D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
12-Step Torah Mishpatim 5780
You are not required to like it you’re only required to DO IT
Step three of the 12 Steps says: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God. In other words, it is God’s will that guides us toward our highest purpose. The opposite of God’s will would be self-will, where we rebel against God’s will and focus not on a Higher Power but on ourselves and the pursuit of pleasure and/or what feels good in the moment.
In this week’s Torah portion Mishpatim, the Israelites having just received the Aseret haDibrot, the Ten Commandments, are presented with a series of additional commandments-- laws that will facilitate the creation of a just society. Topics include rules concerning indentured servants, the mistreatment of foreigners, the prohibition against cooking meat with milk, and as in the example below, legal redress of damages:
רֵעֵהוּ וְנִשְׁבַּר אוֹ־מֵת בְּעָלָיו אֵין־עִמּוֹ שַׁלֵּם יְשַׁלֵּֽם וְכִֽי־יִשְׁאַל אִישׁ מֵעִם
When a man borrows [an animal] from his neighbor and it dies or is injured, its owner not being with it [the animal], he must make restitution (Ex. 22:13).
Following these laws isn’t necessarily easy for any of us, especially when we are guided by self-will. In accepting the covenant at Sinai the Israelites responded with נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה וְנִשְׁמָֽע . One way of translating this phrase is: We will do and we will understand (Ex. 24:7). As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes: There are certain things we only understand by doing. We only understand leadership by leading… we only understand music by listening….So it is with faith. We only truly understand Judaism by living in accordance with its commands.
Doing leads to understanding. Or to put it another way: We are not required to like it, we are only required to do it.
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