Torah for the Times

Friday, February 17 , 2012 - 24 Shevat, 5772

Torah Reading: Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 - 24:17)
Candle Lighting Time: 5:14 PM
Shabbat Ends: 6:15 PM

The Angel's Angle

The Follow Up to Sinai

This week’s parsha, Mishpatim, comes immediately after the story of the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. One may assume, therefore, that the laws discussed in this parsha are more directly connected to the message of Sinai, namely, that the Torah is intended to make the world hospitable to G‑dliness. To accomplish that, one must translate the lofty ideals and sublime revelations of G‑dly light that occurred at Sinai into even the most mundane aspects of life.

This indeed is the theme of Mishpatim — it is the parsha that discusses the laws and judgments that govern our interpersonal relationships. But as long as these commonplace activities are no different than they were before Sinai, the entire purpose of the giving of the Torah is called into question. This parsha teaches that the rules that control our behavior in our mundane and day to day lives can imbue our lives with a spirit of holiness.

By way of illustration: one of the laws in our parsha discusses the rather rare case of an eved ivri, a Jewish thief who has been sold into indentured servitude to make restitution for things that he had stolen.

The indentured servant was to become part of the household of his master. His master would have to support him, and if he had a family, the master would have to support his family as well. And while his material needs were taken care of he was also given the opportunity to make amends for his wrongdoing and to grow morally and spiritually in the stable environment of his temporary“owner.”

The message here is: when is Torah’s message effective? When it can inform us how to deal with a common thief, how to rehabilitate him and to bring him back into society.

Comes in and Leaves Single

One of the laws concerning the eved ivri was, “if he came in single he leaves single.” ON a simple level, this means that if a Jew became an indentured servant while single, he cannot marry during the few years of his service. But let us focus for a moment on a cryptic Midrashic comment to this verse:

“When the Holy One, Blessed is He said, ‘If he came in single he leaves single.’ The angels asked, ‘Why then did You command them to wipe out the memory of Amalek (the evil nation that sought and continues to seek the annihilation of the Jewish people)?’”

What connection does the war against Amalek have with the eved ivri who enters and leaves his six years of servitude unmarried?

The Interplay between Amalek and Marriage

One way of answering this question is to understand the spiritual dynamic of Amalek. In an earlier parsha where it records the battle against Amalek, G‑d says that makes an oath to battle Amalek forever. The phrase used for G‑d taking an oath, when a holy object is usually held in one’s hand, is “His hand is on the throne of G–d.” The word "G‑d" there is written with a yud and a hei, in its incomplete form. Normally the essential name of G‑d has four letters: a yud, a hei, a vav and another hei. Amalek in his struggle against G‑d and the Jewish people bifurcates the name of G‑d and only allows the first two letters to be written. Our Sages thus comment, "G‑d’s name is not complete until Amalek’s memory will be obliterated". In other words, Amalek’s evil is directed against allowing the full expression of G‑dliness in this world.

Marriage, we are told, is the union of two half souls that make G‑d’s name complete. The words for man and woman in Hebrew, ish and isha respectively, both contain the word eish, fire. The word ish has the letter yud of G‑d’s name in it, and the word isha has the letter hei of G‑d’s name in it. When the two are together in an ideal union they generate G‑d’s fire-energy in a wholesome way. A proper marriage is what makes the name of G‑d complete.

When the Torah speaks of the eved ivri as one “who enters single and leaves single” it implies that he does not have the opportunity to achieve the union of G‑d’s name. Why then, the angels asked, is there such a preoccupation with Amalek’s assault on the integrity of G‑d’s name? Why isn’t this servant’s institutionalized single status just as bad, or perhaps even worse? Why does G‑d “allow” for this form of dividing G‑d’s name while “obsessing” with getting rid of Amalek who undermines the integrity of His name?

Angel Psychology

The Midrash does not provide G‑d’s answer to the challenge posed by the angels. It stands to reason that their argument is rooted in angel, not human, psychology. If we examine what makes us different from angels we can figure out what the answer to their argument might be.

