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Tuesday, October 20, 2020 - 2 Cheshvan 5781
 
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The Day After
The tumult had died down, the thunder and had lightening subsided, and the thick cloud that covered the mountain had dissipated. It was “the day after.” Now it was time for the Jewish People to channel their excitement over receiving the Torah into practical action; to return to mundane reality but to infuse it with the inspiration they had received on Sinai.

The Torah portion of Mishpatim begins on a decidedly more prosaic note than last week's portion, Yitro. There is no thunder and lightning or divine voice booming from the mountain. Rather, the portion enumerates the laws that define the interaction between man and man: the moral values and ethics that are the cornerstone of the Jewish legal system. One of the laws in this week's portion is that if one lends money to a poor man and accepts his garment as collateral, the lender is obligated to return the garment to the poor man each morning and take it back at night, so that the poor man should not be left without clothing.

The good inclination is referred to by our sages as a pauper. Without divine assistance, the good inclination would not be able to overcome the resistance of the evil inclination. Each night when we go to sleep, we return to G-d the soul that He entrusted to us. After a night's sleep, when we wake up refreshed with renewed energy, G-d restores the soul to the body, ready to face a new day. Naturally, we must “return the favor” and fulfill our mission in this world, using the energy and talents that G-d gave us to carry out His desires.

This week's Torah portion also provides a path in divine service for when we are faced with challenges and obstacles. There were those who believed that in order to advance spiritually, they must abuse the body in order to break their natural desires. Only then did they feel capable of rising to spiritual heights. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov taught that this approach was incorrect; the true approach to serving G-d in to foster harmony between body and soul, and to integrate the body in fulfilling G-d's will in this world.

One of the mitzvot in this week's portion is that if one sees his enemy's donkey lying beneath its burden, one should not refrain from helping him, but rather, one should come to his aid. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov interprets this verse homiletically: When a Jew perceives the coarseness of his body, he might think that it is his “enemy”--the body hates the soul that desires holiness and spirituality. When the Jew attempts to refine his body by fulfilling Torah and mitzvot, the body balks; it “lies down under its burden.” This may lead the person to think that it is better to refrain from helping the body, and the right thing to do is flagellate the body to force it to carry out the divine will. However, the Torah says that this is not the correct path. “You shall come to his aid.” One should assist the body, refine it, treat it gently, and that is how one will reach true elevation. 

 

 


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