June 23, 2024
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June 23, 2024
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The contrast between the two parshiyot is startling.

Last week’s parsha, Yitro, records the scene of Matan Torah—the most powerfully spiritual moment in Jewish history—when God Himself appears to the Jewish nation, surrounded by tremendous pomp and circumstance. This week’s parsha, Parshat Mishpatim, in contrast presents a list of commandments that seem particularly mundane and “dry,” lacking any drama or excitement.

And yet, the Torah deliberately connects the two parshiyot through this week’s opening words:

“ואלה המשפטים” “and these are the laws.” Rashi quotes a Midrash that the word “ואלה,” “and these,” indicates a connection between this section and the one prior to it. Here, explains Rashi, the message is that just like the mitzvot in Yitro were given at Har Sinai, so were the mitzvot in Mishpatim.

Perhaps we can suggest further that the Torah isn’t simply connecting the specific mitzvot in Yitro and Mishpatim, but also the religious experiences that these parshiyot represent. We all strive for moments of revelation, when we feel the deep presence of God. Realistically, however, such moments are far and few between. The Yitro experience is crucial, yet it is fleeting. Our task is to channel the positive energy from those moments into the Mishpatim experience, the day in and day out service to Hashem, through His many seemingly mundane mitzvot. Only then can we achieve authentic avodat Hashem.

We spoke last week about presenting God to our children as a kind and loving Father, who loves and cares about them. However, we are confronted this week with the myriad of mitzvot that God commands us. How can we present Hashem as a loving Father in light of His many restrictions governing our lives? In today’s world, which champions autonomy, how do we raise children with a respect for Torah and mitzvot, which focus on authority and submission?

There are no simple answers. However, one possible direction can be found by building upon our suggestion last week—by reframing and cultivating a deeper understanding of God and His mitzvot.

On a basic level, mitzvot are clearly commandments—obligations directed to us by a higher authority. Rav Soloveitchik often writes of the important role of submission in Judaism—we must submit ourselves to God, committing an act of “tzimtzum,” of “withdrawing” ourselves, in deference to Him. We cannot deny that aspects of Torah and mitzvot limit our freedom and require sacrifice.

However, mitzvot are so much more than that—especially when understood within the overall framework of our relationship with Hashem.

Take the parent/child relationship. If this relationship is built upon deep love and care that is felt by the children, then all other aspects of the relationship will be viewed within the prism of that love and affection. Given their responsibilities, parents will need to establish rules for their children. Some rules will make sense to the child, while others will not, given the child’s limited perspective. There will inevitably be times when the child will question the authority of the parents. If, however, the child knows that the rules are built upon unending love, are designed to protect them and to cultivate of a deep relationship with them—if the rules arise from within the framework of an existing, loving relationship and are meant to strengthen that relationship—then the moments of frustration can be overcome, the fundamental connection can prevail.

It is this model that we must present to our children regarding God’s mitzvot. God is our Father in Heaven, who desires a relationship with us—and it’s from this place that the mitzvot emerge. They are not obligations, but rather opportunities. The Baal Shem Tov notes that the word mitzvah comes from the Aramaic word “צוות” meaning “connection”—God’s commandments emanate from within an existing connection that we have with Him, and they ultimately strengthen our connections with ourselves, each other, and God Himself. We might not understand all the rules, because of our limited perspective. We might question God’s authority—but if the strong foundation is there, then the fundamental connection will prevail.

This is not a simple message to teach our children. I would suggest two considerations that are crucial to cultivating this sense within our kids.

The best model of our children’s relationship to Hashem is the relationship that they have with us, their parents. If we are successful in building a connection with our children based on love, as opposed to authority—one where the rules are viewed within an overarching context of affection—then it will be easier for our children to transfer that experience to their relationship with Hashem.

We best educate our children by example. If we ourselves relate to the mitzvot as opportunities, rather than obligations—if our children see us perceive the mitzvot within the context of a bond with the Almighty—then they are likely to follow our lead. We can have bad days and ask questions. But if our children sense that the fundamental connection is there, and that such a connection overcomes all obstacles, then our children are likely to have the same experience as well.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rav Yossi Goldin is a teacher and administrator who teaches in a number of seminaries and yeshivot across Israel. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife and family. He can be reached at [email protected].

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