Shabbat Inspiration – Mishpatim
by Reb Jamie Hyams, Rabbinic Student, Congregation P’nai Tikvah, February 1, 2019
I recently read a great quote – “Pray as if everything depended on God, Act as if everything depended on you.” We are in a covenant, a relationship, a partnership with God. Whatever God is, we learn in Genesis 1:26/27 that “God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him” We are created in its image, and we manifest godliness through our actions here on Earth.
We are reminded of this covenant, and that our actions matter in ways overt and in ways subtle. In the v’ahavta we say “and you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might…” But there is a paragraph that at P’nai Tikvah we choose not to read. This second paragraph of the Shema reminds us that our actions matter…
If you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late… Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods…For the LORD’s anger will flare up against you, and He will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will soon perish from the good land that the LORD is assigning to you.
If you follow the way of life that I set out for you, if you build a just society and treat each other fairly, the rains will fall… and you will flourish. We are the builders, we are manifesting godliness in our actions. Pray as if everything depended on God, Act as if everything depended on you
There is an old story about a very religious man who was caught in the rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted God to rescue him. A neighbor came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.” “No thanks” replied the man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me.”
A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.” “No thanks” replied the man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me.” A little time later a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said. “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.” “No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”
All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the religious man drowned. When he arrived in heaven, he demanded an audience with God. Ushered into God’s throne room he said, “Lord, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.” “Yes, you did my child” replied the Lord. “Who do think sent you the canoe, the boat and the helicopter?~!” Pray as if everything depended on God, Act as if everything depended on you.
Our Torah portion this week, Mishpatim lays out laws of responsibility – responsibilities of “ben adam l’havero” – one person to another, it is the “how-to” manual of how to maintain a caring, just and functional society. We learn how we should treat an indentured servant when they come to the end of their period of service; we learn about the concept of restitution when one person’s actions lead to the harm or death of another; and we learn a bit of corporate responsibility (perhaps PG&E should take heed regarding the recent devastating fires near my home) when we read “When a fire is started and spreads to thorns, so that stacked, standing, or growing grain is consumed, he who started the fire must make restitution.”
One of the laws that we are given this week is particularly relevant for me personally. “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them as a creditor; exact no interest from them.”
As many of you know, when I am not here with you, I work for Hebrew Free Loan. Hebrew Free Loan was founded on the idea that sometimes we all need a little help from our community to meet life’s challenges and take advantage of life’s opportunities. For the last 122 years, we have been lending money to folks at 0% interest for emergency needs, for student loans, and to help open or expand a business. Hebrew Free Loan was founded specifically based on this line from this Torah portion. 122 years ago, folks took seriously. (The Jewish Family Services Agency, here in Las Vegas, is currently working with Jewish Nevada, the Jewish Federation, to get a Las Vegas Hebrew Free Loan Society up and running.) Pray as if everything depended on God, Act as if everything depended on you.
We come together as a holy community in song and prayer to welcome in the Shabbat. When the new week begins, let us act as if everything depends on us, because it does.