Posts Tagged ‘maggid’

Surrounded – and led…

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

Bmidbar - Surrounded - and led...
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
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B’midbar: Numbers 1:1-4:20

"And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai." (Numbers 1:1)

Why would the Holy One, Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu, bring us through the wilderness? Why subject us to more trauma after the centuries of slavery? Why not just bring us quickly and in comfort to the Promised Land? This is what troubled the Sages in this midrash and so many other midrashim surrounding this verse.

Here we have a proposition, which I have abbreviated somewhat: it wasn’t bad at all! We had the superb delicacy of manna, sweet water from Miriam’s well, and the comfort and direction of the Eternal One! What more could we ask for?

After making this proposition, the Sages argue about what seems to be a very trivial point. Of course, as always, much lies beneath the surface. Listen:

This recalls the Scriptural verse: O generation, see ye the word of the Lord: Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? Or a land of thick darkness? etc. (Jer. 2:31). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, ‘Ye said to Moses: “Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” (Num. 21:5); but was I at all like a wilderness to Israel, or did I at all act towards them as a wilderness? … Did I not assign to you three special tutors, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam? It was due to the merit of Moses that you ate the manna… Moreover, it was due to the merit of Aaron that I set clouds of glory about you; as it is said, He spread a cloud for a screen (Ps. 105:39). …And again, the well was due to the merit of Miriam, who sang by the waters of the Red Sea…’

How many clouds of glory encircled Israel in the wilderness? R. Hoshaya and R. Josiah differed on this point. R. Josiah said, Five; four towards the four points of the compass, and one that went in front of them. R. Hoshaya said, Seven; four towards the four points of the compass, one above them, one below them, and one that advanced ahead of them three days’ journey and struck down before them the snakes and the scorpions, the fiery serpents and the rocks. If there was a low place, the cloud raised it; a high place it lowered, making all level; as it is said, Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill shall be made low (Isa. 40:4).

Midrash Rabbah – Numbers I:2

What is the matter with Hoshaya and Josiah? What does it matter whether there were five or seven clouds? Let’s look at what they are suggesting in common first, and then dive more deeply into their differences.

Earlier in the midrash, we are told that G!d set “clouds of glory” all around the people. We know that G!d also led us through the wilderness, but if these clouds of glory are “screens,” how could we be led?

The two sages pose two similar solutions: we had enough to surround us, plus one more: one to lead us. Hoshaya’s number – five – implies that we are surrounded on all sides, and yet led by another cloud, somehow visible through the others.

Josiah spots two problems, and solves each of them: first of all, are we surrounded if there are no clouds above or below us? No, of course, so make it seven.

The second problem – how we see a cloud through clouds – is solved by the action of the cloud: it makes the way sweet and easy for us, removing obstacles of geography as well as dangers of nature. We would know where to go, Josiah suggests, by following the smooth path.

Straightforward enough. So let’s take it deeper.

There is a dilemma: how can we be surrounded by the experience of G!d and still be active in the world? Imagine being in the loving embrace of our mother – why would we ever want to leave? And yet, if we do not, how will we grow and mature?

The answer is we can, and do, do both. We can recall that love that was given to us by our mother, even when she is not physically present, and be sustained by it as we move in the world. When we do, we find that the world is a little bit sweeter, a little bit smoother. We find strength in that love – when we remain open to the experience of it, even as we travel independently in the world.

But how about a little deeper still!

Recall the mention of the numbers six and seven from last week: how we added a single day to the secular six and made seven – Shabbat. It is no coincidence that the Mesopotamians treasured six, I am convinced, at least in part because there are six cardinal directions about us, two for each of our three spatial dimensions. To get to the seventh direction, we must embark along a different dimension. Call it time, if you will, for Shabbat is certainly a different dimension in time. I prefer to call it Spirit, for that is a markedly different dimension in our lives. And yet that dimension of Spirit is deeply interwoven with our spatial, secular world, permeating it always, ready to be perceived and entered, when we open ourselves to it.

May we each find the time to infuse our lives with that added dimension of Spirit, and so find ourselves surrounded – and led – by G!d’s love.

A kind word – or sixty!

