Friday, February 8, 2013

Parashat Mishpatim

            When all of humanity in the time of Noah was being “bad,” they were wiped out. We don’t know what they were doing wrong, or if they were given any idea of what was right. Now, we don’t ever have to worry about such things again. Not only because G-d made a promise to Noah to never wipe out humanity again, but because now we have rules to live by. We know what is right and wrong, so we can know to live our lives righteously and never fear a wrathful G-d.
            Last week, we received the 10 Commandments. Ten rules to start with, basic laws to live by. The 10 commandments start with acknowledging G-d, who led us out of Egypt, and being commanded to have no other G-ds, but then the rest of the ten are pretty great basic laws for all people: Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, etc. This week, the list of rules, or ordinances continues. Rashi comments that the parasha opens with “v,” meaning “and,” to show the continuation from the previous parasha. “Here are the ten commandments, AND here are the ordinances.” Basic laws to start from, AND more detailed explanations of rules and regulations, including proper punishments for transgressions.
            Although not all the rules in this week’s Torah portion are still relatable to us, such as the first ten, regarding proper slave ownership, they still give us an idea of good behavior, and most importantly, accountability. This week’s Torah portion isn’t just, “Do this, don’t do this.” It’s IF YOU DO THIS, you have to pay. And it’s not just about our own actions, but also about responsibility for our property, and about respecting other people’s property. We are told that if two people fight, and one severely injures the other, he should pay for the medical costs. We are also told that if one farmer’s livestock eats another farmer’s crops, or kills his livestock, the first farmer should pay for the damages. Even though animals can be unreliable and it’s not necessarily the farmer’s fault, it’s still his responsibility. If an animal kills a person, the animal should be put down. If for some reason it isn’t, and it kills a second time, the owner is liable for the death, and will have to face the punishment as though he himself did the killing. Again, the person him or herself did not do the wrong, but is responsible for his animals, for keeping it in its pen, especially if it has been known to injure or kill in the past.
            It’s hard to agree with the punishments laid out, and even the earliest rabbis found ways around fulfilling these ordinances, and punished lawbreakers without resorting to physically harming or killing them. However, if we look beyond the specificities that might make us uncomfortable with this parasha, there is still a great premise: you are responsible for your actions, and your property. Be just, be fair, be kind, take care. May we all remember to do these things, so that we may create a just world, where all are held equally responsible for creating peace. Shabbat Shalom! 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Parashat Yitro

            Everyone needs a support network. Even in the face of miracles, life is hard, and G-d alone cannot provide the support and comfort we each need to make it through the hard days. No one person has ever had the relationship with G-d that Moses had, and many people do not feel G-d’s presence at all, at least not on a day to day basis. That doesn’t mean that G-d isn’t still present, but that sometimes, for some people, it’s hard to feel that presence. Moses talked to G-d directly, heard all that G-d had to say, knew exactly what his purpose in life was, and had ample opportunity to pour his heart out and confide all his anxieties in a Divine Confidante. But he still needed Jethro, his father-in-law and friend, to give him advice. In this week’s parasha, our title character, Jethro, expresses concern that Moses is overwhelming himself, and makes suggestions on how Moses can reduce his stress level. Jethro has Moses’s and his people’s best interest in mind. He’s got Moses’s back.
            Jethro suggests that Moses cultivate an even wider support network than himself and G-d. Jethro knows that as much as Moses alone cannot care for the entire people of Israel and bring their words to G-d, and G-d’s word back to them, Jethro himself cannot alone be Moses’s aid in life. So Moses selects leaders of the people to help him with his task. He builds himself a posse, and only in this way is he “able to survive, and also, all this people will come to their place in peace” (Ex 18:23).
            Even with freedom, enough food to eat, security, and family, life isn’t perfect. No matter how good you have it, there will always be stress factors and sadness. It’s important to be sure to have a support network in place when that happens. Everyone should have a confidante and a crew, as Moses did, besides G-d and immediate family. Someone to tell our troubles to, someone who listens and can offer advice, someone who will remind us of our own limits and be honest with us. We can’t all just select our posse as Moses did, because none of us are national leaders with direct face-to-face contact with G-d, and most of us don’t have people lining up waiting to talk to us and be graced with our presence. But, we can be mindful of how we present ourselves, remember to be friendly, to treat others with respect and kindness, and to be honest with others, as we would want them to be with us. We can let people know when we care about them, tell them how much we value their input and companionship, but also be mindful of when they might need their own space. If we do these things, we may find that we’ve built ourselves a pretty good support network of our own.
            So, this Shabbat, consider me your Jethro. You are all Moses. You all have your own tasks and burdens in this life, assigned by G-d or your math teachers, and you can’t do everything alone. May you all find friendship, support, and peace. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.