Direct communication with the Eternal

Thoughts on parashat Tetzaveh

Menachem Mirski

To do the right thing is different from calling for or justifying doing the right thing. Practically speaking, these two do not always go together. Similarly, doing wrong/bad is different than trying to whitewash or justify the wrong/bad. Justified good is not particularly more good than just good, although the justifications may perpetuate more good. Justified bad has a capacity to become much more bad/evil than just bad. In the human world things generally gravitate towards bad if simply left alone and are not taken care of. It may have something to do with the structure of the universe, the laws of thermodynamics and of entropy. Sometimes we face difficult decisions in our life in which we deal with contradictory solutions that may have long lasting consequences, because things are very polarized.

When things stand on the edge, so to speak, when the decision in one direction can result in various benefits and blessings, and in the other direction it can be disastrous; in such troubled times, people throughout history have often entrusted their fate to higher than human authority, or at least believed they were doing it. In our Torah portion for this week, we find a description of one of the instruments that was used for direct consultation with the Most High, precisely for the purpose of making the appropriate decision:

Inside the breastpiece of decision you shall place the Urim and Thummim so that they are over Aaron’s heart when he comes before יהוה. Thus Aaron shall carry the instrument of decision for the Israelites over his heart before יהוה at all times. (Ex 28:30)

What were Urim and Thummim? These were very mysterious elements, often imagined as stones, that make the High Priest breastplate work. The breastplate was made from 12 precious stones on which the names of the 12 Israeli tribes were engraved. According to the Ramban commentaries, following Talmud (Yoma 77), also the names of the Patriarchs were included on the breastplate, together with the words Shivtei Yeshurun – the Tribes of Yeshurun. In this way all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet were on the breastplate. Urim ve’Thummim were placed inside the breastplate and through them the Eternal illuminated certain letters from the names on the breastplate and the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) would arrange them to compose words. For example, when the Israelites asked, „Who shall go up for us against the Canaanite?” (Kings 1:1), the letters of the word „Yehudah” lit up, along with the letter yud of Levi, ayin of Shimon, lamed of Levi and he of Avaham, spelling out the word ya’ale – „Yehudah will go up.”

The entire priestly breastplate is called Choshen Mishpat, which is the Hebrew for „Breastplate of Judgment”. (Ex 28:15) The original breastplate with the Urim ve’Thummim was lost with the destruction of the First Temple and has never been found since then.

An interesting, symbolic interpretation of what Choshen Mishpat was and of its function can be found in the commentary of Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz, 1550-1619, who lived in Prague.) He quotes another commentator, Akeidah, who finds allusions in the form of the breastplate of judgment for how Jewish justice must operate. Each row had three stones: this is an allusion to batei din (Jewish courts) manned by three judges. Some of the stones were more precious, others less precious –  this teaches us that rich and poor are equal in the sight of the law, and that cases involving small amounts of money must be viewed as gravely as those involving large sums. The names of Yaakov’s sons were engraved in the stones according to their birth sequence, to teach that both the older and the younger judges’ opinions must be heard. The Urim ve’Thummim were set in the breastplate to teach that dayanim – „the judges in batei din” – bring light to the entire world. The judges are called „the eyes of the community,” for they shed light on the issues that confound the litigants.

When we put it on a more general level it teaches us that justice is a fundamentally social venture. Consequently, it teaches us about the partiality of our human individual judgment. It also teaches us that the pinnacle of justice is the Divine voice in it. This pinnacle marks both the ideal and the highest aspiration of human judgment. So let us take care of this ideal, because without it our judgment will always be lame. Doing something right, with long lasting consequences is often accompanied by various odds trying to prevent the right thing to happen. But there is the divine light, which we are able to comprehend, that keeps us continuing to strive for good, and it is this light that ultimately overcomes all darkness.

Shabbat shalom,

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.


 The perpetual cycle of seeing the bad only

Thoughts on parashat Mishpatim

 Menachem Mirski 

The country is difficult when everything seems to be the simplest to everyone
The country is beautiful when everything seems bad to everyone

Marek Grechuta, Jeszcze pożyjemy / Yet we will live

Parashat Mishpatim is extraordinarily rich in laws, judgements and statutes governing every facet of human existence. Many laws and norms found in our sidra are specifications of the laws contained in the Decalogue, which is in the previous Torah portion. This comprehensive legislation covers relations between man and man, man and society, man and his enemy and even between man and animal or plant. And while some of them may appear out of date at first glance, some of them are timeless and unquestionably relevant also in today’s world:

And you shall be holy men to me: neither shall you eat any meat that is torn of beasts in the field; you shall cast it to the dogs. Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thy hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to incline after a multitude to pervert justice: nor shalt thou favor a poor man in his cause. (Ex 22:30-23:1-3)

The first one, about not eating meat that is torn from an animal, is obvious to all of us. But I included it in the quotation above because for me they are logically a whole (and this whole is part of a larger whole). I believe that the essence of these words is the following: you shall be mindful and civilized, starting with what we eat and ending with our social behavior and political involvement. Not a lot of commentary is required to these words, that seem to be self-evident. But our parasha contains more wisdom regarding social life, and one of the most important of these is expressed in our parasha twice:

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Ex 22:20)

Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Miżrayim. (Ex 23:9)

The idea to treat the stranger fairly / love him (because you were strangers in the land Egypt) is expressed in the Torah at least a dozen times. One might well ask why the Torah places so much emphasis on this. I believe that the answer is the following: The Torah is fully aware of the historical cycle of oppression happening between various nations and social groups, sees evil in it and therefore orders us not to act on the impulse of retaliation, in order to break this cycle.

