Rabbi Wolpe - ADL Impressions

Mishpatim – Inspiration and Effort

The Torah reads, “Six days shall you do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor” (Ex 23:12). But last week, we read, “Remember the seventh day and keep it holy. Six days shall you labor and do all your work…” (Ex 20:8-9).

Why is the Sabbath mentioned first in one and last in another verse? The Izbitzer Rebbe, the Mei Hashiloah interprets this difference referring to the Gemara that asks: What happens if one is in the desert and has lost track of time and does not know when to observe Shabbat? (Shabbat 69b): One Rabbi says to count six days from the day one loses track of time. Another says observe Shabbat first and then the following six days. What is the difference?

For some people, says the Mei Hashiloah, it is required that you do the work before you can get to Shabbat. First, the six days: In other words, you must cultivate good habits before you can consummate the week with holiness.

But, he says, there are times when you have a sudden, remarkable moment, when “Shabbat comes first,” and one can do something sacred and powerful without preparation.

The great violinist Isaac Stern was once approached by a fan after a concert who said, “Mr. Stern, I would do anything to play like you.”

“Really?” answered the virtuoso. “Would you practice 10 hours a day for 20 years? Because that’s what I did.”

That is usually the way – constant, intense effort. But there are blessed moments: Esther risks her life and saves the Jewish people. An obscure shepherd named David is anointed King. The Talmud teaches that some earn eternal life through many years of effort and others in an instant (Avoda Zara 18a).

Last week, we read about the ineffable moment of Sinai. This week, Mishpatim, is about the daily rules, the effort, the rungs on the ladder to a good life. Much accomplishment is due to daily effort, but we also cherish instants of inspiration when the apple falls, the penny drops, and our vision shifts. If we are blessed, we will merit both.