Weekly Torah Learning
Torah Portion: Mishpatim
Book of Exodus
February 13, 2015
I could not wait to graduate high school and head out of town for college. In 1966, I was certain the best view of Seattle was through a rear view mirror. My personal journey has taken me from the west coast to the east coast, from the Midwest to the Southwest, from the former Soviet Union to Israel, and almost everywhere in between. What I learned was probably experienced by Moses thousands of years ago!
Having proclaimed the Law to the ancient Israelites at Mt. Sinai, “God said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and be there’”(Exo. 24:12). The 18th century eastern European teacher, Rabbi Menachem Mendl of Kotzk (known affectionately as the “Kotzker Rebbe”) notes, “There is a difficulty here. If Moses came up on the mountain, he would already be there, so why would God also bother to specify, “and be there?” Even though he may be standing on the very peak itself, his head may be somewhere else. The goal, you see, is not merely to ascend but also to be there, to be actually present there, and nowhere else-and not to be going up and down at the same time.”
My colleague Rabbi Kerry Olitzky explains, “The ascent [of Mt. Sinai] itself may be a metaphor. You can achieve it right where you are. The call of the Divine is not somewhere else. The search for the Divine is actually a spiral that results in the individual coming back to the self.” Sometimes we have to travel great distances to discover we never needed to leave. What we sought was always there, even when we were not.
It is no surprise that the discovery of God in one’s life is accompanied by the discovery of self. In the classic film The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy needed to “travel the yellow brick road” if only to learn “there’s no place like home.” Home means more than just a physical structure, it is anyplace where people you love-and who love you-are found. It is in this place God resides.
I needed life’s journey to realize I had always possessed the gifts of love, the challenges of life, and the presence of God. Like Moses, I just needed to be there!
Rabbi Howard Siegel
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