This idea is extremely relevant today, especially because from Marx, throughout the twentieth century to the present day, it has become very popular to view history as an endless conflict between the oppressors and the oppressed. Some thinkers and academics see this concept even as a key to understanding the entire human history. Not questioning the fact that the processes of reciprocal, perpetual oppression take place in human history, I strongly disagree that it is THE KEY to understand history and society. Furthermore, I believe that viewing history only through this lens is very simplistic. Why? Because people fundamentally cooperate and viewing history exclusively through the lens of perpetual oppression makes us overlook this positive process of cooperation which is the fundament of our civilization, civilizational development and the source of everything good that humanity brought to the world!

I understand why some people so strongly insist on viewing history and social affairs through the oppressor/oppressed lens: being particularly focused on what is still bad in our society is often a sign of great concern for the good of society. This idea is captured in the song by the Polish singer and poet, Marek Grechuta, which I quoted at the beginning: The country is beautiful when everything seems bad to everyone. But the problem is that it cuts both ways. Being completely one-sided and overly negative in perceiving the world and human affairs does a great psychological harm to us and our communities. Talking all the time about various groups fighting and oppressing each other makes us resentful and causes a desire for revenge to sprout in us. This leads people create various harmful concepts like the one of “good discrimination” (i.e. because people from one group historically oppressed another group of people it is now good and just to reverse the process and oppress the former oppressors, as a group). If we lose control over it and let these feelings escalate, it will only lead to violence. And this is exactly what the Torah wants to prevent us from doing, at the very beginning of this entire process!  The essential part of it is forgiveness: if you want to be forgiven, you have to be able to forgive others, no matter what their identity is. The Torah teaches:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD. (Lev 19:18)

The concept of breaking the cycle of perpetual, mutual oppression has the same goal as other laws in our parasha, including these quoted above: to raise us to a higher civilizational level. Thus, let us not be fooled by all sorts of concepts that question the wisdom of the Torah and let us continue in the process of social and moral self-improvement.


Shabbat shalom!

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

To Share the Sparks of Divine Wisdom

To Share the Sparks of Divine Wisdom

Thoughts on Parashat Beha’alotecha

 Menachem Mirski

When we look around at the life of our society, we often wonder why these or those problems and injustices take place. We find answers here and there, in the media, in the scientific literature, or in the opinions of other people. These answers are true to varying degrees. There are those that include deep and complicated analyses – they are usually presented by scientists, philosophers etc. There are plenty of simple or superficial answers to these problems – these are usually presented by politicians. The criterion of their truthfulness, however, is basically one: their practical effectiveness – whether they help to remove the problems they speak about or not.

This week’s Torah portion speaks about this kind of social problem: we have a story of Israelites complaining that they have no meat to eat. (Numbers 11:4-15) This complaint causes the Divine wrath, which is, however, stopped (temporarily) by Moses. But let’s pause here and analyze this part of the story in a bit greater depth. Midrash Sifre explains that the demand for meat could be a cause for God’s vexation, however, not for the fact that the Israelities indeed lacked meat, but for the fact they did not lack it while wandering through the desert. The Torah tells us that they left Egypt with great flocks of sheep and herds of cattle:

…A mixed multitude went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds.
(Exodus 12:38).

They had not consumed them all in the desert. Surely they ate some, but the herds increased during 40 years of wandering – when they were about to enter the land we are told that:

The Reubenites and the Gadites owned cattle in very great numbers.
(Numbers 32:1)

Thus, it was not the complete lack of meat that made the Israelities complaining. But it is possible that these two tribes – Reubenites and Gadites – had more, or even much more livestock than the 10 remaining tribes. If that was the case, then it would mean that only some of the Israelites lacked meat to eat and only some of them complained. There are two other hints regarding this matter in our parasha. First, Moses, when speaking with God, confirms, that they indeed had livestock:

Could enough flocks and herds be slaughtered to suffice them? Or could all the fish of the sea be gathered for them to suffice them?” (Numbers 11:22)

But at the same time the way Moses speaks about it suggests that there was some gluttonous desire an insatiability involved here, which is completely in line with what we find in the verse 11:4:

The riffraff in their midst felt a gluttonous craving; and then the Israelites wept and said, If only we had meat to eat! (Numbers 11:4).