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Behar / Bechukotai - A kind word - or sixty!
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
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Behar / Bechukotai: Leviticus 25:1-end

"If thy brother be waxen poor… then shall his kinsman… redeem." (Leviticus 25:25)

The question, at first blush, would seem to be very simple: what does it mean to be poor? From this, we should be able to figure out how to "redeem" another from their poverty. Of course, we get five answers, of which the last is in some ways the most important – the "closing." Listen:

This bears on the text, Happy is he that dealeth wisely with the poor; the Lord will deliver him in the day of evil  (Ps. 41:1). Abba b. Jeremiah in the name of R. Meir said that this refers to one who enthrones the Good Inclination over the Evil Inclination. Isi said that it refers to one who gives a perutah  (a tiny amount of money – 1/10th of the cost of a loaf of bread) to a poor man. R. Johanan said that it refers to one who buries a meth mizwah  (someone who died a pauper, without family to manage the burial). Our Rabbis say that it refers to one who assists a person escaping from tyrants.

R. Huna said it refers to one who visits the sick. For, said R. Huna, if a person visits the sick, a reduction of one-sixtieth part of his illness is thereby effected. They pointed out an objection to R. Huna: If that is so, let sixty people come in and enable him to go down into the street? He answered them: Sixty could accomplish this, but only if they loved him like themselves. But in any case they would afford him relief.

Midrash Rabbah – Leviticus XXXIV:1

The sages amended the full verse to teach their lesson, but it helps to have the full text before us. Robert Alter renders the following translation:

"Should your brother come to ruin and sell his holding, his redeemer who is related to him shall come and redeem what his brother sold."

This is a very clear circumstance: should someone fall so far that they have to pawn what little they have left to survive, then their closest relative should redeem their belongings from the broker and return them to their ruined relative. This is the obligation of family, however we define the boundaries of family: we must reach in and lift up the fallen, at our own expense. Throughout it all, we are given the metaphor of redemption: the "ruin" is a bondage to which the poor unfortunate has been consigned, and we must function as redeemer.

Clearly, the Sages wanted to extend this lesson beyond mere financial ruin and the traditional boundaries of family. How do we know this? First, by the proof text: they extend the lesson to all the poor, and identify each of us as obligated to take action. Second, by the examples: only two have to do with money.

The first four examples of ruin – by gossip or jealousy, financial loss, or injustice – are worthy of consideration, and are left, as they say, as an exercise for the reader. The last – ruined health – gets the lion’s share of the midrash’s attention, and therefore is what I will consider here.

First and foremost, consider the ruin that lost health can bring: it invades every dimension of our lives, intruding on the simplest of tasks. What is the solution? Remarkably, it is not turning to G!d for relief – it is the support of others that is called for!

Notice that it is not financial support that is mandated, but visiting the sick – in Hebrew, the mitzvah of bikur cholim  – is what is required. To which is added this beautiful proposition: that a single visit takes away 1/60th of the illness!

So, the skeptics ask, would sixty people visiting heal the person? Only, says Rav Huna, if they each loved the stricken one as they loved themselves. But in any event there would be a benefit!

So we know that visiting the sick brings a measure of healing, and of course this is a laudable activity. Surely, though, there is a deeper meaning!

Remember the metaphor of redemption, and that the p’shat  (simple meaning) of the verse has to do with buying back a relative’s goods from a pawn broker (or the like). How is visiting the sick like this?

A key to the answer comes from from R. Huna’s final retort, that we must love the stricken one as ourselves. Each parent knows the agony of having a sick child, how we would gladly take on the illness if only it would leave our offspring: please G!d, we pray, take the fever from her and give it to me! Just bring her relief!

When we visit the ill as one who truly cares, we take on some of their pain, some of their ruin – just a sixtieth perhaps, but some. And in so doing we gain a new appreciation of the challenges faced by all who are stricken, and – if we are able – a renewed vigor to helping those less fortunate than we. What is striking about this experience is that we realize we cannot cure them: at best, we relieve a sixtieth of their problems! But, by truly taking on some of their pain, we find a new strength to help others.

Where does this strength come from? Surely not from the one we visit, for they are gaining strength from our visit! No, that is the miracle of bikur cholim:  it opens the gates for G!d’s healing strength to enter both lives: that of the visited, and the visitor.

And therein lies the mystery, and beauty, of G!d’s love.

