I grew up hearing the familiar saying “the devil is in the details.” What I didn’t know until recently however, is that this saying was formed based on another saying which happens to be much older. The foundation for the saying “the devil is in the details” turns out to be a quote created by an unknown author that states “Der liebe Gott steckt im detail” which translates from German as “God is in the detail.” I believe this portion helps us understand this idea very clearly. It is God that is to be found and revealed through the minute aspects of life, creation and the universe. The only reason “the devil is in the details” is because he works to disrupt the order of God’s design. In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Z’TL, “The Parsha Mishpatim, with its detailed rules and regulations, can sometimes seem an anticlimax after the breathtaking grandeur of the revelation at Sinai. It should not be. Parsha Yitro (last week’s portion containing the 10 commandments) contains the vision, but God is in the details. Without vision, law is blind, but without the details, the vision floats in heaven. With them, the Divine Presence is brought down to earth, where we need it most.”

The combination of these two portions gives us practical guidance and future vision. It is impossible to bring “heaven to earth” without the practical, everyday instructions found in this week’s Torah portion. This portion tells us, in no uncertain terms that “The twin concepts of righteousness and justice stand like pillars at the center of Torah…God loves righteousness and justice. He desires them more than sacrifice. They support His throne, which is founded upon them. (Psalm 89:14)” By FFOZ. Yet, God on His throne is interested in the affairs of men, as the Psalmist says, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” Psalm 113 tells us that God, “[He] humbles Himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and in the earth. He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap…” 

Rabbi Moshe Weinberger in his book “Sparks from the Fire” writes about these verses in Psalm 113. He says, “The rest of the world only seeks spirituality in the Heavens, but we see it in the fields and marketplaces of This World…when ‘seekers of G-d’ ask where Hashem is, they look to the sky for answers. They believe He is ‘out there’ somewhere… Unlike the nations of the world, we say of Hashem’s greatness, ‘He lowers Himself to look at the Heavens and the earth, [H]e lifts up the destitute from the dust and raises the poor from the trash heaps.’ 

Hashem is even greater than the nations think He is. They believe He is only in the highest Heavens. But we know that He is so great that He also sits in the trash heaps of the confusion of our lives in order to raise us up.” The greatness of God is what allows Him to encounter us even when we are in our lowest of states. He encountered the entire nation of Israel when they were living in one of the lowest and impure times of Jewish history, Egyptian slavery. He gave the Torah to the Israelite nation so they could rise, ascend and live in way which leads to life.
Of the 53 different instructions listed here in this portion, I would like to expound on two in particular. They happen to be only a few verses apart from one another, in the same chapter, Exodus 23. The first of these commandments states, “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil” (Verse 2). Rabbeinu Bachya writes in his commentary concerning this verse “the plain meaning of these words is that even if you see a vast majority of people acting in a forbidden manner, do not make the fact that they constitute the norm an excuse to follow in their footsteps.” In our world today there are many evil and/or morally wrong things that have become cultural norms. Adultery is now called “a consensual relationship,” abortion is called “pro-choice,” and freedom to express Judeo-Christian values is called “hate speech.” The system of world pressure has led to the degrading of the very founding bedrock of God’s Word, and yet believers in the God of Israel remain silent so as not to offend.

Earlier this week I was talking to my Dad about the political situation in the USA. I began to pose the question “How do we reintroduce Biblical values into America without sounding too much like Bible-thumpers?” I stopped mid-question. This in fact is our problem. If we believe that the Bible is God’s Word and it brings life and truth to those who follow it, then why has it become so hard to say “I do/believe something because the Bible tells me so?”Medicine, Science, Art, Math…everything in the world points to God and in turn, the truth of His Word. Perhaps we do not “follow a crowd to do evil,” but are we silent all the same? Dennis Prager, in his Torah commentary on Exodus writes, “One of the saddest facts of the human condition is that most people follow the herd…people tend to act worse in groups than when alone. The herd, not to mention the mob, emboldens people to do bad things they would rarely do if they had no such support.” He later goes on to write, “It is a lot safer to side with an immoral majority.” If the “immoral majority” cannot get a person to side with them, then their tactic is to silence and embarrass those who might have the audacity to oppose them; and because they are the majority, their tactics generally work. “But anyone who appreciates that the most important thing in the world is to do the will of the Almighty will not be impressed by the fact that many people are doing something (else).” (From Book: “Growth through Torah”) Those who recognize the will of God is more important than any fading fad won’t be deterred even when going up against all the hordes of evil found in today’s world.