Thus, what is really going on here is that the group of people called in Hebrew ha’aspesuf, which can be translated as the riffraff, rabble or mob is frustrated and expresses a gluttonous craving: the Hebrew hit’avu ta’ava can be translated as they coveted with lust. Why did they desire the meat so lustfully? Because they were hungry? Not necessarily. It’s possible that they complained because others had meat and they didn’t. This reading is confirmed by Ramban, who says that the wealthier ones had meat in the desert all the time. Some people tend to view the Israelites wandering through the desert as some sort of “equally disadvantaged” group of people who just left the country where they were all “equally oppressed.” In fact, there is neither textual, nor common-sense evidence that this view is correct. It seems that even in Egypt there was disparity between the Israelites, both in the matter of wealth and social status – if they even existed in Auschwitz (as described in P. Levi or J. Amery writings for example), why should they not exist in Egypt, in place where, despite slavery and the terrible living conditions, our ancestors could survive, had families and were able to meet their needs. They all left Egypt with what they had, some had more and some had less. Then, while encamping in the desert, some were frugal and resourceful, and some others were lazy or wasteful, as people normally are.

Therefore, it seems that the Divine wrath that followed their complaints was not an irritation of a Deity who has anger management issues and finds pleasure in torturing the poor, disadvantaged people. It seems that this Divine anger was a common form of spiritual unrest that stemmed from more complex social phenomena: frustration, gluttony, greed, lack of spiritual discipline and perhaps some general, unjust social divisions among the Israelite tribes.

Poverty isn’t good but it is not poverty itself that causes unrest, hatred and violence. There are plenty of poor and disadvantaged societies in the world where the crime rate is not higher than in our affluent, Western societies. It is the relative poverty that causes all of that; it is the situation in which some people lack perspectives to grow, to obtain better social status, while seeing others doing well and constantly moving up in the social hierarchy. This happens, on a smaller or larger scale, in every human society. But the reasons it happens are not purely ‘systemic’; it is not only due to the fact how the society is organized. There are plenty of equally valid reasons for which unrest and injustices happen: educational, cultural and spiritual. It really matters what people are being taught in our societies: whether they are taught frugality and (spiritual) discipline, or entitlement, wastefulness and balagan are being tolerated or even rewarded. It really matters whether we really teach social solidarity and sensitivity towards the needs of others, or these are all just phony upper class gestures made to feel morally better and to appease ‘the mob’.

Therefore, given the complexity of the problem, ein la’davar sof – there is no end in the strivings for justice in our societies. We all should be actively involved in it. God, in His response to Moses’ intercession for the Israelites singles out seventy elders whom He bestows with His Divine spirit. It was all done to heal the Israelite community and to teach them self-control, mindfulness and to fill them with spiritual strength, joy and hope. All these things matter enormously and they cannot be brought or changed ‘systemically’. It is a spiritual duty of every human individual: everyone of us should share the spark of the Divine wisdom he or she obtained. The work towards justice and peace is to a large extent on us, common people: we have to teach each other and learn from each other as much as we can.

Shabbat shalom!

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA

Chayei Sarah

Age gracefully, time is on your side

Thoughts on parashat Chayei Sarah

Menachem Mirski

What is time? Time is a measure of the variability of all things. Although this definition may not be sufficient, for example, in astrophysics, it is completely sufficient for our human, earthly perspective and living experience.

Life is reborn in cycles. Our imagination, dominated by Euclidean geometry, often gives us a linear vision of time. It is enough to „superimpose one on the other” to get possibly the most adequate vision of time: time is a spiral. This vision corresponds with our everyday experience: each day brings us something new and even if we experience the same things cyclically, the experience is slightly different each time. The same dinner, made according to the same recipe again, will taste slightly different.

Of course, for all these new experiences there comes an end which is ultimately marked by death. The Torah portion this week describes the death of the mother and the father of our nation(s) – Sarah and Abraham. According to midrash Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer (Chapter 31) Sarah died of despair after learning that Abraham had murdered their only son Isaac by sacrificing him on Mount Moriah:

When Abraham returned from Mount Moriah, Satan[1] became infuriated. He had not gotten what he desired, which was to thwart the sacrifice of Abraham.  What did he do?  He went to Sarah and asked: “Did you hear what happened in the world?”  She answered, “No.”  He said, “Abraham took Isaac his son and slaughtered him, offering him up on the altar as a sacrifice.” Sarah began to cry, and moan the sound of three wails which correspond to the three blasts of the shofar, and her soul burst forth from her and she died.  Abraham came only to find that she had died. From where had he come? From Mount Moriah.

This midrash sees Sarah’s death as tragic: she died of despair after hearing Satans’ lie. It is interesting, however, that Abraham’s death is quite opposite of Sarah’s:

This was the total span of Abraham’s life: one hundred and seventy-five years. And Abraham breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented; and he was gathered to his kin.

Abraham died at a good ripe age, old and content. This is the kind of death we all desire. Is there Jewish wisdom that would help us to “achieve this goal?”.

Yes. Woven into the fabric of Judaism there are many views and values and ideas that help us achieve this contented death. I will try to summarize some of these ideas.

Perhaps first is teaching the younger generation to have respect for the elder generation which starts with honoring parents (Ex 20:12), but also all elders in society, the importance of which cannot be overestimated.

You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD. (Lev 19:32)

We are commanded to respect our elders even if they no longer possess their mental capacities. Traditionally, the source for this teaching is the Ten Commandment tablets that Moses shattered, which were kept alongside the new tablets in the Ark of the Covenant. It teaches that we must continue to respect the elderly, even when they are intellectually „broken.”

The older generations should be credited for what they have done – and they have done quite a bit: they built the entire world in which you live. This awareness is especially salient for those that experience a life of comfort and luxury. Your elders are those that made it happen through their hard work. While there are countless examples one only must think of the state of Israel. At any time, for any reason, we always NOW have a safe haven. This miracle is on the backs of our elders that went to Israel and moved rocks and dug through mud to make this thriving democracy. Tell me, doesn’t just thinking about them bring you deep joy and gratitude? Respect your elders.

While we are commanded to respect our elders – we also have a responsibility as human beings at all stages to do whatever we can to stay mentally clear and physically fit  in order to guide “our” next generation. This commandment can be seen as a two-way street – I will nurture my mental faculties in order to share and inform your generation and you must agree to listen, respect and ultimately do the same to your next generation.

If you are a mid-age person, learn humility and to accept the changes time brings. You can still play sports at any age. You can still be fit and beautiful at any age. But being 60 you won’t beat a 23 years old athlete or 20 years old girl in a beauty contest. Of course this requires you to adapt to changes, but nevertheless, you can thrive. The remedy to defying aging is to constantly revise your habits and customs and not let them dictate completely your lifestyle. This, in its purest form, will prevent ‘spiritual aging’, which only accelerates physical aging, which can happen even in one’s youth. As Baal Shem Tov said once: “Do not forsake me in old age”: let not old age and stagnation rule my habits and customs. While aging brings less physical strength and a slower body, it also brings wisdom, which is a virtue and a blessing.

If you are not an older person, yet, you should remember that mental decline in old age is primarily preventable. You just need to keep working on your intellectual capabilities early enough and keep doing it throughout your life. Then, when you retire, your mind will be clear and you will finally have time to read all the books you have always wanted but have never had time for.

“He removes the speech of men of trust and takes away the sense of the elders.” But when it comes to aged scholars, it is not so. On the contrary, the older they get, the more their mind becomes composed, as it is said: “With aged men comes wisdom, and understanding in length of days.” (Mishnah Kinnim 3:6)

And you will not feel irrelevant and forced to hide away from the world during your “slow years”, which you shouldn’t do, because by doing it you don’t fulfill the purpose of the wisdom that you spent years accumulating and do a disservice to the younger generation that needs and relies on your wisdom.

When our bodies start to age – and this starts pretty early, around 25, we should start growing our spirit. The sooner the better. If we do that, we will have the capacity to overcome the fears of time and be able to be happy and content during our last days. We can grow our spirit in many ways: by learning, by doing moral actions, involving ourselves in intellectual activities, studying and performing art, being involved in social actions, charity and altruism and generally doing what is good beyond your own good.

Spirit, over time, takes some responsibilities of the body. As long as bodies are the dominant forces to animate themselves, they are to a large extent subjected to biology and all kinds of natural laws. Over time this determinism decreases (except time when you are sick) and that’s good news because we are becoming more and more free in our actions, including moral actions, and more aware of everything that determines our actions and their consequences. Talmud delineates the different stages of life: age 30 is for peak physical strength, and age 80 is for peak spiritual strength. In the contemporary, secular world, where physical strength and beauty is emphasized, a person at age 80 is – generally and unfortunately – regarded as having little value. In the Torah world, 80 is prime time!

You should never stop caring about your body and you should never stop caring for your spirit. We grow the spirit in the body and when the body becomes more and more fragile the spirit shall take over the care of the body. If you do all of that, time will not be your enemy, it will be on your side!

Gray hair is a crown of glory; It is attained by the way of righteousness.

(Proverbs 16:31)


Shabbat shalom,

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA

[1] Satan in Judaism is not a physical being ruling the underworld, rather, in the Torah, the word Satan indicates “accuser,” “hinderer” or “tempter.” Satan is therefore more an illusory obstacle in one’s way – such as temptation and evil doings – keeping one from completing the responsibilities of tikkun olam (fixing the world). Satan is the evil inclination to veer off the path of righteousness and faithfulness in God. (Jewish Virtual Library)


 Pan i jego niewolnik

Refleksja nad paraszą Miszpatim


Menachem Mirski

Porcję Tory na ten tydzień rozpoczyna kodeks prawa regulującego stosunki społeczne. Pierwsza część tego kodeksu (Ex 21:1-11) dotyczy niewolnictwa. Instytucja ta, jak wiadomo, istniała w starożytnym Izraelu, tak jak istniała w innych państwach i kulturach starożytności. Niewolnictwo w Izraelu nie miało jednak „totalnego” charakteru. Niewolnik miał swoje nienaruszalne prawa. Przede wszystkim, można było nabyć niewolnika tylko na sześć lat. Po tym okresie każdy niewolnik musiał być zwolniony. Dłuższy okres owej służby był możliwy tylko jeśli niewolnik dobrowolnie wyraził na to zgodę (Ex 21:5).

