Shabbat Shalom: Finding Connection and Relevance
By: Cindy Coons
Director of Jewish Explorers & Family Engagement
Each year, I feel nostalgic and proud when we arrive at the Torah portion, Mishpatim, this week’s parsha. This was my daughter’s Torah portion when she became Bat Mitzvah twenty years ago and I still remember her feeling overwhelmed by how many “rules” there were in this Torah portion, especially on the heels of the previous week’s parsha, Yitro, when Moses receives the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. The 53 commandments that appear in Mishpatim was a lot for her to take in and make sense of at 13 years old. It is a lot for anyone, no matter their age.
The 613 mitzvot in the Torah, 53 of which are included in this week’s Torah portion, are meant to guide us. Each of us brings different knowledge, backgrounds, and experiences, which informs how we more broadly make connections to and appreciate the nuances of each mitzvot. So how can these ancient laws, some more relevant today than others, still help guide our lives? Robert Cover, a twentieth-century Yale Law School professor, wrote in his essay “Nomos and Narrative,” “No set of legal institutions or prescriptions exists apart from the narratives that locate it and give it meaning.” This understanding of the connection between laws and narratives really spoke to me. Parshat Mishpatim directly follows the narrative of our people’s journey from slavery to freedom, the Exodus story we retell every year during our Passover Seder. The Israelites, although enslaved and treated poorly, were governed in all aspects of their lives by rules and laws. What a stark contrast to the freedom they experienced after the Exodus it must have been for them! They initially had no laws to help guide or structure their lives. The ten commandments and subsequent laws (halachah) handed down in Misphatim had meaning because they would become part of the new story (aggadah) of the Jewish people as they navigated their freedom for the first time.
This week, I am once again beaming with pride as I reflect on how my daughter managed to make sense of this overwhelming parsha of laws and find connection and relevance to her life at the young age of 13. It takes courage to step into the space of being overwhelmed and find meaning in what is before us. As we begin to welcome in and celebrate Shabbat this week, may each of us find peace in knowing that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed, and the courage and curiosity to find meaning and relevance in the moments, whether easy or challenging, that inform and shape our own narratives. Wishing each of you a sweet, meaningful, and restful Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom.
Please email Cindy Coons at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.