On the Road…
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro
T’filat HaDerekh, or “Wayfarer’s Prayer” is the prayer we say upon setting off on a journey. It is a prayer of comfort that acknowledges “Hey, G?d, I’m going on this journey and I want you to know about it…the rest is up to me.” We ask for protection as we are about to leave the city limits and beyond. It is said once a day, to be repeated after sunset if the journey begins at that time.
This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, is one of the source texts for this prayer. In Exodus 23:20 God states:
הִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֜י שֹׁלֵ֤חַ מַלְאָךְ֙ לְפָנֶ֔יךָ לִשְׁמָרְךָ֖ בַּדָּ֑רֶךְ וְלַהֲבִ֣יאֲךָ֔ אֶל־הַמָּק֖וֹם אֲשֶׁ֥ר הֲכִנֹֽתִי׃
“I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have made ready.”
[pull record needle off of record and make skid sound]
“Uh – Angel?”
I recall a practical rabbinics class one winter day in 2005 when a colleague of mine presented a case of a congregant who only wanted to talk about angels. Our rabbinic supervisor responded, “well, you know that you can’t permit her at the synagogue if she is going to talk about angels. You need to tell her that she can not talk about angels and that if she continues to lead the conversation in that direction that she is not invited back.”
It was winter, but that was not why I felt chilled. I could not believe what I was hearing. If the Torah so clearly mentions Malach” – which is translated as a messenger, or angel – why couldn’t congregants discuss this concept, which has its roots in the Torah? Or, even more radical – why can’t someone believe in a angels if they choose to?
“We are NOT the people of the book; we are the people of the interpretation of the book.”
These words echo in my mind. Ours is an interpretive journey. Torah is a state of mind, of interpretation, of intellectual and spiritual curiosity. Concepts such as angels, a pavement of sapphire in the sky, knowing through doing…” all of these ideas find their way into this week’s Torah portion. Known as a list of “case laws,” Parshat Mishpatim is the hidden truth of Torah – read it literally, and it is a collection of dos and don’ts. Read it with interpretive power, and it sets the mind and body ablaze.
Look for angels in our lives…sensitize ourselves to fully inhale a sunset…break our hearts open each time we see a man or woman with a sign at a stop light. The laws of Torah are to arouse our humanity and dignity; not stymie them.
Torah is to be interpreted, challenged, embodied and lived through our hearts, our hands and our ability to experience empathy. And like the sapphire path above the Israelite’s heads at the closing of the Torah portion, the sky is the limit.