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		                                    Thinking Torah Blog		                                </span>

02/16/2023 05:00:00 PM

Feb16

Rabbi Daniel K. Alter

As one might guess from its name, parshat Mishpatim contains a lengthy list of laws, rules, and judgments. We find laws covering so many topics: worship, slavery, property, moral behavior, criminal and civil matters, Divine promises, and more. From its frenetic bouncing from one subject to another, we glean the chaos spreading through the new Israelite community as they work through the complications of living in community.
 
Near the end, though, the parsha pivots back to narrative, and we find a fascinating moment where 74 people - Moses, his brother Aaron, Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu, and 70 elders of the community – ascend Mount Sinai. There, on the mountainside, va’yir-oo et Elohai Yisrael, “they saw the God of Israel.”
 
“How can this be?” our commentators ask. It must mean something different. Numerous explanations exist, about one per commentator in fact. Yet it is Nachmanides, a 13th century Spanish scholar, who somehow offers both the most mundane, and the most profound, interpretation. Their elevated vantage point, he explains, allowed these 74 leaders a clearer vision of the divine fire than the rest of the community had down below, who saw it through a haze of cloud and smoke.
 
As a rabbi, I account myself among those privileged 70, who saw beyond the veil, who beheld – for just a moment – Judaism’s enormity, its depth and its breadth, all that it can offer us. My goal now is to lead others up the mountain, to experience what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called “the awareness of transcendent meaning.”
 
No matter the chaos of the moment, our synagogue leadership - Rabbi Josh, Cantor Regina, myself, and all our dedicated staff and lay leaders - keep this eternal endeavor in the forefront of our thoughts. We work to empower one another to find new joy, new life, and new meaning in Judaism and the Jewish people.

Sun, March 3 2024 23 Adar I 5784