Angels are programmed beings. Angels can only exist in their original mold. They cannot change their feelings or mindsets and they cannot grow spiritually. Angels can therefore not understand how a person can compensate for his/her disabilities. When an angel sees a person who is disabled it views the person as one who is denied the possibility to accomplish his or her G‑d given goals.

Human beings are totally different creatures. We are not fixed in any way. Not only do we have free choice, but we can break out of any limitation we might have. In the modern age an amputee, G‑d forbid, is not a cripple or a handicapped person. The term that is used, and properly so, is: “physically challenged.” Indeed, there is no person in the world who is not either physically, emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually challenged in some way. In fact, we were put here by G‑d for the express purpose of being challenged. And we therefore compensate for what angels will call “crippled.” We can even accomplish much more because we can overcome adversity and develop innovative means of achieving more than we would have achieved had we not been challenged to begin with.

Thus when the Torah speaks of the Hebrew servant, it symbolizes all of us. We are all asked to be G‑d’s servants. And as we discover that we are missing part of our capabilities—and this lack doesn’t seem to change even as we are ready to complete our mission—we should not think of ourselves as failures. We should not, G‑d forbid, think of ourselves as spiritual cripples for having undermined G‑d’s plan and harmed the Jewish people the way Amalek did. Such a comparison to Amalek is an ill advised one that is a result of the skewed perspective of angels, for only angels are truly limited, not people.

On the contrary, challenged people will discover that they have other means and avenues in which they can excel in to ensure the integrity of G‑d’s name.

To be sure, no person should ask for challenges that he/she does not already have. Every person who wants to follow the “conventional route” to being whole in every respect has every right to desire this. And we have every obligation to assist them in achieving this goal. For example, the Torah commands us to do everything in our power to attain such wholeness through marriage. But by no means should a person who, for whatever reason, has remained single feel that he or she is inferior. And no one has a right to look condescendingly at such a person whose life’s path did not yet follow the same “conventional” route as most others.

Eved Ivri and Moshiach

The Tosphos commentary on the Torah indicates that the word Eved Ivri­, the Hebrew indentured servant, has the same numerical value as the word Moshiach. This tells us that the lessons we can learn from the Torah’s approach to this individual applies to the way we approach and prepare for Moshiach and the final Redemption.

The approach to Moshiach—when the Amalek compromising of G‑d’s name will finally cease—can be approached from two angles. The angels’ angle is that we are fixed forever in the mold of exile. How can we change our exile mentality? Only G‑d can pull us out of it. We cannot do it ourselves. The single servant is a metaphor for the person who is hopelessly constrained and bound by exile conditions. The angels see our identities as the cover we happen to be wearing at the time. They cannot fathom how we can break out of the strait jackets that are the identities that were given to us at birth or that were imposed upon us by society.

That is how angels think.

We were told to think differently. There are no molds imposed by nature or circumstances into which we are permanently locked. If we are denied access to one avenue to get closer to G‑d, He provides us with alternative routes which may be superior to the “natural” ones.

One example is the way the Ba’al Shem Tov extolled the virtue of the simple but sincere Jew. To him they were superior to many of the scholars who followed the conventional route and the one the Ba’al Shem Tov himself advocated. The Ba’al Shem Tov did not, of course, oppose education and intellectual sophistication. He was a towering scholar himself and so were all of his closest disciples. Yet he saw that these simple Jews—who, after all, did not choose simplicity—expressed their soul’s passion for G‑d in ways that were superior to that of the scholars.

In exile we are like the poor Hebrew servant who was sold into servitude because of his lapses. And because we are in exile we come into this challenge with our own solitary power. We may not have access to the support system of the days in which we had the Beis Hamikdash—we are spiritually single—and yet, it is this humble eved ivri whose numerical value is Moshiach. Moshiach comes mostly through those who might think they are deficient in their capabilities, but who in truth shine brightly.

Moshiach Matters
Our efforts in Jewish outreach have to be permeated with the spirit of Moshiach. In practical terms: just as in the days of Moshiach there will be no famine, meaning there will be nothing to distract us from serving G‑d; so too when we reach out to our fellow Jews, we need not be afraid or feel any inhibitions. We should reach out to others in a spirit of peace and serenity. (The Rebbe, Parshah Acharei, 1986)

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