Past Weekly Shabbat Message
(Torah Portion Mishpatim) A Pleasant Approach
Before the Revelation at Mount Sinai, G-d instructed the Jews not to touch the holy mountain lest they die. G-d also told Moshe to mark a boundary around the perimeter of the mountain so that no one would go beyond that point.
Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon illuminates this idea with the following illustration. A tourist was driving and admiring Israel’s beautiful scenery when suddenly his enjoyment was interrupted by a large yellow warning sign, “Caution – Palestinian Authority Border Ahead!”
Although there was scenery he wished to see ahead, he stopped his car and headed in the other direction.
The next day he had an audience with Israel’s Minister of Tourism, and he thanked him profusely for being so meticulous in marking the boundaries, so than no one would end up in an unsafe area and possibly get in harm’s way.
When G-d gave the Torah and its laws to the Jewish people, He wished to convey to them a practical lesson from the outset.
The Torah contains many rules and limitations that may appear restrictive and limiting. Just as He instructed us to set up a fence and a boundary around the holy and consecrated mountain for our own good to prevent anyone from touching it and dying, so too, whenever G-d placed restrictions on us in the Torah, they are for our benefit; they are our boundaries, signifying that these things are harmful to us.
By understanding and appreciating that Torah and Mitzvos are for our benefit it becomes easier to fulfill them.
The laws of the Torah that limit our physical enjoyment, drives, pleasures and interests are the ones we find challenging, yet at the Revelation at Mount Sinai they needed boundaries so that they would not get too close to the extreme level of holiness!
In fact, the Torah relates that there were those at the Revelation who came too close and perceived an excess of Divinity and were eventually punished.
The laws of the Torah serve to advise us to find a balance and stability in spiritual, physical and interpersonal matters.
When we return the Torah to the Ark in the synagogue, we recite or chant a verse taken from Proverbs, “The ways of Torah are pleasant and all its paths are peace.” Ralbag explains this to mean that the Torah does not burden or impose difficulties upon the individual. On the contrary, the Mitzvos are beneficial, bringing both physical and spiritual health and well-being.
At times one’s limited perception of Torah and G-d may mislead him to interpret the Mitzvos in such a way that he fails to see the pleasantness of the Mitzvos and the dangers one avoids by keeping the Torah prohibitions.
The Medrash relates that while Moshe was writing the Torah, he questioned why G-d wished to write a particular verse in such a way that without the accompaniment of the Oral Torah, one may justify choosing a heretical path. G-d answered Moshe, “Write it the way I stated, and let the one who wishes and desires to misinterpret, misinterpret!”
G-d invested mankind with the intellectual capacity to choose right from wrong. In doing so He presented us with challenges and obstacles so that we will be rewarded for choosing the right path.
In our daily recitation of Shema we affirm that we all have an obligation and privilege to study the Torah. With an objective and unbiased approach to its study we will become privy to the all the Divinity, truth and beauty of our sacred, hallowed and pleasant Torah.
Wishing you a most restful, uplifting, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks
Rabbi Dovid Saks