Monday, January 27, 2014

Parshat Mishpatim: Why We Trust Strangers

While it's already two days after Shabbat, there is an idea that the energy of the parsha stays with us through Tuesday, so I hope you will still find the following idea timely.

I am a chozeret b'teshuva - which means I grew up secular and became observant. My parents, whom I love very much, do not share my lifestyle, which is totally cool. My mom is very happy that I'm happy, B"H, but admits she finds going to strangers' homes for Shabbat 'weird'. "You don't know them and you're going to sleep in their homes?! More importantly, why are they letting YOU into their homes?!" I would like to point out she allows me to sleep in her home, so I doubt her concerns are personal.

I could never really explain to her why religious Jews all over open their tables and homes to 'strangers' every week for Shabbat. I tried to explain to her that there is this understanding, we all do Shabbat, so what is there to worry about?

I think I finally found the source for this unspoken agreement in Parshat Mishpatim. The parsha mostly covers civil law: the things you need for society to function. All the way at the end, there is half a sentence that states, "Six days you will work and do your deeds, and on the 7th day you will Shabbat" (Shemot 23:12) (this is also my source for using to Shabbos as a verb!). Here we find the source for why Jews trust other Jews who also observe Shabbat.

How can we trust that the society will function the way G-d tells us? Sure, back in the day we had the Beit Din to execute punishments as they are prescribed in the Torah, and nowadays we have the police and courts to enforce each society's laws - but why should we care about these rules in the first place? Because, as Jews, we believe that the rules G-d gives us are important. By observing Shabbat, there is an implication that we not only follow the mitzvot of shamor and zachor but all of the commandments - including the ones that allow people to invite other Jews into their homes without worry that they will be gored by a bloodthirsty ox (or their silver candlesticks will be taken).

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Shevat: Be the Bucket

There has been a lot of fuss over the past couple of days. From the news to my facebook, I just can't get away from the big change. No - not the new calendar year! The new Jewish month, which starts Wednesday night (Jan 1) - Rosh Chodesh Shevat.

The zodiac symbol in Judaism is a bucket, while for the rest of the world it's water. This is one of only two months in the whole calendar where the symbols aren't exactly the same, so we definitely have something to learn from this. Water represents material things in Torah. It's definitely important to have stuff! As our Sages say in Pirkei Avot אין קמח אין תורה which basically means you can't learn Torah if you don't even have what to eat. But, what good is the water without a bucket? How are you going to bring it from the well to the kitchen to cook? Or to water your plants? Or even to drink from?

In addition, it's not enough to just have a bucket, but it must be sound. The bucket is really just a vessel, or kli כלי. In Judaism, the kli is us. Each one of us are a vessel, and we must be sound, fit to be able to hold whatever goodness G-d pours into us.

While the secular world is focused on the water, the gashmiut גשמיות (related to the word for rain geshem גשם), we can't forget how important it is to have a sound vessel. A colander is not going to be an efficient vessel for transporting that water. This month, make an effort to not get wrapped up in the material trappings of the world. They are definitely important, but without the work we put into ourselves to be better people, the other stuff is worthless.