FEBRUARY 8, 2018 – As I write this, the North Shore Mikvah is nearing completion. It will be a community mikvah, open to all. We are closer than ever before to celebrating this milestone achievement.
Last week we read the portion of Yitro. Though the highlight is the description of Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah, there is something else that is arguably as, or dare I say even more powerful. In describing the scene at the foot of the mountain, the Torah goes to great lengths to describe the diversity of the Jewish Community: “Your heads of tribes, men, women, and children, the water carriers, the woodchoppers …”
Now this alone might not be such big news. It’s fairly obvious that even back then, people came in different sizes, shapes, and colors. They came with different opinions, and differing approaches to anything and everything. So much so that Moses spent his days and nights working things out between people who simply couldn’t see eye to eye.
Even Aharon his brother and deputy, was known for his ability to be a peacemaker, described lovingly by the Torah as “Ohev Shalom, Verodef Shalom,” a lover of peace and a broker of feuds par excellence. So what was the big deal here in describing the obvious, that it was a diverse and by no means homogenous nation that gathered at the foot of Sinai? The answer lies in these powerful words. Despite all the differences, they camped at the foot of the mountain “Ki eesh Echad Be lev Echad,” or like one person with one heart. That was the big deal.
Despite the differences, they were able to see past the outer layers and rally together in anticipation of a collective glimpse of the Divine. The North Shore Mikvah is one of those Sinai moments for this community. The mikvah is a major league Jewish institution that is larger than any single denomination. It is a sacred ritual practice that predates denominational demarcation, and manages to continue to rise above it. The proof is in the pudding. There are more Jews of all ages and backgrounds reclaiming this transformative spiritual practice than ever before in Jewish history. The mikvah revolution is in full swing. Our community is no exception. This mikvah has the full support of all the rabbis in the community, and it will be yet another way for us all to come closer as a kehilla that fosters respect, dialogue, and solidarity.
Last week’s portion – Yitro, and this weeks Torah portion of Mishpatim could not be more different, and yet ultimately they belong together. One describes the out of body experience of Revelation at Sinai, the ultimate Jewish paradigm of G-dly inspiration, while the other is a set of laws that focuses, to a large degree on the conflicts that arise from our routine, human interactions with one another.
The truth is, especially in light of the above, that these two portions complement each other perfectly. If we truly believe that the Torah is divinely inspired, then we don’t have to look further than the Book of Genesis to be reminded that when the Torah says that we were created “Btzelem Elokim,” – in the Image of G-d” – it meant all of us, Jews and gentiles alike.
That also means that Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and unaffiliated Jews are all equally created in the Image of G-d. So perhaps the juxtaposition of these two portions is a timely reminder of that basic spiritual truth. It places the episode of the giving of the Torah, a place where that interconnection is highlighted, next to the portion where it is easiest to forget.
It is precisely in those moments where the overarching truth of our intrinsic bond is less obvious, that we have to step up and reinforce it.
Rabbi Yossi Lispker directs Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore.