us. When we absorb the Divine thoughts of Torah into our minds, when we become extensions of the Torah, it comes with us wherever we go. This means that we need to be careful where we go lest we bring the Torah into inappropriate places. But it also means that if we choose, the holiness in our minds can permeate and uplift our environment wherever we may be.

When we acquire the Torah and let it in, we begin to think as the Torah thinks. No matter what we do, we perceive it from a Torah perspective. We can be at work, at play, at a party, or on vacation, and G-d can be right there with us. In the words of the Rabbi we mentioned earlier, we can let G-d in.

Finding G-d

How do we go about finding G-d, seeing a Torah perspective, at work or in a party environment?

By asking ourselves how this endeavor can further G-d’s purposes on earth. If our minds are attached to G-d even as our hands perform their tasks, then finding G-d in our place of work, is eminently possible. Let me give you an example.

Suppose I am doing laundry. There can be nothing more mundane and less transcendent than washing clothes, right? Well actually, wrong. Seen from the proper perspective, doing laundry can be a transcendental, sacred, and even G-dly experience. How?

I look at the laundry process and ask myself how each step in this process plays a role in making me a better person and the world a holier place. Clothing are form-fitting, clean and wrinkle free when we put them on in the morning. With time, they grow winkled, dusty and dirty. Then we wash them in warm water and chemicals, and they come out clean. We lay down a heavy press, and the wrinkles disappear.

As we engage in this process, we visualize our souls. They too come to us in the morning fresh, clean and wrinkle-free. But during the day, as we engage in improper or even forbidden behavior, our souls grow ragged, wrinkled and soiled. Take a dirty shirt from the pile and imagine you are looking at your own weary soul. But don’t fret because dirt can be washed out. First, immerse it in warm water. Warmth represents passion and water is a symbol for the Torah. If we drink in the Torah with warmth and excitement and pour our soul into our prayers with heat and passion, our soul will shed its dust. If we add soap and chemicals—charity, observance of Shabbat, and Kashrut, our soul will come out clean.

Then we set about removing the wrinkles and make it form-fitting again by accepting the heavy weight of the presses. The weight is the Torah, but this weight is not a burden. On the contrary, it restores our soul to its original form and renders it wrinkle free.[3]

If I meditate on this as I wash my laundry, every load will make me a better person. Not only will I see the laundry as a metaphor for self-help, I will visualize the spiritual process that restores my soul, playing out in the world through my laundry. In other words, the very G-dly process that restores my soul on a spiritual plane, will restore my shirt on a physical plane. In this state, laundry ceases to be a mundane activity. It becomes a G-dly endeavor, an extension of my soul, that makes the world cleaner, fresher, and holier.

This perspective can be applied to everything we do. If we view it as G-d does, we will find ourselves engaged in a holy endeavor no matter what we are doing. At that point, finding G-d at home, at the party, at work, or on vacation will be just as easy as finding G-d in the synagogue. All we need to do, is let Him in.

[1] Exodus 21:1.

[2] This part of the essay is based on Sefer Mamarim Melukat, vol. 6, pp. 103-110.

[3] Igros Kodesh, vol. 3, pp. 335-336.

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