Healer of the broken heart…

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Tzav - Healer of the broken heart...
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
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Parashah Tzav: Leviticus 6:1-8:36

"And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying: command Aaron and his sons…" (Leviticus 6:1)

This week foreshadows the tragedy of next week: the death of Aaron’s sons who bring "foreign fire" for the sacrifice. The whys and wherefores of that event will be discussed next week, but it helps to know that some of the midrash suggest that their deaths were punishment for an earlier crime, not the foreign fire itself.

Given that interpretation, the two of them must be seen as "flawed." Why then, this week’s midrash wonders, are they told to bring sacrifices? The meaning is very deep; listen:

R. Abba b. Judan said: Whatever the Holy One, blessed be He, declared unfit in the case of an animal, He declared fit in the case of man. In animals he declared unfit the blind, or broken, or maimed, or having a wen, etc. (Lev. 22:22), whereas in man he declared fit ‘A broken and contrite heart.’ R. Alexandri said: If an ordinary person makes use of broken vessels, it is a disgrace for him, but the vessels used by the Holy One, blessed be He, are precisely broken ones, as it is said, The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart (Ps. 34:19); Who heals the broken in heart, etc. (Ps. 147:3); I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isa. 57:15); ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.’ (Ps. 51:19)

Midrash Rabbah – Leviticus VII:2

Astounding! According to this reading, we are drawn to G!d not in spite of our flaws, but because of them! And we are not drawn to the Eternal One in order to be punished for them, but because the Holy One, Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu, yearns to heal us!

Yes, our brokenness must be accompanied by contrition, but what really is "contrition" other than a sincere desire to heal?

Too often we are tempted to "see" only the terrifying aspect of Justice in the Almighty: even the words are powerful and intimidating. We read about curses and blessings, and focus on the curses; we recall the Hollywood spectacles of cosmic destruction, but forget the "still, small voice" that the prophets hear.

How much we lose, when we do not recognize the yearning of the Eternal One to comfort us, to take our broken, shattered vessels of body and spirit and heal us.

Another midrash from this same verse extends this Eternal Love not only to us, but to our descendants, arguing that no matter how much we are flawed, our descendants bring our names merit, and so for them we should be honored! This is the reverse of the normal argument, which is that we should be spared from our misdeeds because of the covenant with our ancestors; now, we should be honored because of what we have not yet done!

But most importantly, we must remember that we are loved not despite our flaws, but because of them. This is not only the central teaching of these midrashim, but in the deepest sense, it is the subtlest truth about our relationship with the Eternal One. How magnificent is our G!d!

The chicken or the egg?

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Vayakhel - The chicken or the egg?
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
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Parashah Vayakhel: Exodus 35:1-38:20

"And Bezalel made the ark…" (Exodus 37:1)

The problem the Sages wrestle with this week is the matter of which should be built first: the Ark, or the Tabernacle in which it is found? While the answer is given (it is the Ark), they ponder, why?

In order to understand why, they begin by drawing an analogy to the Creation: which came first: the world, or the Light? On this matter, the two Rabbis named in the midrash (and pictured above) cannot agree; each makes an argument about why it should be one order or the other.

And that’s where the sweetness finds its way in. Instead of trying to resolve the question, they ask an even deeper question: how was light itself created? And in answering it, they come up with a beautiful image that forms the heart of the midrash, and my comments thereafter. Listen:

It is written, The opening of Thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple (Ps. 99:130). When God created the world it was full of water everywhere, for it says, And darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). This formed the subject of a discussion between R. Judah and R. Nehemiah. R. Judah said: He created the light first and then the world… R. Nehemiah, however, said: The world was created first…

R. Simeon b. Jehozadak once asked R. Samuel b. Nahman: ‘Since I have heard that you are a master of Aggadah, can you tell me how the light was created?’ He replied: ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, wrapped Himself in a garment, and the whole world from end to end became resplendent with His brightness, for it is written, Who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment; and this is followed by, Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain (Ps. 104:2). This is why it says: ‘The opening of Thy words giveth light.’ It is from God that the righteous learned that when they entered upon any work they should commence with light. Thus you will find that when God told Moses to build the Tabernacle, Bezalel inquired, "With what thing shall I begin first? I had better start with the Ark," as it says, And Bezalel made the ark.

Midrash Rabbah – Exodus L:1

Does this seem obscure? Sure – let it be. Instead, pay attention to the imagery, and the lesson. First, the visual: the fantastic image of a huge tallit (prayer shawl), which immediately bursts into light and becomes the physical universe. It is this same image (and verses) that we who pray in a tallit use to invite G!d’s blessing upon our prayers, and in truth I cannot imagine a more powerful, comforting image than being wrapped in a shawl of light – which is the Eternal One’s love.

