Photo Credit: pixabay

{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

Things change. Sometimes, they change too quickly to comprehend. In Flash Boys, Michael Lewis describes how Brad, a trader for RBC, was watching his computer screen, realizing that in the microsecond it took to click on an electronic bid, everything had changed in a flash, and his trades were rejected. He didn’t have a way to determine the market’s status – things were flashing by too quickly for the human eye. He had no sense of reality.

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I thought of Brad as we studied the two most recent Torah portions. The commandments, ranging from sanctity to loving others, from farming to idol worship, from priestly laws to kosher, and from festivals to someone cursing God, all flash by so quickly that I wonder how to process them and reify their concepts. I can’t quite grasp when to click pause on my screen and focus on a single commandment.

 

A verse in last week’s portion offered some temporary perspective. “Say to the Cohanim, and tell them (Leviticus 21:1).” My favorite explanation for the apparent redundancy is in John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World. “Why,” he asks, “would a person who works for something called a Humanities Council undertake to write about geology?” Geology, he explains, was for him, “a fountain of metaphor,” engaged his mind and heart, and set him on his unexplored path.

 

I read the redundancy as, “Say to the Cohanim in such a way that it will offer each his own words and path.” I sighed in relief as I scrolled through the numerous commandments, simply seeking the magical commandment and words that would engage my soul, and send me on my way in my explorations.

 

I was calm, at least until I read the opening of this week’s portion, “God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai (25:1),’ and then I was back with Brad observing the Flash Boys. We’ve been centered in the Tabernacle, with a few historical excursions to Egypt and the Exodus, since the beginning of Vayikra, Leviticus. Why does the Torah change the setting, bringing us back to Sinai?

 

The Torah not only changes the scene, but it demands new terms for some ancient promises and covenants. The covenant with the Patriarchs to grant their descendants the Land of Canaan has new conditions. The promise of our own land made to Israel at the Exodus has some new rules. The Sabbatical laws, the Jubilee year, preventing poverty, and the rules governing loans are presented as allowing us to keep the Promised Land. Things change, sometimes, too quickly to comprehend.

 

Flashing laws, changing places, and renegotiated promises, all came to mind this week on a drive through a few states. When passing farms, factories and all sorts of creative fences, I remembered my father zt”l driving us from Toronto to Baltimore, challenging us to identify all the commandments and laws that related to the scenes we passed. We had to think as quickly as he was driving, especially if we wanted to win the contest, although a certain sister would try to constantly renegotiate the rules so she could win.

 

A long car ride always reminds me of the 613 Concepts, because after the contest, with its review of the Mitzvot, my father would speak of the commandments as, Sh’vilei Emunah, Paths of Faith. Each Mitzvah, he explained, offers a different Path of Faith, a different way to relate to God. Master teacher that he was, he was able to transform each Mitzvah we studied into an always fresh adventure. Each adventure wound its way through history, Bible, the Exodus, and the Tabernacle, back to Sinai.

 

Yes, things change, sometimes too quickly to comprehend, unless we realize that all the Sh’vilei Emunah, Paths of Faith, offer opportunities to explore new paths and discover how each can take us back to Sinai. The Torah offers the numerous commandments, travel itineraries, and renegotiated relationships, as openings so that each of us may discover our own path to Sinai, even as the world flashes by.

Shabbat Shalom

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