Parashat Mishpatim is a perfect storm. Opening the book of Exodus during volatile political times is an exercise in confirmation bias in the best of cases, but Mishpatim speaks to our current reality – in an election year, no less – in uncanny ways.
Like many of you, I’ve been following the headlines about the Coronavirus outbreak. While I leave assessments of this new virus to the epidemiologists and public health experts, I think we can glean meaningful insights about our moral responses by reading between the headlines.
Now that the chanukkiyot are packed away, the candlewax has been scraped from window sills, the dinners, the Season’s post cards, the gift wrappings, champagne corks and fireworks are behind us, what we have left to reflect on are not only our expanded waistlines but the family relationships we built during the winter Holiday Season.
The portion opens with a crisis: Isaac marries Rebecca and they, like Abraham and Sarah, are confronted with infertility. It only takes three verses to paint a complete picture of their marriage, their challenges and their much-wanted pregnancy.
It’s not just the tryptophan in the turkey; there is an unmistakable mellowness to a Thanksgiving dinner that feels Shabbosdik: where people take the time to relax, talk, eat and savor the company of loved ones. Not only that, it is one of the few American holidays where this country – of incessant consumption and entrepreneurism – shuts down, in the best possible way.
My oldest and I have had several philosophical conversations on the nature of ‘truth’: he asks me whether fairytales are real, and I have responded to him that things may not be real – as in factual and empirical – but can still be true – as in the values they hold and the ideas they drive.