Nie wolno było także „ruszyć” żony (i w konsekwencji – kogoś z rodziny) niewolnika, jeśli była jego żoną zanim został on niewolnikiem. W tym przypadku cała rodzina niewolnika musiała być zwolniona wraz z nim. Jednakże w sytuacji kiedy to jego „pan dał mu żonę” sprawa się nieco komplikuje. Wers czwarty naszej porcji Tory mówi:

Lecz jeśli jego pan dał mu żonę, która zrodziła mu synów i córki, żona jak i dzieci będą należeć do pana, a on odejdzie sam (Szemot/Wj 21:4).

Z pozoru wydaje się jasnym co owe prawo mówi: w sytuacji, gdy małżeństwo zostało zawarte w czasie bycia niewolnikiem, żona i jej dzieci będą należeć do Pana. Jak wskazuje jednakże Raszi,  średniowiecznym komentator Tory i Talmudu, sprawa nie jest taka prosta i taka interpretacja jest słuszna tylko w pewnym przypadku. Wszystko zależy od tego, czy żona niewolnika była Izraelitką, czy nie-Izraelitką (w tym kontekście Kanaanitką). Jeśli była Izraelitką, ona i jej dzieci szły na wolność wraz z mężem (chyba, że on z własnej woli chciał zostać przy swoim panu, wtedy wszyscy zostawali). Jeśli nie była Izraelitką, była własnością jego pana i niewolnik szedł na wolność sam. Raszi uzasadnia swoje wnioski powołując się na inne prawo z Tory:

Jeśli się tobie sprzeda brat twój, Hebrajczyk lub Hebrajka, będzie niewolnikiem przez sześć lat. W siódmym roku wolnym go wypuścisz od siebie. Uwalniając go, nie pozwolisz mu odejść z pustymi rękami. Podarujesz mu cośkolwiek z twego drobnego bydła, klepiska i tłoczni. Dasz mu coś z tego, w czym Pan, Bóg twój, tobie pobłogosławił. Przypomnisz sobie, żeś był niewolnikiem w ziemi egipskiej i wybawił cię Pan, Bóg twój. Dlatego ci daję dzisiaj ten nakaz.(Dwarim/Pwt 15:12-15)

Właściciel był więc zobowiązany zwolnić po sześciu latach Izraelskiego niewolnika bez względu na jego płeć. Oczywiście, odnosząc się do owego „prawa sześciu lat” można zadać pytanie: co w sytuacji, gdy Izraelitka stała się niewolnicą i żoną Izraelity niewolnika w czasie, gdy ten był już niewolnikiem np. przez trzy lata. Czy wówczas właściciel mógł ją uznawać za swoją własność przez następne trzy lata i dopiero po tym czasie musiał zwrócić ją jej prawowitemu mężowi? Nie znam odpowiedzi na pytanie jak wyglądała rzecz w praktyce, ale sądzę, że zgodnie z prawem z Księgi Dewarim (15:12-15) zacytowanym powyżej, nakazującym nieodprawiania niewolnika „z pustymi rękami”, lecz przeciwnie, odprawiania z pewnym dobytkiem, starożytni, sprawiedliwi mędrcy czy sędziowie Izraelscy naciskali by w takiej sytuacji na konieczność odprawienia niewolnika ze wszystkim, co posiada, czyli z całą jego rodziną. Wedle żydowskiego prawa żona niewolnika była nietykalna i zabroniona innym mężczyznom. Traktowana była jako własność męża-niewolnika, skoro więc wedle powyższego prawa właściciel miał zwalnianego niewolnika obradować „z tego, co sam posiada”, tym bardziej musiał go odprawić z tym, co było jego własnością, a więc z jego żoną i rodziną.

Niewolnik i jego rodzina musieli też przestrzegać szabatu, co oznaczało, że było obowiązkiem ich pana dać im dzień wolny od pracy. Jest o tym wyraźnie mowa w Dekalogu:

Dzień zaś siódmy jest szabatem ku czci Pana, Boga twego. Nie możesz przeto w dniu tym wykonywać żadnej pracy ani ty sam, ani syn twój, ani twoja córka, ani twój niewolnik, ani twoja niewolnica, ani twoje bydło, ani cudzoziemiec, który mieszka pośród twych bram. (Szemot/Wj  20:10)

Niewolnik miał też prawo do prywatnej własności, nie wolno mu było jej odbierać, co jest również wyraźnie zaznaczone w Dekalogu, jego ostatnim przykazaniu:

Nie będziesz pożądał domu bliźniego twego. Nie będziesz pożądał żony bliźniego twego, ani jego niewolnika, ani jego niewolnicy, ani jego wołu, ani jego osła, ani żadnej rzeczy, która należy do bliźniego twego (Szemot/Wj 20:17).

