Sermon - Mishpatim Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum, PhD February 2, 2008
Congratulations to the winners…our newly elected board members and the new president. During the last meeting of the board of Rabbis, one of my colleagues proposed a new idea: to create a new blessing for winning…
The topic of winning is surely on many peoples minds: The Super Bowl will play this Sunday: The New York Giants versus the New England Patriots. Well…what do you think? Who is going to win? Oy Vey - so many opinions and so much excitement…And then there are also the primary presidential elections in many states: Who will be the political winner?
The funny part is, that almost everyone thinks that G-d belongs to their team or to their favorite candidate…one hears many statements from many people, all maintaining that "G-d is on my side..."
It reminds me of a famous story:
A fellow was driving his car looking for a parking space. It was a couple of minutes before an important appointment and he was still circling around…
He whispered: "Please G-d, help me now to park my car…I promise to attend synagogue every Shabbat …I shall give more charity." Nothing happened.
So he continued: "Oh G-d, please - I shall be kinder to my wife" - suddenly there was a parking space! A moment of silence, and then the fellow says: G-d…I just found a parking spot…NO DEAL…"
The truth of the matter is the world’s CHIEF player and politician is G-d. He is our silent partner and He is available 24/7 to all that ask. Just imagine that you need to make an appointment with a VIP: your boss, a local congressman or even a senator. How much preparation and hassle may this require? And here we are with our silent partner, Hashem who is available for us all the time. Yes, we know this somehow - But, how is G-d going to help? Upon examining our daily lives, we may have many fears: health, finances, and relationships. Yet, do we forgetto count our abundant daily blessings? Yes, we do have a silent partner, and we should feel like winners, because G-d is partner in our creation!
In our Torah chapter Mishpatim, it talks about how to win in the game of life - according to the Big Referee – the Master of the universe, our father in heaven.
The Mishpatim Torah chapter is filled with monetary, social, and civil laws, that explain how to become a winner, even after having lived for 120 years – as long as Divine policies are carried out and followed as recommended. We believe G-d knows the past, present, and future outcomes. In the Book of Exodus, our ancestors were living with many unknowns, wandering in the desert environment. We are their descendants. Why was it called the unknown world? Because we where the unknown world of Egypt to wander in the desert for 40 years with many unknowns!!
Our leaders such as Moses, Miriam, Aaron and Joshua believed that they were leading the nation to the Holy Land. Yet, many people were complainers – "kvetchers" and rabble rousers, unable to judge favorably. No matter what transpired, they were never satisfied. G-d took us out of slavery: he lovingly and caringly gave us the daily food and water - the manna, so essential for survival and life during those years of wonderings and search.
And what was the response to many of those miraculous life sustaining blessings?!
It was at best a mixed review from the masses - some were deeply appreciative and positive. Some were complaining - in Yiddish referred to as "farbiseners".
What is the root of negativism? It is a lack of faith in G-d, in leadership. It creates a state of agony that is depressing and burdensome. A teacher of mine said "If you take a pen and paper before going to sleep and write down all your blessings and good points, things that are positive in your life - you will have more happiness, confidence and a better outlook on life.
Are you able to open your eyes and see, move your hands and legs, teeth to chew, a body that moves? Do you have the freedom, the ability even to go shopping? Watch a movie? Go to a restaurant? Take a vacation?
There are so many people, who are dependent on medications, people who have had many misfortunes, people who cannot use their bodies properly... If we sincerely count the good in our lives, we should be happy. Maimonides says that people suffer from a lack of Emmuna - Faith.
In a new book, called The Garden of Emmuna - author Rabbi Shalom Arush, discusses these issues of faith with many examples of practical guides to life... If we have Emmuna in G-d, if we trust in his benevolence, we shall have a much better life.
There is a prayer that we say on Shabbat- known as Nishmat (on P. 102 of the prayer book) - it says, simply – "thank you G-d, for all your kindness."
Let us think together of all the beauty and blessings that G-d has showered upon us in our lifetime. Let us be grateful for being able to walk, speak, communicate, live in America - a free land where we can practice our religion, where we can say what we like without fear, not like the Jews in the 1920's or earlier. Let us be grateful for our careers, our personal life. Our good health! When we make this inventory, we shall discover how kind G-d is to us in so many ways.
Let us learn to appreciate our spouse and family and not take anything for granted. Let us learn to appreciate the beauty in our world. This helps us to improve our world! G-d will see our appreciation and will give us more blessings, a better life - if we have hope.
What is the connection between all this and Parshat Mishpatim? –
Basically, we can learn powerful laws of relating to others. If we fail to behave as suggested by the biblical mandates, then things may boomerang on us.
For example, if a person asks to borrow money, Torah law forbids charging interest. If one does, he would violate G-d's commandment and there would be consequences. We are expected to be nice, kind, helpful, to take care of each other, and look out for the welfare of G-d’s creatures. Compassion for the orphan, the convert, the widower, the slave, compassion to the animals – even the donkey, the helpless, the overburdened and the brokenhearted. G-d is our silent partner and witness.
There is a story about the Chazon Ish, a great rabbinic leader in the early 1900's. When still a young boy, he passed by a well and heard the meowing of a cat - it was helplessly trapped at the bottom. The Chazon Ish took a rope, lowered himself down to the bottom of the well, picked up the animal, climbed to the surface and set the cat free.
We are all expected to look for opportunities to help others, often without being asked.-just opening one's eyes and having the sensitivity, the menshlechkiyt to know when to step in and assist someone with a need...
G-d is telling us: I, the Almighty concern myself with the world and its creatures. I look out for your well-being - follow my example and be kind, fair and helpful to all of my creation. Do good unto others.
The alternative is to be penalized, and in the end become a looser in life.
G-d begs us to be winners, He is voting for us, rooting for us, and in this week’s Torah portion he spells out the rules by which we should play.
When we speak about dignity, we can point to examples in this week’s Torah portion that truly set the rules for decent social and interpersonal behavior. We should feel proud when we live up to these divine standards and realize how much impact these laws have had on civilization and humankind for thousands of years. Humane societies, democracies, governments, charitable organizations, are built on these biblical statutes. We should be proud that our heritage has taught these precepts to the free world and pray that our good teachings will win out over all evil.
There is a famous song that sums up this Torah chapter:
"Think of your fellow man, give him a helping hand, put a little love in your heart, and the world will be a better place for you, for me , just you wait and see.".
Compassion doesn’t just stop with being kind to a fellow human being. G-d expects us to go a step beyond!
Chaim Weizmann, the first President of the State of Israel once said, "A law is something which must have a moral basis, so that there is an inner, compelling force for every citizen to obey."
As much as we would like to think that we are essentially moral and ethical, we only have to look around and to see how easy it is for human nature to turn ugly and irreverent. We recognize that life without rules leads to chaos.
Mishpatim is filled with so many principles of behavior: from proper conduct to the consequences when this conduct is compromised. In a very simplistic way, Rabbi Hillel summarized it all by saying, "What is hateful to yourself, do not do to someone else." Shabbat Shalom.