As a child, whenever I arrived at this week's Parsha, I recall feeling
something of a letdown. From the beginning of Bereishis, each Parsha had its
own riveting narrative, the various strands culminating with the awesome
climax of the giving of the Torah. Immediately after this climatic event,
comes Mishpatim, in which the drama seems to fizzle out. The Torah shifts
its focus to elucidating the intricate laws of damages, interpersonal
relationships and prohibitions that inform day-to-day Jewish life.
In the coming weeks, the body of technical material grows to even larger
proportions as we are asked to master the detailed instructions governing
the construction of the Mishkan, followed by complex laws concerning all the
various sacrifices brought therein.
It's difficult for many to move from the compelling narratives of Beraishis
and part of Shmos into the Torah's technical and legalistic dimension,
following the Divine revelation. A thought occurred to me this week that
might make for a smoother transition into Parshas Mishpatim.
It's fascinating to read of the extensive preparations that preceded the
Divine revelation at Sinai. And yet, the climax of it all, the shattering,
emotionally charged moment that the world had anxiously awaited for
generations-the giving of the Ten Commandments-was over in a few short
minutes. The Divine presence abruptly departed; the people were then allowed
to ascend the mountain. What an anti climax! "Is that all?" some people may
have wondered, bewildered.
This view, however, obscures what actually took place.
Any relationship of enduring value rests primarily on the quality and depth
of the commitment. A truly meaningful and genuine bond does not need
lengthy, poetic declarations of love to validate it. An encounter with an
elderly couple who have weathered many of life storms together aptly
illustrates this point. Their sensitivity to one another and mutual
understanding and commitment is reflected even in a casual meeting of the eyes.
Words and finite expression tend often to dilute. The ultimate relationship
is one that is forged by a mutual pledge of commitment that will prevail
over any and all of life's vicissitudes. That can take a brief moment but it
establishes a reality that is meant to stand the test of time. An essential
prerequisite in the building of such a bond is a spiritual and emotional
preparedness nurtured over time.
The Jewish people had prepared for this climatic moment for generations. The
relationship with Hashem took root with the Avos Hakedoshim. It was tested
in Egypt, the crucible of suffering where, as abject slaves, the people's
ego and identity were humbled - the perfect preparation for an eternal union
Finally, the 'moment' of marriage at Sinai arrives. It only takes a moment,
just as the yichud ceremony constituting the consummation of every marriage
takes but a brief few minutes. But now comes the litmus test that determines
the true value of the marriage, where we demonstrate our willingness not
only to meet our responsibilities to one another, but to discover precisely
what the others' needs are.
Enter Parsha Mishpatim. The wedding at Sinai was exciting, but living a
'real' married life is far more meaningful. And so, this year when we open
the Chumash to Mishpatim, perhaps we will experience instead of a letdown, a
twinge of excitement.
It sometimes takes a while to detoxify a Hollywood-intoxicated student who
thinks after one date that he has met his bashert. "Rabbi," he tells me, "it
was love at first sight; I fell in love." "No you didn't, " I counter, "you
fell in lust."
A true relationship is never one that seems to just descend from the clear
blue sky. It takes a great amount of work to lay the foundation, The true
yardstick of how real the love and devotion are will only be proven over
many years, in the crucible of the arduous, demanding responsibilities that
follow. When we arrive at Parshas Mishpatim the true journey is about to begin.