Czym różniło się niewolnictwo w starożytnym Izraelu od opisanego na kartach Pięcioksięgu niewolnictwa egipskiego, którego przedmiotem był cały naród Izraela? To prawdopodobnie dość rozległy temat, ponadto bazując na samym prawie nie jesteśmy w stanie zrekonstruować tego, jak sytuacja wyglądała w praktyce. Z naszych źródeł wiemy jednak na pewno, że, przynajmniej w teorii, niewolnictwo w Izraelu nie było permanentne oraz nie było dziedziczone. I choć, z perspektywy współczesnego człowieka, niewolnictwo w starożytnym Izraelu było prawnie zalegalizowaną formą (tymczasowego) ucisku, to jednak system prawny starożytnego Izraela skonstruowany był zasadniczo tak, ażeby przeciwdziałać formom ucisku między ludźmi, zwłaszcza w sytuacjach, gdy różnica statusu pomiędzy danymi osobami w społeczeństwie była znaczna. Prawa te i normy były nakierowane na stworzenie całkowicie odmiennej, społecznej i politycznej rzeczywistości od tej znanej Izraelitom z Egiptu – uzasadnienie typu: Nie rób tak, bo tak postępowano w Egipcie jest dosyć często spotykane w kodeksie biblijnego prawa. Sytuacja wyglądała natomiast inaczej, gdy uciskającym był Bóg. Ale o tym powiemy sobie innym razem.

Szabat szalom!

Menachem Mirski



Religijność w dialogu z rozumem

Refleksja nad paraszą Yitro


Menachem Mirski

W porcji Tory na ten tydzień znajdujemy historię teścia Mojżesza, Jitro, który po tym jak usłyszał o wszystkim, co Bóg uczynił dla Mojżesza i Izraelitów wyprowadzając ich z Egiptu, postanawia dołączyć się do Mojżesza i narodu Izraela. Przybywa więc na pustynię, wraz z Mojżesza żoną oraz dwoma synami, których Mojżesz wcześniej odesłał i zostawił w Egipcie.

Następnego dnia po przybyciu, Jitro spotyka Mojżesza siedzącego na pustyni od rana do wieczora otoczonego tłumem ludzi. Widząc to wszystko zapytuje Mojżesza:

Czemu ty [sam] się zajmujesz sprawami ludu? Dlaczego sam zasiadasz na sąd, a cały lud musi stać przed tobą od rana do wieczora?» Mojżesz odpowiedział swemu teściowi: «Lud przychodzi do mnie, aby się poradzić Boga. Jeśli mają spór, to przychodzą do mnie i ja rozstrzygam pomiędzy stronami, oznajmiam prawa i przepisy Boże». Wtedy teść Mojżesza powiedział do niego: «Nie jest dobre to, co czynisz. Zamęczysz siebie i lud, który przy tobie stoi, gdyż taka praca jest dla ciebie za ciężka, i sam jej nie możesz podołać. Teraz posłuchaj rady, jaką ci daję, a Bóg niechaj będzie z tobą: Sam bądź przedstawicielem swego ludu przed Bogiem i przedstawiaj Bogu jego sprawy. Pouczaj lud dokładnie o przepisach i prawach, i pouczaj go o drodze, jaką winien chodzić, i o uczynkach, jakie winien spełniać. (Ex 18:14-22)

Pierwsze pytanie, które tym razem nasunęło mi się po przeczytaniu tego fragmentu brzmiało: dlaczego to nie Bóg, z którym Mojżesz nieustannie rozmawiał, lecz jego teść udzielił mu owej, jakże sensownej, praktycznej rady? Nie jest to pytanie natury historycznej, dlaczego tak właśnie się stało etc. Pytanie to dotyczy przesłania tego wątku owej biblijnej historii.

Jedna z odpowiedzi na nie może brzmieć następująco: historia ta wskazuje na wartość praktycznej, ludzkiej wiedzy i rozsądku, także w kontekście objawienia boskich nauk. Wypływająca z wiedzy i doświadczenia rada teścia, kapłana-Midianity, człowieka jeszcze chwilę temu żyjącego poza całym kontekstem życiowym i religijnym Mojżesza oraz Izraelitów, okazała się bardzo cenna, jeśli nie kluczowa dla ich dalszego losu na pustyni.

Podobnie rzecz się miała później w toku dziejów i ma się współcześnie w relacji pomiędzy religią a nauką oraz wiedzą praktyczną. Mimo, że nasza religia zawiera bardzo kompletny zbiór rozmaitych mądrości, reguł postępowania i działania, by żyć praktycznie i szczęśliwie niezbędna jest nam wiedza spoza religijnej tradycji.

Wszystko wydaje się być proste i oczywiste póki nie pojawia się… konflikt religii z innego rodzaju wiedzą, na przykład nauką. Jest to kwestia często wymieniana jako jedna z głównych przyczyn odchodzenia ludzi od religii. Pozwolę sobie tutaj jednak doprecyzować sprawę: w rzeczywistości nie ma czegoś takiego jak konflikt religii z nauką. Tym, co ludzie zwykle mają na myśli podnosząc ów temat jest konflikt religii chrześcijańskiej, w szczególności konkretnych jej dogmatów lub koncepcji, jak np. zmartwychwstanie, czy kreacjonizm, z powszechnie uznanymi teoriami naukowymi.

