Last week’s Torah Portion (Yitro) ended with the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. You would think that would have been enough to keep everyone satisfied for a while. There’s certainly a lot to think about in those ten utterances.
Nonetheless, the Torah immediately continues with the very next Torah portion called Mishpatim – which means laws. In fact, there are more individual laws in this portion than any other portion in the Torah. What gives?
One possible explanation is that the Ten Commandments offer us the big picture while the individual laws of Parashat Mishpatim give us greater detail. It’s no surprise, therefore, that when we think about receiving God’s Torah, we think about the giving of the Two Tablets on Mt. Sinai as opposed to the many individual laws provided in this week’s Torah portion. This is not to suggest that the laws in this week’s portion are insignificant or unimportant. Rather, it is a commentary on our human brains. We tend to categorize objects, ideas and experiences into categories – large and small.
The big things tend to stick with us a little more. Sometimes, however, it’s not so clear what is a “big” thing and what is a “small” thing. Spending a few minutes to help someone dig out of the snow may seem like a small thing to the person doing the helping, but it may be a really big thing to the recipient of the favor. Similarly, meeting a famous author/singer/actor may be a big thing for us little people, but it may not seem so big to the celebrity.
When it comes to physical objects, there are times when we must all decide which objects are “big” and which are “small.”
For example, we had a pipe burst in the ceiling over my office at the synagogue today (and thus, the WORD arriving so late!). My entire office was drenched with water and the majority of the contents were damaged (Same for the Religious School office. The main office and library got some water also. Not a fun morning.). So, what does one try to “save” first? What are the big things and what are the small things?
Of course, there’s no right answer. However, I can simply tell you how I started. The first things that came out of my office to the “safety” of the social hall were the Jewish objects – shofar, tefillin, tallit, etc. – and the projects that my kids have made for me over the years. I don’t know that I consciously planned it that way, but those are the things I grabbed – the objects that my brain somehow categorized as “big.”
And as I stood back and looked at those objects, it all made sense to me. In the big picture of my life, my family and my faith are the big things.