Posts Tagged 'Mitzvah'

In the Details

From reading the Torah it seems that the foundation of Jewish living is the fact that God freed us from slavery in Egypt. It is clear that Egypt was not the end of our slavery. While it is clear that there is still slavery, the end of it is never the goal. And this is not just for the poor. All of us transition from being the slaves of Pharoah to the slaves of God. What kind of freedom is that?

In Behukotai, this week’s Torah portion, we read;

I am the Lord your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the pegs of your yoke, and made you go upright. ( Leviticus 26:13)

The image of this yoke is compelling. The slave like the ox is just schlepping along carrying the weight of his owner’s burden. While God removes that yoke, it seems like a temporary respite from God’s yoke which we are still schlepping along. But when you go back to this passage we read that God just removed the peg that held it all together. The yoke did not change from, God just removed the lynch pins. The divine is truly in the details. There is a world of difference between having to do something and wanting to do something.

The lynch pin of religion is belief. Without it we are  still just schlepping along. We have to acknowledge that religion cannot claim credit for transforming the world. God did not destroy the yoke, just make it lose enough to transfer masters. For better and for worse religion might just be holding it all together. In this sense maybe the ” devil” is in the details.

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What a Mitzvah?

Last week’s Torah portion starts off saying, ” God spoke to Moses, saying, ” Tzav – Command Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘ This is the Torat  Ha Olah- Law of elevation…'” (Leviticus  6:1-2) It would seem obvious in the context of the Torah that all the laws are commanded. There seems to be part of the recipe of a commandment is authority. But it also seems that authority seems to be part of Law. It makes me pause to ask a fundamental question,what is a Mitzvah- commandment?

At some level a Mitvah indicates a certain nature of relationship, where Torah speaks of a certain institution. Tzav– speaks of the relationship between Moses and Aaron, where the Torah seems to exist is an absolute form beyond the known realm. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to reconnect with  Jane Shapiro. She asked a group of us at the Foundation for Jewish Camps Leader’s Assembly a great question. ” What is your signature Mitzvah?” Everyone answered differently, but Jane argued that at the core of all of our answers was the concept of connection. People did not claim some removed nature of the Torah, but some dynamic connection with others.

In a couple of hours we will be sitting at our Seder. We find meaning for ourselves in the retelling of the exodus, and it is for us and not for the wicked child. In response to the Wicked child we will say, ” Li V’ Lo Lo“. In essence we are cutting him off. But, this also points out that at it core Jane is right. We are to make connections, personal connections. In many ways our task on this planet is to transform the institution of law into a movement of relationship. In these terms we can come to an understanding that the a mitzvah is the Torah in motion and emotion. It is the point of contact where the Torah is not in heaven, but instead manifest in all of our connections in this world. If we do our job there need not be any wicked children.


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