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Oy Vey... another day another hassle?  Parshat Mishpatim

01/25/2022 10:23:20 AM



In this week's Parsha, following hard on the lofty sentiments of the Revelation on Sinai we come back down to earth hard with the four hassles... the Arba'ah Avot D'Nezikin, the categories of misfortune, damage and alas crime to which we are all subject.  And here they are:

1. Shein: "Tooth" including physical injuries and accidents, negligence and harm inflicted by happenstance or on purpose by an animal, vehicle or tool under the control/supervision of another. 

2. Bor: "Pit" an "attractive nuisance", an obstacle, object left on a thoroughfare or other inanimate object which can bring harm upon another.

3. Maveh "Mischief": any kind of criminal mischief perpetrated upon us.

4. Maver "Fire": damage done by an actual fire or anything under a person's control that is capable of spreading destruction indiscriminately to person or property.

These four "Damagers" form the basis of Talmudic law.  

But why are they introduced here, right after the Ten Commandments?

The Midrash says, "just as the Ten Commandments were revealed on Sinai, so were the laws of Damagers revealed on Sinai.

But that's obvious, no?  Where else would they be revealed?  So the Hasidic masters demand we look deeper.

Here is what the Rebbe of Sandz, Chaim Halberstam, thought about it (I paraphrase):

Just as the highest truths and deepest experiences come from Sinai, so does everything we experience, from the greatest to the worst, the uplifting and the petty, the elevations and the obstacles.   But in reality, they are all the same thing as it it is written in the Talmud (Brachot): a person must give thanks to G-d for the bad as well as the good.  For even those things that seem to us to be bad are not given to us except ultimately for our good.  This is the essence of faith. 

This is one of Judaism's most difficult teachings to understand.  Are we supposed to believe that tragedies and misfortunes, grievous losses and horrific life-shattering catastrophes are all engineered by a loving G-d who intends them for our good?  How could such a thing be even uttered let alone believed and even worse, called "the essence of faith." 

Let's be clear though.  The Sanzer Rebbe is not telling us to visit those experiencing tragedy and remind them that G-d loves them and has brought this to them out of that love.  To do such a thing is an act of cruelty and falsehood.  Over and over and over, our Torah tells us that our lives are not a game and G-d is not the cosmic referee.  Bad things befall us because that is the nature of this world.  Accident and happenstance, randomness and tragedy are built into the world of matter that we inhabit.  To lay responsibility for a grievous loss on the person suffering is a travesty and a sin.  

So, Rabbi Chaim... what are you talking about that seeing G-d's love even in the darkest times is the essence of faith?  

In Mizmor (Psalm) 27, King David sees the world for what it is: a mixed cup of blessings mingled with many, many trials and dark times.  He concludes with these words:

לׅׄוּׅׄלֵׅ֗ׄאׅׄ הֶ֭אֱמַנְתִּי לִרְא֥וֹת בְּֽטוּב־יְהֹוָ֗ה בְּאֶ֣רֶץ חַיִּֽים׃

 Had I not the assurance
that I shall yet enjoy the goodness of  HaShem
in the land of the living…

Notice that first word in Hebrew which we translate as "Had I not".  Look at the dots above and below.  Whenever these dots appear in sacred text, we are supposed to consider them deeply.  The power of holding onto the faith that "I shall yet see the goodness of HaShem in the land of the living" can itself be the wings that enable us to endure.  I know that I will walk out of here again says Reggae master Jimmy Cliff in his classic, "Trapped."  This is the faith that the Sanzer is speaking of.  It is not a faith that we are meant to share with another but to challenge ourselves to rise to. 

When we leave a cemetery, there is a custom to pluck a blade of grass and to toss it over our shoulder with the words: Yatzitz M'Ir KaEsev- Life will rise up again, always.  Even in the shadow to believe in the light.  Even when surrounded and harassed by the Four Damagers to be able to keep it together, to persist no matter how daunted, no matter how beaten down or afraid.  The heights of Sinai, says Reb Chaim, are not just for the good times but for all times.  This is the personal mission and challenge.  

But not alone.  You have a community within you and a community about you.  At the end of the Parsha, after all of the descriptions and warnings and laws, the Children of Israel speak together:  Na'aseh V'Nishma- we will do and we will hear.  When we stand together, we rise to the heights, together, supporting each other.  


Shabbat Shalom




Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784