(Torah Portion Mishpatim) Returning the Call
When the Jews reached and encamped at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, they prepared six days for G-d’s Revelation. The Torah records what they did and accomplished on each day.
First, Moshe was summoned to appear on top of the mountain where G-d instructed him to ask the nation if they were willing to enter into a covenant with Him, thereby becoming a beloved treasure, kingdom of ministers and a holy people. The people responded in the affirmative with a resounding, “Everything that G-d has spoken we shall do.”
The Torah then relates that Moshe brought back the words of the people to the Almighty.
Our great commentator Rashi asks the following: Did Moshe need to report back to G-d? Would the All Knowing G-d not have been aware of the response of the people without Moshe informing Him?
Rashi quoting the Medrash says that the verse comes to teach us proper conduct from the example of Moshe, who didn’t say, “Since He Who sent me knows the response to His message, I need not report back.”
The Torah highlights Moshe’s “Menchlachkeit – decency” he returned the message to the Sender – even though the Sender knew the response.
On this, the saintly Sfas Emes applies a statement of the Medrash “Derech Eretz Kodmah L’Torah. – Proper conduct precedes the Torah.”
Before the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai there was a prerequisite of ‘Derech Eretz” – proper personal conduct – and that was accomplished through Moshe returning the response of the Jews to G-d. Moshe displayed that he was directed, influenced and guided by his intellect and intelligence rather than by impulses, assumptions and presumptions.
When I was a fourth grader, Rabbi Sinai Gross taught in the classroom next to ours. The wall that separated the two classrooms was not exactly soundproof. We were certainly able to hear when the other class got rowdy (and they surely heard us as well.) Whenever this happened, it was inevitable that in the next few moments, Rabbi Gross, in a booming voice, would declare just two words, “Derech Eretz!” – Proper conduct! This would bring his class to an immediate hush. Although at the time we felt, “Here he goes again; let’s brace ourselves,” from time to time, his distinct voice rings in my ears when I am faced with circumstances where I need to be reminded to proceed with Derech Eretz.
In today’s technological world that we live in, we take advantage of and are absorbed by so many of the advancements and conveniences. There are however some drawbacks that come along. The fast pace and distractions hinder a certain aspect of our innate, kind, human touch.
One thing that I think that most people would agree on – is that phone messages somehow get lost in the shuffle. They are often either overlooked or not returned within a reasonable amount of time, leaving others in a state of frustration or on Shpilkis.
At eighty-one years old, Moshe was quite an accomplished and busy person. He was the only human being to ascend to the highest spiritual realms. He remained in the Heavens for 40 days studying the Torah from G-d Himself. The Torah describes that his day was demanding from morning until night responding to all the questions and queries of the Jewish people. Moshe made himself accessible to all and made time for everyone.
Yet, prior to attaining and assuming this exalted position of responsibility he displayed his Menchlichkeit – proper and decent conduct – by acting responsibly and returning a message to G-d – even though He already knew it.
I have more thoughts on the Torah portion to write about, but I have to go…. I have to return a collection of some old messages….
Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks