On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah - Mishpatim

In this weekly podcast, we will offer insight into the weekly Torah portion, condensing 2,000 years of Jewish wisdom into just 10 minutes of modern-day commentary. This week Rabbi Rick Jacobs delves deep into parashat Mishpatim from the book of Exodus. Enjoy!

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Welcome to "On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah", a podcast presented by the Union for Reform Judaism. Each week, we come to you with a shot of insight into the weekly Torah portion, condensing 2,000 years of Jewish wisdom into just 10 minutes of modern day commentary. Of course, we believe there are plenty of ways to interpret Torah, and we really want to hear what you think. You can weigh in on this week's Torah portion and what you hear today by talking to us on Twitter-- our handle is @urj-- and by liking us on facebook, at facebook.com/reformjudaism.

Each week, we will hear from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. In this episode, he delves deeper into Parshat Mishpatim from the Book of Exodus. Thanks for listening, and enjoy the show.

This week, we study Parashat Mishpatim. It is the portion that comes right after the revelation at Sinai. After the ten words, the ten utterances, the Ten Commandments, the larger-than-life obligations of spiritual, religious life, we have more of the details. We had the headlines last week. We get into more of the fine print.

A lot of times people will say, you know, I'm a person of faith. I follow the Ten Commandments. Not to say that it's not a small thing to follow those commandments. But to not have murdered anyone or not have stolen something doesn't mean that we've reached the high bar of moral, ethical life.

Mishpatim, this is where we get into, I believe, some of the deepest water that we have, at least in the Jewish tradition. In chapter 23 of the Book of Exodus, in verse 4, it tells us that if you come upon, if you encounter your enemy's ox or donkey, you can't just keep walking. Now that said, if you come upon your friend's ox or donkey, help out. Well, everybody got that. You didn't need a Torah teaching to come along to stretch you to do that, we do that instinctively. That's why people are our friends, our family.

The Torah takes us to one of the deepest places of moral responsibility. What's our obligation to our enemy, the oyev, that person with whom we have more than just a superficial disagreement? This is somebody that we could summon the word "hate." We really despise this person.

And as we're making our way through our community, there is their precious animal or their precious object. What's our obligation? The Torah says stop. The Torah doesn't say love your enemy. That's actually not a helpful prescription. I mean, the other faith traditions, god bless them. Our tradition doesn't force us just to go love that person because it knows that's almost an impossibility.

The Torah says, go and with your enemy, raise up his animal. So you become a partner with your enemy to do something good for him, but also for that animal who is suffering. In that act of partnering with that person that you really can't stand, something is broken. Something is released.

That's the brilliance of this Torah portion. That's the brilliance of this commandment. If today I didn't murder somebody, I can't come home and say, “I was really amazing today. I got through the whole day and I didn't murder somebody.”

But if I once, twice, three times in my life find myself with that person who really is my oyev, my enemy, and I don't just go by, and I don't just glare. But I know the Torah is forcing me to do something I wouldn't do on my own. It doesn't feel instinctive, but it is the deep water of a moral life.

So where are all of us as we encounter our enemy? Is it our enemy's car has a flat tire? We're driving along the highway, and there's that part of all of us who want to say, yeah, it's good that you've got that flat tire. And yes, it's raining, it's cold. And you're out there trying to put everything back together. The Torah says you're not entitled to bask in that feeling.

Stop the car, pull over, get out, find that place and just say, I'm here to help. Find a way to partner with that person. Do something good with that person. And something will change. Something will change within you, within that relationship. And also how you look at the world, that you don't just stratify all of us. We could stratify the world. These are the people I like. These are all the people I don't. So the Torah gives us ways not to be trapped into those, in a sense, roles and definitions and relationships that can be toxic.

It's not to say that person didn't earn the hatred that you feel or the feelings of antipathy, but it can be changed. And it's our responsibility not just to wait and wait and wait and say, well, if they want to come break through, let them come break through. Torah says, no, it's you. It's your responsibility. In fact, it's your opportunity.

So I don't know where you're going to be going today. I don't know who you're going to pass. I don't know what might motivate you just to keep going. But just hear that verse in the Torah, that when we see that enemy in distress, that we have an opportunity to help them and to help us find a better path.

That's what a spiritual life is. That's what a life of morality and ethics is. It's not just closing our eyes and feeling a moment of deep meditation. It's about stretching ourselves to become people we would not otherwise become. So let's keep stretching. Let's find our best selves. And the Torah, it can help point the way.

Thanks for joining us for this week's episode of "On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah." If you liked what you heard today-- and we hope you did-- you can find new episodes each week at ReformJudaism.org. And between podcasts, you can visit us to learn more, not just about Torah, but about all aspects of Judaism, including rituals, culture, holidays, and more. "On the Other Hand: 10 Minutes of Torah" is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. L’hitraot, we’ll see you next week.