A welcome snow day before Shabbat – it’s practically a double blessing. Earlier this week, as I was listening to our b’nei mitzvah practice their Torah portions for tomorrow morning, I found myself reflecting on which passages might be especially pertinent teachings for these days from among the myriad mitzvot which comprise this week’s Torah portion. Our portion, Parshat Mishpatim, is the direct follow-up to last week’s reading of Moses ascending Mt. Sinai last Shabbat to receive, Aseret HaDibbrot – the Ten Commandments as the world knows them.
Within the context of the narrative in this week’s portion, God’s revelation to Moses continues, and we learn a diverse array of commandments intended to govern relations between members of the Israelite community as well as those strangers living among them.
A quick scan of the portion, and my attention was hooked on a number of passages which echo loudly for me against the backdrop of the political discourse of these days:
Exodus 23:1-3 – 1You must not carry false rumors; you shall not join hands with the guilty to act as a malicious witness: 2You shall neither side with the mighty to do wrong—you shall not give perverse testimony in a dispute so as to pervert it in favor of the mighty—3nor shall you show deference to a poor man in his dispute.
Exodus 23:6-9 – 6You shall not subvert the rights of your needy in their disputes. 7Keep far from a false charge; do not bring death on those who are innocent and in the right, for I will not acquit the wrongdoer. 8Do not take bribes, for bribes blind the clear-sighted and upset the pleas of those who are in the right. 9You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.
And there’s plenty more in our portion.
Unless one has totally disconnected from the world, it’s been nigh impossible to escape the Presidential campaign which has already stretched on for too long. And we are only now days removed from the Iowa caucuses and on the cusp of the “first-in-the-nation” New Hampshire primary. Much has been made of the various candidate’s poll numbers and campaign tactics. We’ve barraged with debates, and many more are in the offing. Once in a while we actually hear the candidates and their interrogators get around to discussing issues of substance. And, we hear quite a bit about the religious faith of various candidates as some among them try to present themselves as ”holier than,” well . . . everybody else. It is stunning how the messages get crafted and tweaked for each state and its residents.
I am wont to cry out to all of the candidates: For a variety of faith communities, it is or will yet be Sabbath before Tuesday comes. Might you consider a brief respite from your campaign duties and the whirling rhetoric? (We can use the break, maybe more than you
and your staff!) Might I urge you all, individually to spend a few minutes with our Jewish lectionary reading for this Shabbat. The words printed above (and many more which surround them) should give you, and us all pause to reflect on the values we hold, and not just the ones we profess before the throngs and the cameras. Whichever path leads you to your faith and your encounter with or experience of God, might you take a few moments to step back, in humility, and reflect on some ancient words by which we still believe we live?
Pause, read, reflect . . . and then, into the fray once more!