(Torah Portion Mishpatim) Who Said That!
The Torah relates that when the Jewish nation was asked if they were interested in receiving the Torah, they responded resoundingly, “We will do and we will listen.”
At that very moment, a Heavenly voice called out and proclaimed, “Who revealed this hidden secret to these people? They are responding in the same manner as ministering angels!” Angels, since they are Heavenly creations, by their very nature have clarity of G-d’s existence, and when G-d tells them to do something they are totally subservient without even thinking of asking questions.
Angels are free of inner struggles and conflicts of interest, as opposed to human beings – who have the capability of exercising freedom of choice. When the Jews said, “we will do – whatever G-d has in store for us” without first reviewing what the Torah would require from them, they acted as Heavenly Angels. They knew that G-d would not ask of them anything that was impossible for them to do.
It is interesting, the Talmud relates a few incidents where heretics due to their scorn of our adherence to and excitement for Jewish law, refer to the Jewish people as, “A tempestuous nation who accepted the Torah without first checking out its terms and conditions.”
Unlike the Heavenly voice, the heretics were unimpressed with how the Jews accepted the Torah. Here we have two entities observing the same statement – yet their reactions are diametrically opposed. It is proof of the adage, “It all depends on the perspective and slant that one is viewing something.”
As impressed as the Heavenly spheres may have been with the Jews’ response, when Moshe was in the Heavens for forty days while being taught the details of the Torah from G-d, the angels asked G-d what a human being is doing in Heaven. When they were told that Moshe would deliver the totality of Torah to the Jewish nation, the angels protested and weren’t eager to let go of such a Supremely holy document and law.
G-d told Moshe to defend his position, and he methodically went through the laws of the Torah showing that it only applies to human beings. Moshe pointed out, it states, “I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the Land of Egypt.” Moshe asked the angels, “Did you go through any servitude in Egypt?” Also, it states, “Remember the Holy day of Shabbos to keep it holy.” Moshe asked, “Do you angels do any work that requires any rest?” Moshe asked, “Does the obligation to honor one’s parents have any application to angels?” “Do the laws of do not – kill, commit adultery or steal have any application to angels? Do you have an evil inclination or a jealous type of nature?
The Talmud relates that Moshe was able to convince the angels and they allowed him to take the Torah and deliver it to the Jewish nation. It is quite obvious that the Torah and its laws carry with it the responsibility to strive to live a sanctified, moral and spiritually uplifted life. In this week’s portion, the Torah lists many judicial and interpersonal laws. The Talmud categorizes four types of damagers, 1) A person’s ox which was not watched correctly and caused damage with its horns. 2) Opening or digging a pit – an obstacle in a public area. 3) One’s animal damages by the means of eating. 4) Damage done through being negligent with fire.
The Talmud makes the following enigmatic statement, “One who is seeking to become more studious and refined, should delve into the study of damages.”
The Nesivas Sholom – the Slonimer Rebbe wonders, “What is the connection between the study of damages and becoming more refined.” He explains by looking at the “four damagers” from another perspective. In our tradition, the ox is an animal that is the simile of haughtiness and pride. Haughtiness can be the cause of a lot of personal and interpersonal damage. Striving to refine one’s attitude and placing humility into practice can certainly lead a person to becoming a better person.
A pit is an obstacle where one falls into and it can cause injury. The pit represents a person who feels like – well – he is in the pits. He feels down and uninitiated and is set on giving up on any type of spiritual pursuit. One who studies the damaging consequence of falling into ‘the pits,’ will regain the confidence and energy to revitalize a quest for spirituality and connectivity.
The damage of eating, represents the impairment that results when one is not being mindful of what he ingests. One who wishes to grow in spirituality should focus on the special benefits of the sanctified Kosher diet that G-d has endowed us to follow.
The fourth damager, fire, represents the inferno of our evil inclination – the constant internal struggle that we have that tries to trip us up to make the wrong decisions. One who wishes to be more meticulous should study our Torah and ethical teachings that guide us in how to navigate and control our temptations.
Fire also represents the destructive trait of anger, which is probably the primary cause of damage to relationships and impedes one’s spiritual growth.
Taking incremental steps to improve ourselves in the areas classified as damagers, generates positive transformations, stimulates and energizes one’s perspective, perception and environment – and certainly connects us more deeply to the Almighty and causes an impression on the Heavenly spheres.
Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks