Divrei Torah



Parshat Mishpatim/Shabbat Shkalim      In Order to Be Like Angels

We pray for Rabbi Langner.



Why is it that we sing Shalom Aleichem to each other on Friday night? To welcome angels of G-d into our homes. The angels of G-d have their own world. Why does everyone ask to be blessed by the angels? Wouldn’t G-d’s blessing be the one we seek? Shabbat’s paradise is G-d’s given. G-d made it personally for each of us. Our portion of Eden is in our G-d-relation. What we have built for Him this past week is what we enjoy, the garden we have built for G-d. We receive back what we put in. Angels are mere witness to this. They are wonder and praise but no action. And the request is that they bless me that my product leads to completion and peace. Barkhuni la-shalom.

The only other song we sing on Shabbat during the ceremony at the home is Eshet Chayil. The soldier’s bride. Rabot banot asu chayil v’at alit al kulanah. “There are many women who have done valiantly, but you surpass them all.” When chayil is used in this phrase, what exactly does it mean? And why are these the only two songs prefacing the shabbat evening?

I believe that the two songs are interrelated, and that they are sung to each other. The angels are implored in Shalom Aleichem because they are a couple in love. We ask them, not G-d, to bless us because it is their relationship that does the blessing. G-d is One and One alone and has His Divine relation with each creature in the universe. But the love of one another, and of one to each other, is what we are wishing for. Not to bless the master and mistress of the home, the family or children individually, but that each of them is personally blessed by those angels with their love for each other.  “May I be a worthy partner in my life’s love.” It is so beautiful, I simply couldn’t request it. It would be untoward to beg to be able to love to such completion.

Eshet chayil is more than valor. It signifies a strength of being. A steadfast strength withstanding any whirl. “Because of this woman, I am alive.” We say so magnificently to one another: may you go from strength to strength. We bless each other to go to strength, and then to strength again: “May that be your pathway.” That you forge together through the unknown. L’chayil, l’chayil.  The title of the song really means the woman who brings strength. That’s who you marry. That’s who you adventure with.

Parshat Mishpatim is the application of the previous parsha. It is the living Judaism of the Ten Commandments.  It is how to raise life toward the ideal that was in Parshat Yitro. That ideal can only have meaning when in use, and this sedre gives us concrete spiritualism. It shows us that life’s value is not in the concept; it is in the actualization. Birth is life and not the same as potential. The giving to the poor matters more than the want to give. The healing of the sick is worthwhile, not the wish for the cure. Ritual has to send the soul to transforming. Slaves must be freed even if they don’t have volition. The Ten Commandments not only call but also press from inside to make the sacrosanct evident. And you are the gauge of this evidence. You must have the careful introspection to know your own truth on this gauging. The term used is cheshbon nefesh, an accounting of the soul. It is all that matters in life, to be done as often as you can withstand. If you do this every night before you recite the shema, you have closed your eyes into the deepest recesses. You should press your eyes into complete darkness when you say the shema. And you should close your mouth to total breathlessness when you say Baruch Shem Kavod. And then when reciting V’ahavta our heart’s pumping should be felt so that it’s the only motion left in our body. B’chol levavcha, uvchol nafshecha, uvchol me’odecha.  The shema and the Ten Commandments are one, as we find out in the book of Deuteronomy, when they are placed side-by-side in Parshat Va’etchanan. G-d is One: the first of the commandments is repeated in the first sentence of the shema. Anochi Hashem. “I am the Lord your G-d.” In Judaism prayer is substance, and we also say that prayer is an action, a duty of the heart. Know that every prayer you recite is a blessing into eternity. It echoes from the heart and is given its lifelong sincerity. Be careful with your prayers, the Hasidic masters warn.

The first paragraph of the Shema, V’ahavta, is the strangest commandment in the Torah. You can’t command a heart to love or a soul to passion. You can only command a heart to beat or a soul to breathe or to restore itself, or a passion to express itself. But you can’t demand love, because it’s only alive through a freedom and through a choice. But G-d does command to it be itself to its fullest volition. G-d hearkens the heart and guides the soul and directs the passion to find itself outside of itself. The word ahavah, “to love”, comes from hav, “to give.” And the greatest free will a human being has is their majesty of generosity. To be able to give more than take. This is to find the G-dly in the relationship. It is the greatest present that G-d gives us in our quest to love and be loved.

The best thing in life is a warm heart, and coldheartedness the worst. I know of no formula to recover if you were raised by a parent with a cold heart, none except to be vigilant to the moment to ensure that you yourself always stay warmhearted, even exaggeratedly so. Madness is near if G-d forbid you never felt a passion from your mother’s heart emanating. And yet I know people who have done it, who were blessed with chayil and with partners who overwhelmed the cold stone muscles of their heart, pulsing now anew with love. It’s the challenging chances of life that show us that G-d has given us the opportunity to find our matter mattering for others in the warm pulse/beat of the heart of love. May your angels bless you this and every shabbas. Shabbat shalom.

We commemorated the first yartzeit of Baruch Tegegne last month. He was the Ethiopian leader that pressed Israel to fulfill Operation Moses and Operation Solomon, the successful missions to evacuate Ethiopian Jews.  He hesitated to come back to Israel to continue the next stage of uplifting Beta Israel within the country. He envisioned a model teaching-village to be rebuilt in Rehovot. The transformation of these people went through centuries, maybe even a millenium. And they needed him and his leadership to hold their values and identity to contributing their greatness into Israel’s. It was not just to redeem the people that mattered; it was to give them the belief in themselves that they have substance.  He gave direct and complete evidence that this part of the nation has substance and has risen to the next standard, to the status of heroes. But he resisted going back. He said to me: “I’ve been forgotten. They don’t even know their history beyond these thirty years of living inIsrael. My people have lost their values. And I don’t know what I’ve done.” I pressed him to love them. I said: “You love them! You loved them then, and you still love them now. You have to be their Moses and their Joshua and their Solomon and lead them – not just to the Promised Land, but also to their own promise. You have to remind them who they should be and become. Because that’s what a lover does, even if he gets lost in the process. You have to remind them of their own strength. You have to be their eshet chayil; in order to love like the angels.” Shabbat shalom.


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