And then on to the lesson: whenever we begin any endeavor, we should begin with light. Think of it; imagine it; try it! Any time you are about to embark on a new task, a chore, a conversation with someone else – start by taking a moment. Clear your mind – "begin with light." Clear your soul with a swift, cleansing breath, that same breath that was breathed into us at Creation. Wrap yourself in the clear, bright intention to be a reflection of that Divine Image in which we are all made. Perhaps even vocalize that intent, with the simple phrase "L’kavod Shabbas" (For the glory of Shabbat) or "LeShem Shamayim" (For the sake of Heaven).

See what a difference a little light can make!

Oh, freedom!

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Ki Tissa - Oh Freedom!
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
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Parashah Ki Tissa: Exodus 30:11-34:35

"And the tablets were the work of G!d…" (Exodus 32:16)

This week, the sages play upon a single word to discover – or is it release?! – meaning from the passage at hand. But first of all, the question must be, what is the question they are struggling with?

The question at hand is rarely stated explicitly; sometimes it is obvious, and more often it is far more difficult to discern. I will begin with my best guess as to what the question is, then share their attempts to resolve and illuminate the passage, and finally share my own thoughts about a very different resolution of the same problem.

The problem revolves around the Hebrew word haruth, which means something like "etched" or, as Rashi tells us, "cut into." That the Sages don’t like this word is clear, but what is their problem?

It helps to recall the setting: Moses is about to descend from Mt. Sinai with these first set of tablets, where he will discover the people dancing in front of the Golden Calf, and it is these tablets, "haruth" by the hand of G!d, that he will destroy.

So nu? Shouldn’t the fact of the tablets’ demise be more important than how they were created?

I think the problem has to do with the problem with "graven images," forbidden to us. Can the Holy One be in the business of making graven images? Or would we, given something engraved by G!d, come to worship it as an idol?

This is, I think, the problem. Now let’s see how the Sages solve it. Listen:

R. Joshua b. Levi said: A heavenly voice issues from Mount Horeb every day, saying: ‘Woe unto those creatures who neglect the study of the Torah.’ For whosoever studies not the Law continually is rebuked by God; as it says, and the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven (haruth) upon the tablets (Exo. 32:16). What is the meaning of haruth?  This was discussed by R. Judah, R. Jeremiah, and the Sages.

R. Judah said: Read not haruth (graven), but heyruth (free) from captivity. R. Nehemiah opined that it means free from the Angel of Death; whilst the Sages were of the opinion that it means free from suffering.

Midrash Rabbah – Exodus XLI:7

The Sages change "engraved" to "freed from," and then speculate about what it is that Torah frees us from: is it from captivity, like the slavery of Egypt? Or is it freedom from death, as in meriting a place in either Olam Haba, the World to Come, or at the coming of the Messiah, may it be swift and in our day? Or does it simply mean that the Torah frees us from suffering?

How can Torah free us from captivity? There is an epithet – meaning, another name for – Jews who have lost touch with their Judaism: they are referred to as the "captive children of Israel." In other words, they have been "captured" by the world, and must be "freed" from that captivity. In that sense, studying Torah indeed frees us from captivity.

Does Torah free us from death? The danger to answering "yes" to this is that it could be taken to imply that the penalty for not studying Torah is death. The only way that a "yes" to this question makes sense to me is that Torah is one of many ways to achieve a personal connection with G!d, and that any such connection – by any means, whether by Torah or not – revives our spirits.

As for Torah freeing us from suffering, alas, there are far too many today who, G!d-forbid, suffer, whether they are students of Torah or not. But I can tell you that in those moments in which I am able to immerse myself in the study of Torah, for those sweet moments of time, whatever suffering I am enduring lifts. So, in a sense, Torah can free us from suffering.

Now, as I told you, I think there is another meaning to the "freedom" of the creation of the tablets. Think about the process by which a sculptor creates: we are told, especially in the case of truly talented artists, that they take a block of stone, clay, or whatever, and simply “remove” what does not belong to the finished work. They “free” or “liberate” the work from its encasing media. So, in a sense, G!d “freed” the words from their encasing stone. But I think we can take it even deeper.

