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Mishpatim: Trust, But Verify

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

A Temple Chai member approached me at the nosh a couple of weeks ago with the words, “Rabbi, can I ask you to do me a favor?” I replied, “Of course, anything!” And I really meant it! Knowing this individual as I do, I felt completely comfortable to say yes without hearing the details, certain that the person would never ask me to do anything that was immoral, illegal, inappropriate, or uncomfortable. And it turns out that I was correct in that judgment and was able to fulfill the request. What kind of trust does it take to say yes, unconditionally, no questions asked? Pres. Ronald Reagan famously said, “Trust, but verify.” Which are pretty wise words. Our currency in the US includes the words, “In God we trust,” to which one wit wryly replied, “All others pay cash.” In God we trust. Trust is not easy, not even trusting God, yet our Israelite ancestors express that incredible sense of commitment in this week’s Torah portion. Standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai, having just received the Ten Commandments, Moses reads the words of the covenant to the people, and they reply, “Everything that God says, we will do it and we will hear it.” “Naaseh v’nishmah.” “Kol.” “Everything.” Without even hearing the details! How could they possibly commit to everything? Surely they would want some provision, some escape clause, some get out of jail free card in case God comes up with something so outrageous that they feel like they must reject it. But no. The Israelites are ready to take on the commandments with the hope that through their actions they will come to an understanding of the life-enhancing meaning that lies beneath the surface. We use the term “Orthodoxy,” meaning the adoption of a particular belief. Really, Judaism is more about “Orthopraxy,” practicing our faith. We imagine that through our behavior- naaseh- what we DO, we will come to understand- nishma. Sometimes we just need to move forward. There are things in life that defy intellectual understanding. We just need to jump in and learn through doing, kind of an on the job training. When I decided to be a rabbi, I don’t think I really had any idea of what that actually meant. Now, many years later, I feel comfortable saying that I have learned through action. Stephen Covey writes that, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” When we have trust, we feel safe. We can open up and we can be vulnerable and we can be unafraid to admit that we are wrong. We know that the person with whom we are in relationship has our best interest at heart. Society can’t function without a certain amount of trust in each other. Trust is the foundation of relationships. And we see in this week’s parsha, in the words of the Israelites, an expression of that same trust in God. That, having left everything that was comfortable and familiar in Egypt, despite the enslavement, leaping into a journey to the unknown, they trust that God will be with them and they can trust in God’s care. Thus, they spoke with one voice- “Naaseh, v’nishma.” The prophet Jeremiah promises that those who trust in God will be blessed. (17:8) He offers these beautiful images- that that person will be like a tree, planted by water with no concern when heat comes or in times of drought, always green and bearing fruit. Beautiful images and would that it were so. Sadly, we know that trust in God, alone, is not enough to forestall times of difficulty and great challenge, to guarantee a life “with no concern.” We know too many people of faith who suffer terrible wounds on their journey through life. Yet, we hope and pray that a little bit of faith, a little bit of trust, may alleviate the fear and the worry which come to us so naturally as we face the hard times. Our ancestors’ trust sustained them for 40 years of desert wandering. May we be blessed with a small measure of the optimism, the confidence, that they express in the words, “Naaseh v’nishma.” We may not understand in the moment. May we blessed that through our doing, through our connection to God and to each other, that we may find the peace that comes from being part of a deep tradition, thousands of years in the making.

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