Last week’s Torah portion, Yitro, presented the Biblical equivalent of “shock and awe” like nothing that had happened to the Israelites before or since. Among the narrative’s highlights are descriptions of fire and clouds over the mountain, the descent of the physical manifestation of God upon Sinai, and the giving of Ten commandments.
This week, in Parashat Mishpatim, we shift from divine revelation to foundations in law. Fifty-three mitzvot are enumerated as part of “The Covenant Code” of Exodus, one of three law codes in the Hebrew Bible.
The parashah opens with the letter Vav - “And these are the judgments/laws/rules that you shall place before them…” thus connecting what came before with what will come.
As noted, the infinite God met the people personally at Mount Sinai – “N’vuah sh’mag’shima et otz’mah - What was spoken to Moses became manifest.” Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser (the Malbim - 1809-1879) described that moment; “The people saw what could be heard and heard what could be seen, because of the inner awareness granted them at that time.”
That great event at Sinai opened the people’s consciousness to the non-rational realm of soul, spirit, metaphysics, and higher universes. Mystics of later generations experienced it, and in modern times we have many testimonies by those who have had “Near Death Experiences.” Among the most recent and remarkable is told by Dr. Eben Alexander in his book Proof of Heaven - A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife.
Dr. Alexander suddenly and unexpectedly was attacked by e. coli meningitis. For seven days he was in a coma during which time his brain’s pre-frontal cortex, the seat of consciousness, awareness and knowledge, shut down. His doctors and family expected him to die, but he survived and wrote this book telling of his experience.
He had been an atheist before, but this experience turned him into a God-believer. He was a trained scientist who valued reason above all else, but now he told of the existence of universes far greater than the mind. He wrote:
“Seeing and hearing were not separate in this place…. I could hear the visual beauty of the silvery bodies of … scintillating beings above, and I could see the surging, joyful perfection of what they sang. … you could not look at or listen to anything in this world without becoming a part of it ... you couldn’t look at anything in that world at all, for the word at itself implies a separation that did not exist there.”
“I saw the abundance of life throughout … countless universes, including some whose intelligence was advanced far beyond that of humanity. I saw … countless higher dimensions, but … the only way to know these dimensions is to enter and experience them directly. They cannot be known, or understood, from lower dimensional space.”
[What I learned is that] “You are loved and cherished…[with] nothing to fear. ...Love is the basis of everything. … the kind of love we feel when we look at our spouse and our children, or even our animals. In its purest and most powerful form, this love is not jealous or selfish, but unconditional. This is the reality of realities, the incomprehensibly inglorious truth of truths that lives and breathes at the core of everything that exists or that ever will exist, and no remotely accurate understanding of who and what we are can be achieved by anyone who does not know it, and embody it in all of their actions.”
Dr. Alexander articulated what can only be described as divine revelation, available always, but hindered to most of us by the constraints of our physicality and the strengths of our reason.
This week’s Torah portion turns us towards the material world we inhabit and establishes just and compassionate rules to perfect our public and private behavior and to refine our sense of moral responsibility and accountability.
The world the mystic sees of divine unity and the one in which we live of disjointedness and brokenness are, in truth, of the same continuum. The God of revelation is the God of commandment. Mitzvot grow out of a metaphysical vision of oneness experienced at Sinai and by Dr. Alexander. That is why our tradition evolves into law, not as an end but as the means of repair (tikkun) and return to unity (achdut).
What is above is below. The mitzvot make God the center of our lives from the moment of birth to the moment of death and beyond. The Aleinu says it succinctly, “L’taken ha-olam b’malchut Shaddai – [that our purpose is] To restore the world in the image of the dominion of God.”
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