Przyczyną występowania tego konfliktu jest przede wszystkim całkowicie literalne rozumienie historii pochodzących z naszych pism świętych. Wobec tego całkowicie literalnego odczytywania nasza tradycja religijna jest dość sceptyczna, najbardziej sceptyczna spośród wszystkich religii Abrahamowych. Rozumienie literalne (pszat) jest najprostszym i „najniższym” rozumieniem naszych historii biblijnych. Nasi mędrcy wyróżnili trzy kolejne, głębsze poziomy rozumienia naszych pism. Są to: remez czyli wskazówki – sposób służący docieraniu do alegorycznego (ukrytego lub symbolicznego) znaczenia wykraczającego poza dosłowny sens; drasz czyli zapytanie lub poszukiwanie – to kolejna metoda dzięki której docieramy np. do treści ukrytych „między wierszami” (a w zasadzie je rekonstruujemy); oraz sod, co oznacza tajemnicę – dzięki temu sposobowi dochodzimy do najgłębszych, mistycznych wymiarów naszych tekstów, z czym mamy do czynienia np. w kabale. Na żadnym z tych wyższych poziomów nie pytamy już w zasadzie o to, czy to, o czym opowiadają owe historie „naprawdę się wydarzyło” (co jest przedsięwzięciem owszem ciekawym, jednakże nie w tym rzecz). Kategorie użyteczne na tych poziomach rozumienia tekstu to przesłanie, mądrość, sens oraz znaczenie danej biblijnej opowieści.

Religia na tym poziomie staje się, jak etyka z racji swojej normatywności, obszarem autonomicznego dyskursu, rządzącego się innymi prawami niż inne obszary. Jest to poziom rozumienia, który nie może być „obalony przez odkrycia naukowe”. Przeciwnie, odkrycia naukowe mogą wzbogacić treści naszych tekstów na tych poziomach. Przykładowo, odkrycia archeologiczne z zakresu wiedzy o innych kulturach politycznych i religijnych starożytności wzbogacają naszą wiedzę o tym jak formowała się nasza religia, duchowość oraz religijne prawo. Nie uczyni to nas raczej ateistami, lecz bardziej świadomymi wyznawcami.

Realnym zagrożeniem dla naszej religijnej tradycji nie jest rzetelna nauka, lecz raczej różnorakie pseudonaukowe doktryny współczesności, które skażone różnymi ideologiami podkopują fundamenty nie tylko naszej religii, ale i nauki, sensowności wszelkiej metodologii, fundamentalnych zdolności poznawczych człowieka i ostatecznie racjonalności jako takiej. Od 1929 do 1964 roku cała biologia w ZSRR, zarówno na szczeblu uniwersyteckim jak i agrarnym, była zdominowana przez teorie agrobiologa i agronoma, Trofima Łysenki. Łysenko i jego zwolennicy podzielili naukę na dwie grupy: prześladowczą, burżuazyjną naukę, stworzoną po to by gnębić proletariat i emancypacyjną naukę radziecką, którą celem był wspieranie i wyniesienie uciskanych warstw społecznych. Burżuazyjnym skażeniem nauki były, wedle Łysenki, koncepcje takie jak naturalna selekcja, Prawa Mendla – reguły przekazywania cech dziedzicznych a nawet istnienie genów i chromosomów, które on i jego zwolennicy nazywali „burżuazyjnymi konstruktami”. W miejsce naturalnej selekcji Łysenko wprowadził naturalną współpracę „pomiędzy żyjącymi systemami”, w miejsce gradualizmu – rewolucyjne skoki, co oznaczało np. biologiczną, spontaniczną transformację chwastów w żyto, żyta w pszenicę oraz pszenicę w jęczmień. Oczywiście, ktokolwiek śmiał się nie zgodzić z teoriami Łysenki był oskarżony o bycie „agentem międzynarodowego faszyzmu” i zesłany do gułagu, jeśli nie zastrzelony na miejscu. Wdrażanie teorii Łysenki w życie, w stalinowskich, gospodarczych planach oraz w Wielkim Skoku Naprzód Mao Zedonga, doprowadziło do masowych nieurodzajów, w wyniku których 50 milionów ludzi umarło z głodu.

We współczesnym świecie, w epoce niekontrolowanego przepływu informacji nie brakuje łysenkizmów, przeciwnie, przeżywają one prawdziwy renesans. Są wśród nich koncepcje uchodzące za całkowicie niegroźne jak np. teorie radykalnych społecznych konstruktywistów, zaprzeczające istnieniu ludzkiej natury lub głoszące absolutną jej plastyczność (w istocie radykalnymi konstruktywistami byli komuniści, bowiem wierzyli, że naturę ludzką można zmienić przez radykalną przemianę struktur społecznych; a także naziści, którzy wierzyli w przemianę ludzkiej natury na drodze rasowej segregacji). Teorie te są nie tylko błędne i nie wsparte żadną wiedzą naukową; są także sprzeczne z fundamentami naszej religii, której rdzeniem jest koncepcja natury ludzkiej, którą zmienić może jedynie Bóg. Wśród współczesnych łysenkizmów jest także derridowski fallologocentryzm oraz inne logocentryzmy, czyli koncepcje głoszące np. że logika to patriarchalne narzędzie narzucania porządku naturze itp. Z perspektywy naukowej twierdzenie, że rzeczywistość ma sensowną i logiczną strukturę nie jest założeniem metafizycznym, lecz postulatem metodologicznym, dzięki którym powiększamy naszą wiedzę na temat różnych wymiarów rzeczywistości. Musimy założyć, że rzeczywistość jest racjonalna, żeby ją choćby trochę zrozumieć. Bez tego rodzaju postulatów nie jesteśmy w stanie stworzyć racjonalnej i sprawdzalnej wiedzy, dzięki której zmieniamy nasz świat na lepsze, z każdym niemal dniem.

