Mishpatim - 2016. משפתים 5776
Post date: Feb 8, 2016 1:54:12 PM
“The past is no more. The future has yet to unfold. There is only now.”
Steven Jobs, perhaps the most famous Buddhists since Buddha, had a motto in the skunk works where his secret team of engineers created the Apple Macintosh computer. The motto read, “The journey is the reward,” which later became the title of his biography.
There are countless versions of this quote, at least from Roman times (Carpe Diem), attributed to believers and atheists alike. How is it so enduring?
In last week’s perasha, Yitro (Jethro), we read about the experience of the Epiphany. We read the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), perhaps the most famous treatise in human history. This week’s perasha, Mishpatim (Statutes), continues the theme of law giving, but relates it in much greater detail, both enhancing the principles and showing exceptions of law, through detailed examples and nuances.
In past years, I have mentioned how law is ever changing, because a fixed code can never capture the future condition of humankind. Something static cannot anticipate an evolving future. But this year, I wanted to relate this notion to a message I heard from Rabbi David Ingber a few years ago.
Stepping back a moment, it is valuable to see the larger context in which this story of receiving the law is told. Moses and the Children of Israel did not travel to any Emerald City in order to receive wisdom. They did not have to find the holy grail. They were just walking through the wilderness, the “midbar”, on their way when they received the law. In fact, they were en route to the Promised Land, a destination that most of them would never reach.
And yet, that's where the Epiphany happened, an experience so momentous, so universal, the rabbis say that every Jew who ever lived, the future and the past, at that one moment, was there at Sinai. In science fiction terms, it was a crossroads in the time-space continuum. We were all there together.
I prefer a more pedestrian, but for me, a more satisfying interpretation. Each of us gets to experience Epiphany ourselves. I would say further, that if we are fortunate and if we are aware, we get to experience it many times in our lives.
The important things in this world are right in front of us: the people around us and the environment in which we live; the ability to remember a beautiful moment, and in that memory, to be able to relive the feelings; the ability to remember the life of someone we cherished, but to forget the pain of saying good-bye. These are all blessings. The birth and growth of a child are blessings, as is the ability to communicate attentively with someone in need.
These simple blessings are some of the many gifts of life that have no measure. They are in the present. In fact, they are the present.
Halacha (literally, the Path) is a term for Jewish law. This week’s torah portion, Mishpatim is full of extensions and exceptions to laws. They will always change, and that is another reason why the present matters so much. We must always assess the facts in front of us - the current circumstances - in order to make appropriate judgements.
Atul Gawanda, in his book, Being Mortal, describes how important it is to be present with someone who is dying. It can be difficult and it can be exhausting. But end-of-life care can also be one of the most fulfilling mitzvot a person can do. When we are truly mindful with another, that is an epiphany.
Gawanda’s ideas of mindfulness based in compassion elevated the standard of elder care in the US and throughout the world.
The destination is an illusion, a mirage that never arrives. Bill Kean said: “Yesterday's the past, tomorrow's the future, but today is a gift. That's why it's called the present.”
May we be blessed to recognize just some of the miracles before us each day.