by Rabbi Mark Goldsmith
North Western Reform Synagogue
, Alyth Gardens, London
This Shabbat my family celebrates the Bat Mitzvah of our eldest daughter Alice. In her D’var Torah on Parashat Mishpatim Alice talks about her journey of learning during the year: from feeling that her portion was, in her words, “a series of rules which are irrelevant today” to understanding why what is behind these rules is the very basis of Judaism’s uniqueness.
The Torah presents the Jewish encounter with God at Mount Sinai as a total transformation of how religion can work for human beings. The Jewish religion was not going to be about finding some magical way of getting a god to do humanity’s will. It was not going to be about doing the right ecstatic dance, the right chant, the right meditation to pull a god into solving our life challenges.
No, the Jewish religion was going to be about God helping humanity to understand what we need to do to make our lives and the lives of others better. Last Shabbat’s Ten Commandments starts the process with a broad brush, and this Shabbat’s Mishpatim tells us that very specific ways of dealing with one another will build a better world. It is about care for those for whom we are responsible, about lending graciously to the poor, about being just and fair to all and about giving our best in the service of God – our first fruits, not our last.
Mishpatim tells us that a Jew is never to consider it religious to be a passive worshipper; rather, to be a religious Jew is to be one who will not accept an unfair world and who works to change it for the better in partnership with God.
This Shabbat is also Shabbat Shekalim, when European Progressive Jews help to build our Judaism in the Former Soviet Union and Israel with our contributions, just like those made in the Temple of old. Again we do not wait for something magical to happen, we go out and build.
Accepting Jewish responsibility is the keynote of Alice’s Bat Mitzvah for her. Exercising that responsibility remains the key task of every Jewish adult who hears the call from Mount Sinai this Shabbat.
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