We have been taught, rightly so, that the words of Torah are living, alive for us this day. Every time we study Torah, we are given the chance to learn something new, something that never was there for us before. It is in this sense that the Torah itself must be free of the rigid constraints we might, in error, attempt to place upon it. Indeed, we must free those living words from a fixed, stone-like interpretation, and breathe life to them with our actions so that we – and they – can be alive to the world around us.

This is, for me, one more way in which G!d created words of Torah by "freedom," not "engraving." May we each be blessed with many opportunities each day to see how those words can live in our lives, and breathe life into others.

On what merit?

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Tetzaveh - On what merit?
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
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Parashah Tetzaveh: Exodus 27:20-30:10

"And this is the word/thing…" (Exodus 29:1)

The sages use this midrash to take the dilemma of Aaron’s participation in the creation of the egel hazahav (“golden calf”) to explore the question of worthiness in being chosen by G!d. In so doing they teach a sweet lesson about the power G!d’s promises.

This is a longer midrash (which I have abridged somewhat), with deep teachings. It is "launched" from the fact that the Hebrew "d’var" means both "word" and "thing." Also, I have placed M’ Shoshannah’s reflections on her illustration in the at the end of this post… Enjoy!

It is written, Forever, O Lord, Your word stands fast in heaven (Ps. 119:89). Does then the word of God stand fast only in heaven, but not on earth? R. Hezekiah b. Hiyya said: This is because God made a promise in heaven, which was fulfilled on earth for that righteous man Abraham after two hundred and ten years. How so? When the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Abraham: ‘Get you out of your country… and I will make of you a great nation’ (Gen. 12:1f), the latter replied: ‘Lord of the Universe! What benefit do I derive from all these blessings, since I am about to depart from this world childless?’

Said God to him: ‘Are you sure that you will no longer give birth to a child?’ The reply was: ‘Lord of the Universe! My horoscope tells me that I will be childless.’

‘So you are afraid of your horoscope?’ God retorted. ‘As you live, it will be as impossible to number your offspring as it is to number the stars of heaven.’

R. Judah b. R. Simon said in the name of R. Hanin: It was then that God raised Abraham above the vault of the heavens and said to him: Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if thou be able to count them; and He said unto him: So shall thy seed be (ib. 15:5); that is: Just as you see all these stars and cannot count them, so numerous will your children be, for none will be able to number them… a proof that ‘Forever, O Lord, Your word stands fast in heaven.’

This also you now find in the case of Aaron: God made a promise to Moses, saying: And bring you near to you Aaron your brother… that he may minister to Me in the priests’ office (Ex. 28:1), an assurance which He kept when He said: and this is the thing that you shall do to them, etc.

Midrash Rabbah – Exodus XXXVIII:6

In the simplest terms, Aaron "merits" the honor of being the first High Priest for a basic reason: G!d promised it, and the Holy One’s promises are always kept. Is this, however, a sufficient answer? If it were, why would we need the story?

Read the story again: it is about Abraham’s doubt, his downright mistrust of the promise of "a great nation," expressed explicitly to the Eternal One. And upon what does he base that doubt? On the predictions of astrologers, who have measured his "planet" (as the original states).

What happens when Abraham expresses such bold skepticism? He is elevated to the heavens, to look upon all of Creation, and see the love that G!d has for him – and us. Then he is told, "Trust Me. Be patient. It will be."

Was Aaron any less worthy than Abraham? Other midrash (as M’ Shoshannah relates) suggest that he was an unwilling participant, but was just trying to keep the peace. Like Abraham, he is in the company of pagan practices, and perhaps even listens to them. But HaKodesh Baruch Hu remembers the promise, remembers the Love for us, and elevates him.

If Abraham, who speaks directly with G!d, can doubt G!d and still be elevated; if Aaron, who has heard G!d and seen the miracles in Egypt can help build an idol and still be elevated… cannot we, in our troubles and doubt, be granted the same?

And notice, finally, that no severe repentance was necessary: "all" that had to be done was to stay in conversation with G!d.

Listen for that still, small voice. It calls to us in Love.



Maggidah Shoshannah writes:

Aaron decides to be the one to lead the people in making the egel hazahav (golden calf), since he is a kohen (priest), but he looks very pained.

