1/29/22 MISHPATIM (EXODUS 21.1- 24.18)
I started a new job a few weeks ago. This doesn’t have anything to do with being queer, or the Torah, not really, but these past two weeks I have been working like crazy and this week I just didn’t have time to do this reading, which meant that by the time I knew it, another Saturday had come around, and all of a sudden I had TWO Torah portions to read (in two different books- so, four), FOUR different commentaries, and two of my own commentaries to write up. Even as much as a like doing this, it doesn’t feel good to have things pile up.
Parshah Mishpatim lists a plethora of laws handed down by G-d on Mt Sinai to the Israelites, including all sorts of things from obeying your parents to bestiality to how to properly borrow clothes (return it in the condition it came). The Israelites agree to these things, send some elders up Sinai, and then those guys SEE G_D. Wait, what?!? Then Moses goes up to Sinai for 40 days. End of section.
Hold on. They see G-d. Yup. For REAL. We get a teeny tiny little minor description:
“And they saw
The G-d of Israel: beneath his feat
(something) like work of sapphire tiles,
(something) like the substance of the heavens in purity. (24:10)
And that’s it. Nothing more about that it said. That’s IT. Okay, actually that’s not true. What I mean is no more description is given. But actually MORE about it is said. Just in case you didn’t catch it- the Torah repeats it again immediately. It tells you- yup- you heard that right. A bunch of people DID in deed see G-d. AND they didn’t die. 24:11 says that “ The Pillars of the Children of Israel, he did not send forth his hand- they beheld Godhood…” (that’s from Fox). The King James Version says “nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God…”. So clearly the Torah is making this very clear. Those dudes saw G-d. period.
Okay. So there’s probably other stuff I should be writing about from this parshah. Particularly the beautiful subject of BOTH of the commentaries from this week- the idea of being reminded over and over to care for strangers because you must remember that you were once a stranger in a strange land. For these beautiful commentaries- which directly speak to acceptance of others, and feel so tied to queer experience, I could not find free copies available online but the whole books are worth buying if you are able anyway. But also- you can check out the work of the Rabbis from this week's sections- from WTC this week the writing (which I LOVED) was by Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer Phd, and in TQ the commentary was by Rabbi David Ellenson.
But, in any case, I just kept thinking about this other part. Like, that there are so few people in the people in the bible that get to see G-d. And then I started thinking. Well, is that really true? I am thinking back about Moses…and Jacob… Hagar… But wait, am I remembering right? And so I started looking into it. And the accounts I am finding online don’t seem very definitive. Especially considering we HAVE the text. It seems like these things are all sort of.. well, fuzzy. Well, maybe its just fuzzy for me. Like, just to take Hagar for example- if she saw “G-d’s messenger” but then “realized it was “G-d” and was correct- is that G-d or not? As far as I can tell everyone seems to agree that the answer to that is No, she didn’t actually SEE G-d. But, like, I don’t know. Do we know? Does it matter? And same with Jacob. I know his dream was a vision, but when he wrestled, we say he “wrestled with G-d”- we even call him “G-d Wrestler”. Additionally, and more problematically- the more I searched- I found things about the verbs used when talking about “meeting” god. And did Moses only ever see G-d’s back? And does that even make sense? And so once again, I find myself wondering, how much can we know when we are reading interpretations of translations or translations.
But, if the whole reason that this verse stood out to me is this- that maybe more people can connect with G-d than we thought, then maybe the words don’t matter so much. Maybe what matters is this little previously overlooked verse (at least to me) shows that people- even those the bible doesn’t even bother to NAME- can “behold G-dhood.”