This week’s Torah Portion, Mishpatim, literally means laws, those which God legislated for the Israelites. A few of them resonated deeply within me. God warns about mistreatment of foreigners. I think about how so many Americans have suffered recently due a 35-day government shutdown, which was, in my opinion, a complete violation of this law. It seems incredibly hypocritical to me to be living in a country whose only true natives were annihilated by immigrants who then became its rulers, consequently leaving us with nearly every citizen being a foreigner. Yet here we are, trying to keep foreigners from entering. I think about Parashat B’Shalach, which we read two weeks ago, where we learned how the very first of our people were living as immigrants in another country and were horribly mistreated. When we marched through the Red Sea to freedom, we were commanded to always remember that we were lucky to have escaped slavery; that we started out as strangers in a strange land and it is upon us to always welcome all strangers.
We learn about the seasonal festivals, and I am reminded of the beautiful Tu B’Shevat Seder that Ross created for our family and friends on Erev Tu B’Shevat. The 16th Century Kabbalists in Safed created this Seder ritual, similar to a Passover Seder, where we are to include the seven species mentioned in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. The laws of Kashrut are also mentioned in Mishpatim. I always think about Kashrut when putting together a meal of any kind at my home, and our Seder was no exception. Inevitably, our meals will either be milk or meat in the Friedman household, and it was not until recently that this law made sense to me. A colleague explained it so beautifully–different cultures are distinguished by the foods they eat. Jews eat I food, and this can come in all different shapes and styles, not unlike other cultures. In Israel, eating Kosher is something that you don’t even have to think about, with their Mediterranean style of food and all the different spices. Here in America, it is more of a conscious choice, and one which never resonated with me until I looked at that way.
Mishpatim also talks about the mitzvah (good deed) of prayer. My very first memories were of my mother tucking me in, and the two of us praying. My mother and I spoke to God from our hearts, about anything which might be on them, nothing too big or too small. I remember praying every night for my grandmother, who was incredibly ill and hospitalized for months. I’ll never forget the night that Mom said, “She’s coming home tomorrow.” From that point on, I never stopped praying, even when things did not turn out the way my heart desired. Abigail and I have begun praying every night. We first say the bedtime Sh’ma, “B’shem Adonai, Elohai Yisrael, mimini Michael, u’smoli Gavriel….” Followed by the Sh’ma, a Yiddish song of her choice, and our personal prayer, starting with “God of our Mothers and Fathers…” I begin with giving thanks for things I am blessed with, and she and I name some of them specifically. Then we pray for those who need help or healing, starting with her brother Zev, those who may be carrying children, or who need strength. Sometimes I ask for strength for myself, or for help in making better choices, or I even ask for help to not continue to make bad choices.
As I mentioned previously, we do not always get the answer we had hoped for. I am currently experiencing an answer that I am very unhappy with. But I will still continue to live in the hope, because putting myself in a place of prayer helps me to realize that I am not alone. When we pray for Zev in particular, something seems to release inside me, enabling me to see his progress in a much greater light than I can see his problems. Even when I do not immediately see the answers I desire, keeping up with the praying helps me to live in the hope that somehow, it will all be ok. It gives me the strength to be there for those I love in their struggles, and to still find all there is to be grateful for.
Each time I recite the prayers of our liturgy during services, there is a subtext, meaningful to me, going on inside my head and heart. They are always said with intention, in the hopes that my prayer will help you to also pray. Below is a clip of “Hineni,” a prayer that is part of our Rosh Hoshanah liturgy set in English text with the intention of helping us to find our personal prayer. I include this to help inspire you to find your own subtext as you pray the Hebrew, English, or any other text of our prayers.
May you find your prayer, even if that prayer contains only the sound and movement of the breath inside you. Shabbat Shalom.