Skip to content

Parashat Mishpatim 5775 — 02/11/2015

Parashat Mishpatim 5775 — 02/11/2015

…[he must] provide for his complete healing (21:19)

Torah gives the physician permission to heal (Bava Kamma 85a)

Rav Kook points out that the Talmud appears to have a contradictory approach to healing as well as the one cited here. The righteous King Hezekiah suppressed a book known as “The Book of Cures,” which contained herbal cures for every disease known to humankind. The Sages approved of this move, because people had come to rely on the cures in the book, and had ceased to pray to Gd for healing. They apparently figured that life without prayer – and its attendant connection with the Divine, was not a life worth living.

Rav Kook resolves the contradiction by pointing out that there are two levels of faith/trust in Gd. One level is that Gd will aid us in taking appropriate action to meet our needs. The other is a “simple trust in Gd that He will perform a miracle, when appropriate.” Which level of faith is appropriate, either for an individual or a community, depends on the level of spiritual development of that individual or community. Rav Kook cites the examples of the Israelites at the battle of Ai (Joshua, chapter 8), where they were supposed to make normal military efforts to take the city, and Gd helped them succeed. On the other hand, some generations later, Gideon was instructed to whittle down his battle group to a mere 300 soldiers (Judges, chapter 7), specifically so that it would be obvious that Gd gave them the victory, and they would be unable to claim that they had succeeded by dint of their own efforts. What was the difference? The nation in Joshua’s time was on a higher spiritual level, and was able to see Gd’s Hand at work even in the midst of their own efforts. By Gideon’s time, their level had sunk. Had their large army been victorious, they would have ascribed that victory to weapons, tactics, morale, unit cohesion – anything but Gd.

We see the same thing in the case of individuals. When Yosef interpreted the dream of Pharaoh’s butler, he asked him twice to please help him get out of prison (end of Parashat Vayeshev). For his troubles, he had to spend two more years in prison, as it says, At the end of two years… (beginning of Parashat Miketz). The commentators generally explain that someone on Yosef’s spiritual level should have had complete faith that Gd would get him out of prison at the right time and in the right way. He needn’t have lowered himself to rely on the butler. For someone at a lower level, the effort Yosef made, when he saw that the butler could be his ticket to freedom, would have been praiseworthy. For most of us, when we’re huddled on the roof of the house and a boat comes around, we get into the boat! We don’t wait for Gd to send a miracle. Who, after all, sent the boat? FEMA? We make an effort to save ourselves. If we’re Yosef, we wait calmly for the salvation to arrive with no effort on our part necessary.

I think that our whole approach to the issue of human effort can be informed by understanding Rav Kook’s point here. We evaluate the world differently depending on our level of spiritual insight. On the low end of the spectrum, when we are engrossed in the material, we evaluate everything in terms of its boundaries. In particular, we see ourselves as bounded, finite, material. We are separate from the rest of the universe, an individual with very little visible trace of the universality that is our inner essence. We act/react out of fear of annihilation of our boundaries. In this case, we cannot see Gd in anything; even if Gd were to perform an open miracle for us, we would find some way to explain it as coincidence or the laws of nature. Rather, everything is dependent on our effort – our individual push against the rest of the individual things in creation.

As we grow spiritually the first thing that begins to expand is our evaluation of ourselves. We begin to relate more towards our inner, spiritual nature, and less to our outward, limited physical nature. We start to see ourselves in terms of infinity, and less in terms of boundaries. Outside ourselves there are still boundaries that must be acted upon to accomplish anything, but more and more the one doing the acting, our self, is becoming infinite and unchanging. We start to become a silent witness to all the activity of the finite world, including our own individual nature. Perhaps we can identify this stage as one in which we see Gd acting throughout nature, in the miraculous as well as the ordinary.

There is still further growth possible. As we become more established in viewing ourselves as infinite, the infinity inside begins to infiltrate our perceptions, and we start to see that same infinity that pervades our individual existence, also pervading other individual existences. Eventually, we accord infinity to all objects in the cosmos. All of the play of activity in the universe is nothing but Gd’s play, Gd acting within His own nature. This is the ultimate evaluation of activity – it is all Gd’s virtual activity, taking place in the silent, non-active, infinite basis of creation. In fact, creation itself is seen as a kind of “virtual reality,” barely making a ripple on the surface of infinity. When we reach this level of development, we truly do not need to act at all. All action is virtual, but we are not caught up in this virtual activity. We ascribe everything to Gd, in Whose light we live. This is the highest level of faith, a faith built on knowledge and perception, which cannot be overcome by any force or any threat. This is the level we are all built to strive for.

The Sacks Haggadah

Essay 18: Ben Zoma and the Sages

Ben Zoma interpreted [you shall speak about the Exodus] “all the days of your life” to include the nights (i.e. during the Sh’ma in the Ma’ariv service). The Sages say that “all the days of your life” comes to include the Messianic Age. R. Sacks notes that although this passage is woven into the Haggadah, the actual Talmudic dispute (Berachot 1:5) is in regards to the Ma’ariv service. The continuation of the passage records a discussion of whether the Exodus from Egypt will continue to be recalled in the Messianic Age. The Messianic Age will begin with its own Exodus, when the exiles of Israel will be gathered in from the four corners of the earth. The Exodus from Egypt will pale in comparison. Nevertheless, even Ben Zoma’s interlocutors agree that we will continue to mention the Exodus from Egypt – it will just be secondary to the great miracles that will take place then, may it happen quickly, in our times!

We have begun to see the great miracles that Gd is creating for us in the establishment and the survival of the State of Israel. We have begun to see Gd’s Hand in gathering Jews from all over the world, from Russia, India, Ethiopia, even North America! In the most recent Gaza conflict there was one case of a rocket that was headed directly for a fancy residential high-rise in Tel Aviv. After the Iron Dome missed its intercept three times, a great wind came out of nowhere and literally blew the rocket out to sea. The secular soldier manning that particular Iron Dome battery ran screaming through the base shouting “There is a Gd, there is a Gd!” It is not too far-fetched to believe that as the neighborhood, and indeed the world, becomes more and more hostile to Israel, that we may see more and more such miracles, leading up to the Final Redemption. At that time the whole expanse of Jewish history, from the Patriarchs to the Exodus from Egypt, to the Revelation at Mt. Sinai, through all the ups and downs until that blessed time, will be clear to us – its patterns and its reasons. The the Unity of Gd will be a living reality for all of us, all the days (and nights) of our lives.