Wrogiem religii nie jest więc rozum i wiedza, lecz arogancja i fanatyzm ludzi niedouczonych. Będąc ludźmi religijnymi powinniśmy zawsze szukać platformy, na której religia i rozum (nauka) mogą współpracować. Absolutnie nie powinniśmy przyjmować wszystkiego, co umysły ludzkie w danym wieku lub dekadzie wymyślą. Powinniśmy sceptycznie podchodzić do wszelkiej wiedzy nie wspartej gruntowną metodologią oraz doświadczeniem. Nikt nie jest wolny od błędu, nie był od niego wolny również Mojżesz. Bóg jednak chciał wybawić Izrael i doprowadzić go do Ziemi Obiecanej. Dlatego przysłał Mojżeszowi jego teścia Jitro, aby ten wspomógł go swoją wiedzą i doświadczeniem.

Szabat Szalom!

Menachem Mirski

A Good Example Shows the Way

A Good Example Shows the Way

Mati Kirschenbaum

In the opening words of this week’s Torah portion Yitro we find out that the news of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and their victory over Amalek has reached Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law. Upon hearing such good tidings Yitro decides that his daughter Tzipora, Moses’ wife, and her two sons will no longer face any danger if they join the Israelites who are being led by their father and husband. Thus Yitro sets out on a journey to Mount Sinai, at the foot of which Moses has set camp. Seeing his family after a long separation brings Moses great joy. However, he doesn’t have much time to enjoy their company – he is able to spend only one evening with his close ones. The next day he has to go back to work. Here is how our Parashat describes his work:

Next day, Moses sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening. (Exodus 18:13.)

Yitro, who has many years of experience in leading the Midianites, does not like the style of leadership exercised by Moses. Therefore he gives his son-in-law the following advice:

The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You represent the people before God: you bring the disputes before God, and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow. You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you. (Exodus 18:17-22.)

Following Yitro’s advice, Moses appoints some of the Israelites as chiefs responsible for judging issues of smaller importance, whereas from now on he will be responsible for communicating with the Eternal and with Israel’s elders. Freed from the burden of dealing with the smallest of the Israelites’ problems, Moses can now climb up Mount Sinai, where, during his meeting with God, he will receive the Torah. We could say that Yitro’s advice acts as a foundation without which Moses would not be able to build a social system which embodies the values that were revealed to him on Mount Sinai. Could you imagine a society in which one person is responsible both for teaching the members of the society how they should behave as well as for making sure that they abide by the law? I don’t think such a society would be able to function smoothly. Parashat Yitro teaches us that charismatic leaders are not able to shoulder the burden of managing great social projects without the organizational structures which make it possible for them to carry out complicated tasks. It is exactly owing to such structures that subsequent generations are able to act in agreement with the spirit of the values embraced by their predecessors.

I believe that many of us still cannot come to grips with the killing of Paweł Adamowicz, the mayor of Gdańsk. We wonder what actions we could undertake to make sure that his memory won’t be forgotten. We are afraid that his death is a sign that Poland has transformed into a country riddled with division and hatred, a country in which showing openness towards others might provoke hatred and violence.

Parashat Yitro teaches us that we can counteract such tendencies. We can carry on the heritage of Paweł Adamowicz by continuing his work, by taking part in actions which fulfill the ideals that he embraced. Just like he did, we can demand that our local governments introduce programs supporting the integration of immigrants. Just like Paweł Adamowicz we can support the rights of people from the LGBT community. Just like Paweł Adamowicz we can publicly declare that local patriotism and a sense of pride in being Europeans actually strengthen our attachment to Poland rather than weakening it. By acting this way we’ll be strengthening those structures in our society which promote the ideals that Paweł Adamowicz held very dear.

Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, was not destined to participate in the offering of the Torah on Sinai. He goes back to his country before that event takes place. However, his service and assistance to the people of Israel will not be forgotten – the Parashat containing the description of how God and Israel entered into a covenant carries his name. Paweł Adamowicz did not live to see Poland fully implementing the ideals that he embraced. This Shabbat I encourage you to reflect on what kind of actions you could undertake to make sure that the vision of Poland which Paweł Adamowicz believed in can come true in honor of his memory. Zichrono livracha — may his memory be for a blessing.

Mati Kirschenbaum

Translated from Polish by: Marzena Szymańska-Błotnicka