Parshas Mishpatim: Holiness and Worldliness

In this week’s Parsha, Mishpatim, we read about a number of the laws which G-d gave the Israelites following the revelation at Sinai. These include the laws of property; of safety; of money lending; and of general conduct towards one’s fellow man. At first glance, these laws seem totally out of place. We’ve just finished reading about the Sinai experience. The Asares HaDibros, the massive revelation in evict G-d essentially established a covenant with the entire Jewish people. It’s dynamic and exciting, and the Israelites are being presented with extremely important, world-changing moral guidelines. It appears illogical to move on from this to seemingly minor laws- laws regarding the ins and outs of everyday life. But in fact, this is where the secret of G-dliness lies.

The fact is, life is made up of these small things. Small interactions. Seemingly mundane and unimportant things- like money lending, for example. It’s all well and good to draw upon verses about idolatry and murder, but at the end of the day, what comes up the most is the “everyday Halachos”. This isn’t just a fact about the Parsha. It’s also a metaphor for serving G-d. These seemingly corporeal things are in the Torah for a very good reason; to teach us that actually, surprisingly, it’s through these examples that we can best elevate, our status, and best use our time in this world.

Some Chareidim disagree. They feel their time is best spent only in yeshivot, and, lately, kollel. I value learning as much as any other Lubavitcher, but I dislike the isolated approach. I once heard a sermon in which a rabbi used the term “an ivory tower rabbi”, and this struck me as an absolutely perfect description. The ivory tower approach is not, I believe, what is needed. Perhaps, arguably, it is more effective for upholding one’s own spiritual wellbeing. But we need to make sacrifices for others. And in this time, we are living directly before the arrival of the Moshiach. Any day now, he could arrive. We need to strengthen our efforts to spread the word, to help others, to fill the world with light, so that it’s ready for his arrival. We simply can’t afford to shut ourselves away. So what are we to do?

The answer lies in this week’s Sedra. We are to infuse holiness and Torah observance into our everyday lives, and the everyday lives of others. It’s not all about books and learning. It’s about leading a Torah life, a life in which the Torah inspires our every action. There’s a reason why halacha covers everything from dietary requirements and clothing to career choices and loans. It’s to teach us that these things matter. And that it’s our job to bring Holiness into them. When we succeed in doing this, we hasten the arrival of Moshiach- may it come soon and in our days!

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