Having heard the Ten Utterances (the “Ten Commandments” that we read last Shabbat), having experienced the revelation at Sinai, having received the “first installment” of the Torah, one might think that it would be time to celebrate and to recover. But instead, the parasha that immediately follows the Great Moment in the wilderness lays out a long and seemingly random list of mitzvot, commandments. The covenant they made with God, which is to be etched into the two tablets, is “signed and sealed” by the Israelites, who declare, in this week’s reading, na’aseh v’nishma – “we will do and we will hear (or perhaps better, “we will do and we will understand”). This statement is, for the sages, the transformative moment in our relationship with God. It is our great Leap of Faith; first, we respond with our spiritual intuition, with our innermost being: “We will do!” Only after that, do we consider the intellectual implications: “We will understand.”
And so the real work begins. Parashat Mishpatim lays out as many as 53 of the 613 commandments in the Torah, including some very relatable ones: laws warning against the mistreatment of strangers, widows and orphans; laws about just lending practices; judicial integrity and the humane treatment of enemies; not subverting the rights of the needy, etc. Now that they are officially a “nation under God,” they need to start learning what it means to live as free people, as God’s people. In verse 23:30, we have the first intimation of God’s design for this nation: v’anshei kodesh ti’hyun li / “You shall be a holy people to Me.”
In addition to parashat Mishpatim, this Shabbat we read one of the “four parshiyot,” one of the special additional readings leading up to Passover. It is Shabbat Shekalim, when we recall the half-shekel donation/tax that each Israelite was required to give for the purpose of a census and to provide for the construction of the tabernacle: the rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less.
The two readings that we read this Shabbat outline the essence of our synagogue community: everyone pitches in so that we may build a community of justice, spirituality, and tzedakah, elevating ourselves in holiness, whatever that may mean for each of us. This is the work we have been doing, and this is the work that is ahead of us. This is where the real work lies.
If you are able to come out tonight (Thursday), our fantastic shali’ach Tomer Gekler will be screening the last of our three-movie Israeli film series and then leading a discussion on how the film’s topic reflects on contemporary Israeli society. The first two were great, so don’t miss this last opportunity.
And on that note, Tomer is eagerly seeking volunteers to house some of the wonderful shinshinim who come to Brooklyn for a year-long stint to share their love of Israel with literally thousands of Brooklynites. If you are able to house one of these Israeli teens for anywhere between 6 weeks to 6 months, please let me or Audrey know and we will put you in touch with Tomer. It’s an incredible opportunity to bring an enthusiastic young Israeli into your home to be part of your family. Talk to us for more information.