Parasha Mishpatim

With Lauren delayed by weather on her return from Israel and my parents camped out at the airport desperately trying to get back to Tucson, I am marooned with my boys.  It is delightful, but they want 100 percent of my attention and that does not make for a full fledged comment on this week’s parsha.

One of my textbooks was on a shelf in Benny’s room and he was arranging his cars, I picked it up and happened on a page that I had highlighted and would like to share it with you.  One of the unquestioned luminaries of the Conservative movement, Rabbi Robert Gordis in his Judaism for the Modern Age (1955) was asked by a fellow Jew who questioned “organized religion,”

When I see a beautiful sunset, or hear some exquisite music, my spirit is moved to praise the beauty of the world and the greatness of its Creator.  Don’t give me fixed hours for worship.

 Gordis notes there is some truth there, but it fails to reckon with the human nature.  He then related the comments of a college friend:

“As for me, “ said he, “I pray when the mood seizes upon me, when I experience something beautiful or exalted.  Do you claim to be able to muster true inwardness of spirit in prayer each morning, Sabbath or festival?”

Gordis replied “No” and goes on to say “I do not claim that as a habitual achievement, but it is my constant goal.  When we begin to consecrate certain hours for prayer, habit comes to our assistance, and we become attuned to the spirit of worship.  And often enough the spirit does descend and we sense the presence of God, and the blessed feeling of being close to Him.  But even on the other occasions, when we are not moved by the prayers we utter, are not wasted.  They are the periods of spiritual discipline, preliminary training for the true experience.”

Gordis next asks “how many times this past year have you been moved to prayer and adoration through your religion of mood and ecstasy?”  The friend admitted he had been too preoccupied with other things and the mood had not descended even one on him.

Gordis closes with “Only when faith, morality and ritual are welded together in a living unity can religion inspire men [and women] in the greatest and most difficulty enterprise in the world—the building of God’s kingdom on earth…”

Just as the people declared their commitment to God at Mount Sinai, we have the opportunity to do likewise.  Make the most of our opportunities and do as is done in this week’s Torah portion Parashat Mishpatim, take the time to learn and attempt to follow God’s dictates.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham