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I CAN SEE!

by Rabbi Lee Jay Lowenstein    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

In the Torah's narrative of the revelation at Mt. Sinai, we are given a graphic description of the supernatural qualities of the event: "The entire people saw the thunder and the flames, the sound of the shofar and the smoking mountain" (Exodus 20:15).

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In the Torah's narrative of the revelation at Mt. Sinai, we are given a graphic description of the supernatural qualities of the event: "The entire people saw the thunder and the flames, the sound of the shofar and the smoking mountain" (Exodus 20:15). There was such a degree of heightened extrasensory awareness that even the eyes could see the thunder and the sounds of the shofar! Our sages here raise a practical problem: How could the Torah declare that "the entire people saw"? Surely amidst a nation of broken, ravaged slaves there must have been some who were rendered blind in both eyes due to the cruel physical servitude in Egypt.

Based on this question, the sages concluded that all ailments were cured prior to the revelation. (See Rashi who cites proofs that there were no blind, lame, mute, or deaf.) One might simply understand the need for this miracle as a matter of respect for Hashem. What great honor is it to be King of a motley crew of broken misfits? However, perhaps there is a deeper insight.

One of the great ironies of all time is that religion, which is supposed to exalt Mankind and give purpose to an otherwise meaningless life, has often been relegated to the miserable ignoramuses and mentally disturbed, to those least capable of appreciating its subtleties and refinement. The aristocratic, enlightened man frowned upon any religion which demanded that he curb his appetite for sensual experience and pleasure in return for spiritual delights which offered no immediate gratification. Talk of "another world", Heaven and Hell, were fancies of the poor peasant whose life of grinding poverty and misery left him with no other option than the hope of a brighter light at the end of the tunnel. Religion was his fortress in which he could hide away from the harsh realities that his daily life brought. It was a comfort, a dream, a wish for a reality in which the meek shall inherit the earth.

Over time, the brightest minds, those capable of towering greatness, were turned towards secular pursuits. Religion, with all its beauty and grace, became the inheritance of the uneducated, crass lower class. Even within our own circles, this anomaly has been allowed to creep in. So much so, that the Mesillat Yesharim, the classic 18th century work on Jewish ethics, bemoaned that in his time when one saw an individual who practiced extreme piety and asceticism, one's first reaction was to assume that this person was a boorish simpleton, one who lacked the intellectual capabilities to delve into the "real" wisdom of the Torah.

Hashem healed us before giving us the Torah to send the message that Torah is not a panacea. While it is most definitely true that Torah heals and cures all imperfections and ills of Mankind, its main function is as a vehicle for healthy growth and achievement. Torah is the most sublime of all wisdoms. It is a study that is most aptly suitable for the intelligent, fertile mind. It is not a "quick fix", an escape from a harsh, unpleasant reality, an opium for the masses. Had Hashem delivered the Torah to a nation of cripples and misfits, the world would have looked upon us as just another cult, another group of unfortunates who claim that they have found the answer to all of their problems. Ask any professional cult "deprogrammer" what the early warning signs of cult involvement are and they will tell you, "If someone has just gone through a traumatic time - death in the family, divorce, major injury - and overnight their depression lifts and is replaced with feelings of love and euphoria, watch out!"

Torah is not a cult experience. It is for healthy, happy people who wish to enhance their lives and discover meaning and purpose. As with any program for change, it offers no overnight successes. It is a labor of love, a lifelong pursuit of perfection and inner harmony.

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Based on a lecture given by Rabbi Yochanan Zweig, the rosh yeshiva (dean) of the Talmudic University of Florida.

Rabbi Lee Jay Lowenstein, who grew up in Atlanta and is a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a member of the Kollel at the Talmudic University of Florida in Miami Beach.

You are invited to read more Parshat Mishpatim articles.

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