The statement “Well done good and faithful servant” is sweeter to the sons and daughters of God than any pat-on-the-back from an evil crowd.The second commandment I wanted to write about from this portion comes from verse 4 and 5 of Exodus 23. It says, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.” Dennis Prager, in his commentary clarifies, “By ‘enemy’ the Torah is referring to personal enemies, not to enemies in the sense of evil people with whom one may be at war.” If a person has a personal enemy, this doesn’t give that person a license to allow an innocent animal to suffer just because they’re at odds with the animal’s master. According to the Sages “there is an absolute obligation to return the animal, even if it flees one hundred times.” (Talmud. Bava Metzia 31a) If humans are worth much more than animals, shouldn’t our attempts at making things right with our enemy be all the more important to us? Here it states, “if [an animal] flees one hundred times” we still must return the animal to its rightful owner, even if we are enemies. Our Master Yeshua, in Matthew 18 was once asked, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” This was his reply, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Basically what he was saying was, “learn to forgive.” For if we held 490 grudges against a specific person, that couldn’t be called forgiveness. I was talking to a friend about this week’s portion and he brought up a great point that set my mind to thinking. If we believe that God directs our life and everything comes from His hand, then coming across the animal of our enemy, straying or in distress, is not our ‘good fortune’ to be cruel to the animal of our enemy, rather, it is a ‘God ordained’ moment in which we can choose to forget our past bad history and perhaps be reconciled through this instance.”

In the Talmud we read one of the most famous of stories concerning the destruction of the Temple. “During the 1 century, a wealthy man sent his servant to deliver a party invitation to his friend; A man by the name of Kamsa. However, the servant mistook the recipient as Bar Kamsa, an enemy of the wealthy man. At the party, the wealthy man saw the hated Bar Kamsa at his table and ordered him to leave. Bar Kamsa, attempting to save face, offered to make peace with the host, first he offers to pay for the food he eats, then for half of the expenses of the party, and then for the entire party, but each time he is rebuffed by the angry host. Bar Kamsa is so humiliated that he vows to have revenge against the rabbis present who did not defend his honor and instead allowed him to be publicly embarrassed. Bar Kamsa visits the Roman Caesar who controls the region and tells him the Jews are inciting to revolt against the Roman Empire. The Caesar, unsure of whether to believe Bar Kamsa, sends an animal to be sacrificed as a peace offering in the Temple in Jerusalem along with Bar Kamsa. On the way, Bar Kamsa purposefully slightly wounds the animal in a way that would disqualify it as a Jewish sacrifice. The Caesar becomes incensed and sends an entire army to lay siege to Jerusalem, eventually leading to its downfall in the year 70 C.E. The Temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled from the land.” 

(Based on the storyline found on Wikipedia) Why? All because two enemies could not be reconciled; the wealthy host could have seen the moment he first laid eyes on Bar Kamsa as a “God-ordained-moment” in which he could extend forgiveness and friendship. Instead, it led to the destruction of a nation.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is a story in the Midrash. “Two donkey drivers who hated each other were walking on the road when one of the donkeys lay down under its burden. His companion saw it, and at first he passed on. But then he reflected: Is it not written in the Torah, ‘When you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden…you must [] raise it with him.’ So he returned, lent a hand, and helped his enemy in loading and unloading. They began talking. ‘Release a bit here, pull p over there, unload over here.’ Thus peace came about between them, so that the driver of the overloaded donkey said to himself, ‘Did I not suppose that he hated me? But look how compassionate he was with me.’ They entered an inn, ate and drank together, and became close friends.” Why? All because one enemy remembered and kept the words of Torah.
Dennis Prager writes, “Treat a personal enemy with fairness and respect, and the person might well find it impossible to remain an enemy.” One last thing about relating to enemies; Rabbi Sacks Z’TL writes in his commentary, “There is something distinctive about the Torah’s approach to hatred and enemies. It is realistic rather than utopian. It does not say, ‘Love your enemies.’ It says, help him…the Torah says, when your enemy is in trouble, come to his assistance…That is a practical way of moving beyond hate.” Our Master, Yeshua’s words, “Love your enemy” have unfortunately been gotten to the point to where they have become utopian and unrealistic. Why? Because we love the idea but hate the process. We are called to a life of aspiration and practical application. All in all, do not “follow a crowd to do evil,” instead, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”May we all become knowers of God and bright lights to this generation!

Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,

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