Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Moment after Receiving the Torah

The transition between the Torah’s description of the national revelation at Mt. Sinai to the bulleted list of property laws listed immediately afterwards is jarring.

Imagine the scene at Mt. Sinai: the sages tell us that we were like a unified body in our mutual desire to receive the Torah. God reveals Himself to the nation; it was an event that, according to the Zohar, caused their souls to literally leave their body.

It was the absolute height of spirituality.

Then, in the next moment, Moshe enrolled the nation in Tort Law 101. We learn about indentured servitude, personal damages, property damage, etc. Where’s the transition? What happened to the spiritual experience, to the oneness?

The Ramban, in his first comment on Mishpatim, explains that the laws elucidated in the adjacent section are a translation of the last of the Ten Commandments, i.e., the prohibition of coveting.

Says the Ramban, if it were not for the property laws listed directly after the prohibition of coveting, you would not know what is yours and what is not. Therefore the Torah has to describe the parameters of ownership.

Spirituality can be defined as engaging with the entity that created and gives life to all of creation. A moment when one experiences this greater reality can alter one’s life. I remember distinctly a Shabbat meal where a friend shared a moving experience during his first trip to the Western Wall, where he felt “so connected.” That moment opened him up to further exploration of his Judaism and to pursue a life in Israel.

True, tasting the oneness can provide a high like none other. However, it is not the end goal. Jewish spirituality values both the concept of oneness, along with well-defined boundaries. We must develop a clear sense of self, as well as maintain the consciousness of our greater context. The awareness of this paradox prevents perversions of spirituality that violate healthy borders in all types of relationships.

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