How does it feel? They just committed themselves to HaShem (G!d), Moshe (Moses) is still on the mountain, and now those spoiled people want to go back to man made statue ‘gods’ like in Mitzrayim (Egypt)! Feh, feh, feh! He must have cried, he must have been angry, and then he decided to do the best he could in bad circumstances.

Behind him Moshe looks suspiciously around with his luchot (tablets). I did not paint Moshe descending the mountain: instead, he is there in Aaron’s thoughts. Aaron knows what they do is wrong, hence his distorted face and his whole posture which ‘screams’ repulsion.

The egel stands in the middle like a ‘real calf,’ is is an idol without power: I show it blue and not golden.

The people are feasting in the bottom left corner, but like Aharon they do not show bliss and real pleasure, or intense hitlahavut (spiritual ecstasy, like dancing Chassidim). No, they show contorted faces: it’s an orgy, they are in frenzy, but derive no real pleasure of this.

In the arch of the sky I show Avrom Avinu (Abraham our father), who feared because the astrologer (planet) predicted that he would have no children. But now he is surrounded by the stars, as numerous as the b’nai Yisrael – the children of Israel.

What’s your preference?

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Yitro - You heard it here first
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
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Parashah Mishpatim: Exodus 21:1-24:18

“Now these are the ordinances…” (Exodus 21:1)

Sometimes a value seems very clear: don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t lie. In the face of these simple, clear values, the question arises, why do we need a story? Why all these extra words? Isn’t it enough to just say, "treat everyone fairly?"

When the Sages developed midrash, they were trying to make things understandable that were either confusing or hidden within the text. Sometimes they would use a logical explanation, but often they would turn to story – to aggadah – to illuminate their point even more clearly.

This midrash – like all of the ones we choose for these emails – uses aggadah to highlight a "simple" concept: don’t prejudge people. After you’ve considered it… well, for now just listen:

It is written, Keep ye justice, and do righteousness (Isaiah 56:1). This bears out what Scripture says, These also are the sayings of the wise. To have a preference persons in judgment is not good (Prov. 24:23). The Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘What caused the judges to know how to judge? The fact that you received the Torah in which is written, These are the ordinances, etc. Know ye therefore that "To have preference for persons in judgment is not good."’

What is the lesson of, ‘It is not good?’ It seems so obvious! But consider this: when the judge sits and judges in truth, G!d, as it were, leaves His topmost heaven and causes His Shechinah (the Divine Presence) to be at the judge’s side; but when He sees that he has a preference for some over others, He removes His Shechinah and goes back to Heaven. The angels then say to Him: ‘Lord of the Universe! What is the matter?’ He replies: ‘I saw a judge who prefers some persons and I have removed Myself from thence.’

What does G!d do? He draws His sword in front of him to remind him that there is a Judge above, as it says, Be ye afraid of the sword; for wrath bringeth the punishments of the sword, that ye may know there is a judgment (Job 19:29).

Midrash Rabbah – Exodus XXX:24

For me, the imagery of this midrash – captured so eloquently above by M’ Shoshannah! – is quite powerful. Using a very sweet carrot, we are told that the Shechinah – G!d’s divine Presence here on earth, understood to be a feminine force – sits beside a judge who judges justly, without prejudice. Yes, the stick is there too – the sword of death – but the promise of the reward is quite compelling on its own!

Taking it beyond a simple reward, it is worth considering what it means to have the Shechinah present. The Shechinah is that "surface" where the Eternal One – who is in a Wholly/Holy different world – actually touches and interacts with our own mundane world. She is not a reward, per se, but is the actual event of G!d’s power intervening in our lives!

Think on it for a moment – this midrash says that G!d is actually intervening in our world every time justice is meted out justly. (The three red letters in the illustration say "Tzedek" – Justice). By a "simple" human action, we are given the ability to invite the Divine into this world – and also given the promise that the Eternal One, in the guise of the Shechinah, will indeed appear!

How wonderful a privilege! And all we must do is be impartial in our judgments.

Now, isn’t that a better presentation than the simple "don’t prejudge others"?


What do you see?

M’ Shoshannah’s art is filled with imagery that reflects her deep understanding and interpretation of each week’s midrash. While she and I discuss these elements each week, we do not impose them upon you, the reader.

This is because, no matter what the intent of the artist, the viewer creates yet more art, more understanding, more meaning as they view the work.

So, share with us, please – what do you see? Leave a comment below, or drop us an email!