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A Debt to G-d

by Rabbi Eliezer Gurkow

  

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A Prosaic Portion

The memory of the Ten Commandments at Sinai is stamped into the collective psyche of the Jewish people. It was the piece de resistance of spiritual achievement. A transcendental moment; our souls luxuriated in the presence of the divine, freed from the shackles of vanity and materialism.

It is reasonable to expect the Torah portion that immediately follows the description of the Sinai episode to speak of spiritual quest and devout inspiration. It doesn't. Instead it is replete with, seemingly prosaic, civil law.

We recognize that the Torah speaks on many levels and exists in parallel universes. When angels and souls study Torah law they don't perceive the tangible manifestations that we do. The heaven dwellers perceive lofty and pure visions even in the seemingly prosaic civil code. What is their perspective, what uplifting message do they perceive, in this Torah Portion?

Partial Admission

Let's review the laws of partial admission, found in this portion, and use it as an example. If a lender sues a borrower for a thousand dollars and the borrower concedes that he owes five-hundred dollars, Jewish law stipulates that the borrower take an oath to support his partial admission.1

The reason is simple. By partly acknowledging the lender's claim, the borrower admits to defaulting on a five-hundred dollar loan. This casts doubt upon his integrity, which in turn, questions his credibility for the portion of the claim he denies. The burden of proof is devolved unto the borrower and, if he cannot produce witnesses to corroborate his claim, the court has no recourse, but to administer an oath.

G-d endows us with an inner beauty; a serene and spiritual soul. The soul is loaned to us at birth and collected at the moment of passing
Spiritual Debt

This very scenario plays out on a spiritual plateau. G-d endows us with an inner beauty; a serene and spiritual soul. The soul is loaned to us at birth and collected at the moment of passing. We are duty-bound to return it in as good a state or, if possible, a better state, than it was received.

Yet we mar its beauty when we direct our passion toward worldly affairs and neglect our love for G-d. We disturb its serenity when we direct our ambition toward greed and prestige while betraying our bond with G-d. We sully it's spirit when we invest energy into leisure and career while ignore our commitment to G-d.

G-d looks down and calls in his loan. I lent you a soul, he says, and you aren't tending to it. I lent you a heavenly treasure and you expend it on vanity and materialism. You owe me the passion that you expended elsewhere. Either restore passion to your soul, or return your soul to me.

What is our response? We acknowledge half of G-d's claim and deny the other half. We concede that we haven't cared for our soul as we should have, but we didn't neglect it completely. We have collected a number of good deeds along the way. We gave to charity, attended synagogue, studied Torah on occasion and even obeyed our parents. We are good people after all.

The Oath

Such a partial admission or acknowledgment of neglect, casts doubt upon our integrity. We may have fulfilled the deeds, but we were clearly lacking in passion. If we were passionate about G-d, we wouldn't neglect our souls after the deeds were complete. To restore our passion we must validate the oath that we took before we were born and draw on the inner resources that it provides.

Just before birth, every soul is made to take an oath of piety. The Hebrew word for oath, Shevuah, also means satisfaction. When the soul takes the oath, G-d endows it or satisfies it, with spiritual resources that enable it to fulfill the oath. These resources are set aside for us, to be summoned by G-d, whenever he feels that we need to reignite our passion or inspire our commitment.2

We cannot know when G-d calls us on our lack of passion, but we do know when we are seized with a sudden bout of inspiration. At such times it is highly likely that G-d summoned our inner reserves because he felt that we were not sufficiently inspired or passionate. At such times it behooves us to scrutinize our recent behavior and utilize the sudden gift of inspiration for constructive and lasting change.

Footnotes

  • 1. Bab. Talmud, Shavuot, 38b. Choshen Mishpat 87, 1. Exodus 22: 8.
  • 2. Bab. Talmud, Nidah, 30b. See Kitzurim V'heoros Letanya, chapter 1. See Vayikra Rabba, 29 8.

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Torah Portion
The Five Books of Moses are divided into 54 portions. Every Sabbath morning we read one portion. Several weeks during the year a double portion is read, in order to accommodate the Torah's completion on the Simchat Torah holiday.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.