Jewish Potentiality- Shoftim, 5783
The world was created good.
But, as we were created in the Divine’s image, we also have the capacity to create things, and to destroy them…
The secret behind the existence of evil in the world, is that only broken things can be fixed.
This is related to the notion of Tikun Olam, “fixing the world” as The meaning of existence.
For the Meor Einayim, the way there starts with cultivating awareness.
After the Ecstasy…
“After the ecstasy, the laundry”
Jewish-Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield delves into this idea in his book about bringing insights from meditation into our everyday life.
And this is also a perfect depiction of Parashat Mishpatim
Right after the spiritual peak experience of the revelation at Sinai, “Mishpatim “(ordinances), as its name indicates, is all about legal dispositions.
The basic, literal reading (Pshat) suggests it’s about articulating laws concerning work, murder, or theft.
Codifying punishment in order to prevent uncontrollable impulsive vengeance.
It describes our moral responsibility to create a society that protects the vulnerable.
However, beyond an apparently mundane list of rules lies a powerful spiritual message.
The Destructive Power of Words
The Meor Einayim's commentary is centered on the opening verse of the Parashah:
‘And these are the rules that you shall set before them.’
וְאֵ֨לֶּה֙ הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר תָּשִׂ֖ים לִפְנֵיהֶֽם:
He focuses particularly on the choice of the verb ‘Tassim”: meaning placing (setting), ordering.
He reminds us that from a mystical perspective, the world is composed of permutations of letters (Tserufim): letters which are “placed” in a specific order.
These become words, and very often they evolve into actions, eventually becoming reality.
This is based on the notion that the world was created with ten utterances (“Let there be light”, “let the land produce vegetation”, etc.)
Because we were created in the Divine image, we, too, have a creative power through the words we utter.
And thanks to this we can build beautiful projects, businesses, and relationships through inspiring words.
But we can also break many things through the power of words, for example, when they become destructive ideologies.
“We need to understand who gave the wicked this power to destroy the world. But by our words, it may be understood that the [power of the] permutation of letters was given to Israel; a wicked person may thus reorder those letters to transform good into evil.”
To the Meor Einayim, this creative power through speech that we have been given is one of the main reasons for the suffering in the world.
The 20th century fascists regimes that were born on the foundations of destructive propaganda can serve as an example of how true this is.
But it’s not just the case for people who do bad things.
In everyday life, our words can be damaging without us even noticing.
Critiques heard in childhood can stick with us for a lifetime and impact the way we build our lives and relationships.
An honest comment, for us can mean a devastating rest of the day for someone else.
A disparaging remark said by someone can mean hours of therapy for the one who received it.
Unfortunately, we have all suffered and made suffer through our misuse of words.
Fortunately, this is not the end of the story. The remedy is in the problem.
Healing Through Awareness
If we have the power to destroy, we also have the power to fix. For the Meor Einayim, we can do so by bringing awareness (da’at) into our life.
He grounds his reflection on a Talmudic commentary about the “Sin Offering”.
Among the categories of Korbanot (offerings) brought by the Israelites to the Temple, one, in particular, was meant to atone for our mistakes.
For this one, the act of sacrificing an animal to the altar was not enough for us to be atoned.
The “Sin Offerings” required, in addition, for us to be in a specific mindset.
You probably never brought a Sin Offering, but it’s likely you’ve made a mistake or two; you have also probably known suffering.
Here the Talmud makes a connection between the Korban, and suffering: both have the power to atone, but both require a specific intentionality.
‘Just as the sin-offering requires awareness, so too does suffering’
In the Jewish spiritual tradition, suffering is one of the ways we atone for our mistakes.
It works when we consciously agree to meet what hurts. As our pride melts and our hearts soften, understanding can grow, and healing can occur.
Suffering, from a Jewish (mystical) perspective, can have the same role as a Korban to purify our souls. All it takes is bringing awareness to it.
Alignment, awareness, agency
“The [original] arrangement had been one of blessing and goodness; only one's sin distorted the line and disarranged the channels. Once that sin is atoned for through suffering, the order returns to its primal state.’
For the Meor Einayim, bringing awareness to our suffering has the power to rearrange the letters properly, fixing the damage that was created when we did wrong.
Most of us have met this truth in our lives
Maybe you’ve experienced your best personal growth after a difficult separation. Or maybe it took a professional failure for you to reassess choices you had made.
There is a powerful message of hope here:
Our capacity to open our eyes, to bring awareness to what we think, say and do in relation to what happens to us- is also part of our resilience.
In the language of the Meor Einayim, this is atonement through awareness. In the Jewish mystical language, this is Tikun Olam’ healing the world.
Yes, we have the power to hurt ourselves and others, and to “turn blessings into curses”.
But we can also revert things back into their natural alignment with the original order of the world- an order which, according to the Meor Einayim, is “originally good”.
Nothing that is misaligned is meant to stay this way. We can turn back curses into blessings.
All it takes is a little awareness.
Where would you like to shine that light today?