Being There – Parashat Mishpatim


More than twenty years ago I read a wonderful book the title of which I’ve never forgotten because it states such a profound and obvious truth – Where ever you go – There you are! The book was written by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The volume is both an instructional guide on how to meditate, how to sit, and how to breathe, how to calm the mind and live in the present, and it is about the physical, mental and emotional health benefits that meditators attain over time.

Dr. Kabat-Zinn wrote that we are who we are everywhere we go, that we reveal ourselves fully all the time whether we’re aware of doing so or not, in all of our relationships, at home and in the work place, in our most private moments and in the crowd.

I read the book when Barbara, our then-young sons and I spent a week one summer in a home loaned to us by friends on Malibu’s famed-Broad Beach.

Each morning I awoke early before everyone else, made a strong cup of coffee and walked out on the sand to a bluff to sit on a weathered wooden bench where I’d look at the ocean, smell the morning salt air, listen to the waves, and read.

The book inspired me to begin meditating, and I did so for a year fairly religiously, and though I haven’t continued in a rigorous way since, I still find that I can, even for just a few moments at a time, settle myself down as I learned to do so long ago and feel refreshed and more present.

I recalled those summer days this week as I studied Parashat Mishpatim and encountered one special verse:

“The Eternal One said to Moses, Go up to me to the mountain – and be there, and I will give you the stone tablets and the Torah and the commandment that I inscribed [that you may] teach them.” (Exodus 14:19)

“עלה אלי ההרה – go up to Me to the mountain, והויה שם and be there.

A redundancy to be sure! God told Moses to go to the top of a mountain. Once there, where else would he be? And why was it necessary for God to say to him also “be there?”

I would imagine that God wanted Moses to pay special attention, to open his sensual and spiritual antennae as he received Torah that he may absorb it as fully as he was capable as the preeminent and most intimate of God’s prophets. God knew, of course, that Moses was human, that he, like all of us, was distractible.

The Kotzker Rebbe commented that sometimes we expend a great deal of effort to reach an exalted goal – a great job, success, wealth, fame, love, family, friends, community – but once we achieve that which we thought we wanted sometimes we no longer want or need it at all, that it’s wrong and destructive for us.

It may be that we’ve lost so much of ourselves in the climbing that we’re no longer in touch with who we really are, having become fragmented and lost along the way.

In moments such as these, what do we do? I believe we need to remember that no one achievement, no one person in our lives, and no one identity, and certainly not wealth or fame, is ever the totality of who we are as individuals.

The Kotzker taught that the goal of our lives cannot be merely to ascend and to reach for an exalted summit, but to “be there,” to be here now and nowhere else.

The Kotzker continued that since God can be everywhere there never was a need for Moses to have had to go up onto the mountain at all, that all Moses ever needed to do was to stop where he was and achieve an ascent in that very place. There he could have received the Torah.

So too is it for us.

May we be like children awakening in the morning, fresh, alive, vibrant, and filled with wonder at the fact of living itself, at the miracle of simply being here.

Shabbat shalom!

Source for the insights of the Kotzker Rebbe – cited in Larry Kushner's and Kerry Olitzky's “Sparks Beneath The Surface,” Jason Aaronson Inc,. New Jersey. 1993. page 91.

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