“These are the laws you are to set before them.” — Exodus 21:1
The Torah portion for this week is Mishpatim, which means “laws,” from Exodus 21:1–24:18, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 34:8–22.
This week’s Torah portion doesn’t have the most exciting name. It is called mishpatim, the Hebrew word for “laws.” And yes, you guessed it, this week’s selection is all about laws – the rules and regulations for living a life defined by God’s Word and His will. In fact, there are over 50 laws listed in this selection!
Compared to last week’s reading, where we read about the giving of the Ten Commandments amidst thunder, lightning, and other-worldly experiences, this week’s theme may seem anti-climactic. It seems quiet by comparison. But once we really understand what this reading is all about, we know that this is where the action truly lies.
Fast-forward a few thousand years. Elijah the prophet is running for his life, trying to escape the persecution of the wicked Queen Jezebel. He finds himself on Mount Sinai, and God tells him to stand in the middle of the mountain where he will experience the Lord.
Listen to what happens next: “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:11–12).
There was a great wind, followed by the shaking of the ground, followed by a blaze of fire. All fantastic and wondrous! God moved heaven and earth! But God was not in the wind, earth, or fire. Rather, Elijah heard a soft, still voice – and that was where he encountered God.
This passage is teaching us that, as great as moments of revelation and inspiration can be, they are not where we will find God. It’s wonderful to be moved by a beautiful sunset or to be awed by a powerful thunderstorm. They may make us feel more connected to God and inspire us to change. But that’s not where we encounter God in the deepest way.
We truly encounter God where we are least expecting it – in the store, at a business meeting, sitting around the house with our family. It’s the quiet moments in life where we choose to follow God’s Word or set His laws aside; that’s where we truly encounter God.
As you go through the day, keep an ear out for that “gentle whisper” guiding you and commanding you as you go through life. When you hear God’s voice and choose to obey His laws, you will have found Him, no matter where you may be. Nothing is more sensational than that!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President