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Parashat Mishpatim 5777 — 02/25/2017

Parashat Mishpatim 5777 — 02/25/2017

Shemot 21:1-24:18

Our parashah contains the first of three identical statements in Torah:

Lo t’vashel gedi b’chalav imo / Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk (23:19, also 34:26, Deut 14:21)

This statement is the source of the prohibition of mixing meat and dairy products which, along with the laws of which species of animals, birds and fish are kosher to eat, and the way the kosher animals must be prepared, form the great bulk of the Jewish dietary laws (kashrut). This is, in my opinion, another good reason to be vegetarian, although there are those who argue that it’s taking the cheap way around taking the trouble to do Gd’s Will. But that is a discussion for another day – maybe Gd made eating meat so difficult in order to make a point!

Ramchal treats this law among other laws in the Torah regarding mixtures, such as the prohibitions of crossbreeding animals or plants (species may not be mixed), the prohibition of plowing with animals of different strengths (e.g. an ox and a donkey), and the prohibition of wearing garments with wool and linen mixed together (shaatnez).

The prohibition of cooking a kid in its mother’s milk can be compared to prohibitions of other forbidden mixtures such as kilayim in garments, as well as in planting, ploughing, and breeding. Each of these prohibitions causes similar damage in the spiritual realms as they each represent a mixing of various spiritual forces. Everything in the physical world has a root in the spiritual world and each of these roots has its own specific place within the order that Hashem employs to run the world. The physical world and all it contains is a manifestation of the spiritual realms. When a person in the physical realm inappropriately mixes two physical items with incompatible spiritual roots, the spiritual roots mix as well and damage Hashem’s existing order.

The spiritual realm of kedusha exists in a specified order where everything has its place – there may be two forces of kedusha yet each must remain in its own specified location and never mix with each other. In our example, the mother’s milk is rooted in chesed while the kid is rooted in din. Mixing these together causes the ordering Hashem made to become disturbed and rather than demonstrating Hashem’s honor it resembles the tum’ah which lacks order.

We have discussed the idea of mixtures, and related it to the physical concept of entropy, or disorder, in a system. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that in a closed system entropy increases, codifies our common observation that structures, left to themselves, tend to decay. It takes an input of energy and intelligence to create structure, but it just takes time and neglect for structure to be lost.

How does this work? It’s actually fairly simple. Consider a system consisting of a wooden box with two compartments separated by a partition with large holes in it, and 4 ping-pong balls bouncing around (without losing energy). On occasion, one of the balls may bounce through one of the holes and move from one side of the partition to the other. Now suppose we start with all 4 balls on the left side of the partition. There is only one way to arrange the balls this way – all of them have to be in one place. This is a situation of maximum structure – in this case, maximum difference between the two sides. Now suppose one of the balls moves to the right-hand compartment. There are 4 ways this can happen. Ball #1 can move, or #2 or #3 or #4. Now we have less difference between the two sides, less structure, but more ways to be in this state. Continuing along this line, we note that there are three balls in the left and one in the right, so it is obvious that it is 3 times more likely for one of the three in the left to move rightward than it is for the one in the right to move leftward. In 3 out of 4 cases of a move, one of the balls on the left will move to the right, giving us two balls in each compartment. You can list the possible ways the 4 balls can arrange themselves 2 left and 2 right – there are 6 possibilities, and this situation is minimal structure – there is now no difference at all between left and right. Also, it is now equally likely for a ball to move left as one is to move right, so over time, the minimal structure situation is the most stable. In our toy system with only 4 balls we get significant fluctuations away from this state, but in a real situation, consisting of astronomical numbers of atoms, the fluctuations are of completely negligible size. When a system has lost its structure, the structure stays lost as long as no outside action is taken on it.

The upshot of this discussion is that mixing causes loss of structure, or loss of information/knowledge. I think it is this loss of knowledge that Ramchal is relating to tum’ah. In the case of mixing meat and milk, two of Gd’s Attributes are mixed together improperly. In the case of crossbreeding animals, the DNA gets mixed and cannot be unmixed. (What would Ramchal say about GMOs?!) The order with which Gd created the world is disturbed, and we move further into the realm of ignorance, where the true nature of reality is hidden.

There do appear to be times in Torah where attributes of Gd are mixed together. For example, in Chapter 2 of Bereishit, beginning with verse 4 Gd is referred to as Hashem Elokim, where Hashem is the 4-letter Name and corresponds to the Attribute of Mercy (chesed), and Elokim corresponds to the Attribute of Justice (din). Yet the two are placed together. Why?

