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Pipelines to Heaven

Mishpatim (Exodus 21-24 )

by Rabbi Menachem Weiman

Rashi, at the beginning of his famous commentary on the Torah, implies that the commandments are the most important part of the Five Books of Moses. Indeed, the kabbalists say that the commands are like the body of Torah, and Kabbalah is the soul.

Practically speaking, we can't ignore the body, and they are still the bottom line. We are bound to the commandments.

This week's Torah portion, called Mishpatim, means "laws." It is filled with commandments and therefore possibly warrants more in-depth study than other sections. And if, through your study, you can get to the inner dimension of these laws, you will find a world of wisdom.

What is a commandment?

The simple definition is easy. A request is not a command, and does not usually imply consequences. Nor is it necessary for the requester to be in a position of power or authority. That's the difference between a request and a command. Authority and consequences.

In the military, a command implies a threat or a punishment. But in the Torah, the consequences are more like a natural outcome. If you tell a child not to dare touch a lit candle or they will get burned, the burn is a natural consequence, not a punishment.

Similarly, the commandments from God are more like instructions with natural consequences, which is why the Torah is sometimes referred to as "Instructions for Living."

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Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (18th century Italy) describes a spiritual way of looking at the commandments. He says they are pipelines to Heaven. They are our way of turning toward the Infinite, and seeking closeness to Him. God established the commandments as the means to become attached to Him.

Others describe the commandments as being our spiritual anatomy. Inside us we have 613 spiritual parts that connect to 613 physical parts. These are affected by how well we perform the 613 commandments.

We see from here that it's not merely the physical performance of the acts stated in the Torah, because many of the commandments are not for everyone. Some are only for a kohen, some are only for those living in Israel, etc.

It must be that there is a principle behind each and every command that anyone can access and do.

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Some scholars maintain a perspective of Judaism as a system of behavior that enables society to function smoothly and morally. They label Judaism as Ethical Monotheism.

Certainly many of the commandments do seem to serve this function and the concept is not necessarily wrong. However the label is very limiting. What do you do if you find something in the Torah that doesn't appear to fit this label?

The kabbalistic perspective makes our opinion of the commandments a non-issue. God is the only authority on the spiritual realm, not us. Each commandment is part of the Infinite, and eternal. No philosophical label can really be attached to a revelation. It just is.

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What's more is that each commandment is filled with myriad lessons. Each one is like a diamond that can be looked at from 70 different angles. They can't be put into a neat box and defined. We clarify them to the best of our ability (as reflected in practical Jewish law), but there are many, many other lessons we can learn from them.

They are the conduits between us and the Infinite. They are a never-ending source of spiritual wisdom.

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Spiritual Exercise:

Take any one of the 613 commandments in the Torah and really try to understand the deeper message the Almighty is trying to tell you. Then think of five ways you can incorporate that principle into your life. Then do at least one of them.

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