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Home » Mishpatim

Mishpatim: The Baby’s World

Submitted by on February 15, 2009 – 4:07 amNo Comment | 6,325 views

Early Months

The moment my daughter emerged from the womb and took in her new surroundings was magical for us as parents. We were enamored with her and clutched her close to our hearts, but she was oblivious. She never acknowledged her parents, she simply slept. Over the last few days we have held her, fed her, bathed her and dressed her, but her blissful oblivion continues. We have not received a single gesture, smile or nod of appreciation. Yet we take great pleasure in providing for her. We expect nothing in return and are completely willing to give. Why is that?

I would like to say it is because she is so adorable, but the truth is a little more prosaic; it is because we enjoy the feeling of being indispensable. In the human experience there is no greater pleasure than that of giving; the greater the need, the greater is the pleasure to provide. We hesitate to give freely to adults because we fear our efforts might be taken for granted, but that is never a concern with infants. Babies are utterly dependent; they mold themselves to our contours and sink in so completely. They give themselves with a trust that makes our spirit soar.

There will soon come a time when her personality will flourish. Her eyes will sparkle, her sighs will be content and her smiles will light up her face. At that time we will receive her love and appreciation; we will feel like parents, not just care givers. But in life there is always a give and take. We will receive a growing little girl, but we will have lost our infant. No longer will we be her entire world. No longer will she give herself to us so completely. No longer will she need us so desperately. She will have a mind of her own. She will wander and explore, she will strike out and find the things that interest her. She will be much more fun to be with and raising her will be a rewarding experience, but some of the pure elation that comes from being absolutely needed will be lost.

Three Stages

The human body has three general functions: Higher function, vital function and tactile function. The head, where the brain resides, houses our higher function. The torso, where the heart and lungs reside, houses our vital functions. The abdomen, where the intestines reside, houses our tactile function.

In the womb a fetus functions mostly on its lowest level; the higher and vital functions are nourished through the umbilical cord, its tactile function. When the infant emerges and begins to breathe its heart and lungs, the vital functions, become dominant. Though the brain plays a crucial role from the very beginning, higher functions of cerebral thought only set in when the child matures.

Jewish mystics saw these three stages as highly symbolic of Jewish life. The higher function of the brain represents those who study, meditate and seek to understand their bond with G-d. They serve G-d on the highest level because they perform His will from a standpoint of knowledge. The vital function of the heart, the seat of emotion, represents those who are passionate about G-d. They serve G-d because they want to rather than because they have to.

Finally there are those whose observance is simply tactile. They faithfully fulfill all that is asked of them and carry out their Divine mission to perfection, but they are compelled only by a sense of duty. Their worship is unadorned with passion and understanding. It is simple.

The Curve

Returning to our analogy of the baby, at the moment she is entirely ours. content with our lot - innerstreamWith time she will grow into her own. So long as she is limited to her tactile needs she is completely dependent on us. The more aware she becomes of her own interests and desires the more she will establish her own space.

This applies to our relationship with G-d. The more we understand whom we serve and why our worship is important, the more meaningful it becomes to us. The more passionate we are about G-d the more enjoyment we derive from serving Him. Such worship is far more sophisticated and meaningful than that of obedience and self discipline. Yet there is something pure and utterly selfless about serving G-d simply because we must. Simply because He commanded us to.

The sophisticated servant derives great pleasure from his service and to a certain degree this pleasure serves as motivation. The pious and righteous cannot deny that part of their attraction to G-d is the pleasure they derive from serving Him. The simple servants, who serve because they are commanded to, who have no appreciation for why they serve and derive no pleasure from their service, are utterly selfless. Completely devoted to G-d.

Just like my daughter, who clings to me because she must, she needs the care that I provide, so does the simple servant worship G-d because he must, his G-d commanded him to. Just like I am elated by the purity and wholesomeness of my daughter’s devotion so does G-d attribute particular significance, so to speak, to the utter selflessness of the pure and wholesome servant.

Simple Laws

This is perhaps why the Torah portion that follows the episode of Sinai is filled with prosaic laws. One might expect the first commandments that follow the dramatic revelation at Sinai to speak of passion for G-d and the mystical secrets of creation. Instead G-d chose to speak of civil laws that govern society and interpersonal relations.

Perhaps the message here is that before we get carried away with mystical meditation and spiritual passion we ought to begin with simple devotion. Life begins with simple needs, but these are the needs that cement the relationship between parent and child. This relationship will grow complex and sophisticated, but it will always benefit from the unadulterated bond that served as its foundation.

Our relationship with G-d is also complex; it is mystical, spiritual and passionate. But it begins with the simple and unadorned bond that drives us to do precisely what He asks of us. Not because we want to, but because we must.

This essay is based on a Chassidic Discourse from the former Lubavitcher Rebbe in 5703

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