Ellen Dannin for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
Filling the Earth With God's Presence
Haftarah Yitro from last week includes words so important they were made part of the service: “Holy, holy, holy! All the earth is filled with the presence of the Lord of Hosts.”
Or it could be, if we made room for that presence.
Making room for God is a task set for us by all of Jewish teaching, and it is one whose details are included in Parashat Mishpatim.
It is only a few weeks since we read that the children of Israel were freed from a Mitzraim (Egypt) of violence, hatred, and slavery. Yet here we have a parashah (Torah portion) in which the children of Israel have constructed a quarrelsome, hate-filled, violent world of Jewish slave owners. Many of the rules in Mishpatim tell us to respond to evil behavior with violent punishment, often with death. We may be repelled by what we read here and assume that is some long past time that says nothing about our world.
But if we think that, we need to pay more attention to the line of the birchot ha-shachar, the morning blessings, about opening the eyes of the blind. If we could only look at our own society as an outsider does, we would find equal levels of violence and oppression all around us. Where here can we find God’s presence?
We are looking in the wrong places if we think that all we need to do is open our eyes. Filling the earth with God’s presence means that we must take on the task of making space for it. To do that, we must reclaim that space inch by inch from pushing out evil conduct.
This is an enormous task, but it is a task that demands attention to small details. They offer the greatest opportunities for us to act.