If so, we may wonder why there is no similar prohibition of mixing or intertwining two Names of Hashem which represent different Attributes … Should this not also be viewed as a mixing of spiritual roots, which could cause great damage? [RAR: In a footnote the editor mentions that such combinations were used in Kabbalistic meditations.] There is a difference – the Names of Hashem represent different Attributes of Hashem, different ways in which Hashem relates to the world. When these join together they form a union rather than a mixture. The result here is a tikkun [rectification] where Hashem’s Attribute of Din can be “sweetened” or tempered. [RAR: my bold]

What is the distinction between a mixture and a union? Perhaps we can get a hint from marriage. When two people come together in marriage, they form a union. Where before there were just two individuals, now there is a relationship between two individuals, something greater that is created that was not there before. In other words, in the case of a union, there is a greater level of structure, while in the case of a mixture, structure is destroyed. When the Attributes of Gd are combined properly, with their individualities respected, we get a rectification of the world, and increase in kedusha. If they are just mixed (“cooked”) together, where their individualities are lost, we get an increase in tum’ah.

I think we can carry this reasoning further. Any kind of sin, any wrong action, leads to a loss of structure in the universe, which is equated with an increase in tum’ah. This is because wrong action is action in opposition to Gd’s ideal concept of order. In fact, our Sages describe Adam and Eve’s sin in eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as causing a mixing of Good and Evil within Adam and Eve themselves, and therefore in the cosmos. It has been our task throughout the ages to rectify this mixing.

In order to rectify this loss of structure, it takes an input of energy and intelligence. If we have a mixture of two things, we have to sit and sort it out – almonds into one plate and cashews into another for example. In the case of wrong action, the rectification is accomplished through t’shuvah, return to Gd, Who of course is the source of all energy and intelligence in the cosmos. Thus the Sages say that t’shuvah can transform even willful sins into mitzvot (Yoma 86b). Gd is Pure Unity, and by connecting with this Unity we can both harmonize and honor all differences in the world.


Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parshat Mishpatim

Gd is Totality: can Gd be known as an object of awareness, when, according to Kaddish, Gd is beyond any word to describe?

It seems so because in this parshah Torah says:

*Ex 24: 9-11.  “9 And Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended,

11 And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand, and they perceived Gd, and they ate and drank.

10 and they perceived the Gd of Israel, and beneath His feet was like the forming of a sapphire brick and like the appearance of the heavens for clarity.”

The Kabbalistic view of the hierarchy of the four Worlds—4 stages of thee Formless revealing form within itself—and the Sephirot (10 levels of the Formless appearing as Form) gives us a possible explanation of the Nature of Gd as being Infinite yet constantly flowing within Gd as forms in various stages of manifestation, boundedness.

The traditional Kabbalistic view is that Gd contracted Gd to a point in order to create empty space in which Gd could create the infinite forms which we perceive as being the Universe we live in.

I prefer the view that Gd never contracts, is never empty, is not simply abstract Formlessness but is always the Formless revealing itself as infinite expressions, all of which are Gd, Totality, but yet part of Gd’s play of “Let’s pretend to be limited” and then seek the Wholeness of which we are a limited part.

The infinite limited values are in a hierarchy and at the top of the hierarchy, is Gd in Form and yet Unlimited, but accessible to be viewed by the other forms in the hierarchy.

This view can explain Torah’s account that “…they perceived the God of Israel…” and that “….beneath His feet was like the forming of sapphire brick and like the appearance of the heavens for clarity.”

I’m quite confident of the validity of this view but well aware that it is not the traditional Kabbalistic view and also that, as we evolve, this view may be revealed as only a stage in Teshuvah – return to Primordial Oneness, Totality, Infinity of Formlessness and Forms. Flowing.

What can we do to see Gd in Form, to return to awareness of our individual selves as expressions of Totality, Formlessness and Forms?

To see the forms, we need to refine our perception and bring our whole personality–physiology, thoughts, feelings, soul—into alignment with Gd’s Will. The way to do this is by doing the mitzvot outlined in the 10 Commandments, 10 Utterances and elaborated in parshahs such as this one, Mishpatim

To experience the Formless aspect of Gd, Totality, we need to refine perception to the extent that we go beyond the senses. I do not know of any description in Torah or Kabbalah that gives us instruction sufficiently precise to do this, but Evan Finkelstein, a member of our congregation and Adjunct Faculty at Maharishi University of Management, gives, in his Ph. D dissertation, a quote from Jeremiah (29:12-13) that he finds suggestive and seems so to me, too.

“And ye shall call upon Me, and go, and pray unto Me, and I will hearken unto you…”

Evan suggests that “calling upon Me”, means using Gd’s names to transcend; on this basis, prayers (usually descriptions of Gd’s Unlimited Greatness) would be effective in getting Gd to hearken – reveal Gd to the individual.

Mitzvah, Torah and Siddur are guides that we can read, listen to, recite, think about as means to get Gd to hearken to us – to reveal the Primordial Oneness of which we are expressions.

Baruch HaShem