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

I don’t know how else to say it. Despite all the deep spiritual (many of which can be found on the Home Page of The Foundation Stone) and halachic ideas derived from the first Mitzvah given to Israel as a nation, I would not have chosen the commandment to Sanctify the New Moon as the introduction to God’s instructions.

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Freeman Dyson (Infinite In All Directions) describes a talk given by Ed Witten in 1985 introducing Superstring Theory. After the 90-minute dazzling display of mathematical virtuosity was finished, the listeners, great minds among them, sat silent. There were no questions for Witten, although some were heard asking amongst themselves, “Does this have any connection with anything real (Page 15-Thanks, M.J.)?”

 

I picture a nation of soon to be freed slaves, having a similar reaction to Moses speaking to them about God empowering people with the ability to set the calendar. They probably sat their dumbfounded until Moses began describing the Paschal Offering; “Now, that’s something to which I can relate! Offerings.” Why did God begin with a commandment too abstract for even Moses to fully comprehend (See Rashi, Exodus 12:2)?

 

Moses uses a different approach in this week’s portion, Tazria, when he begins with the familiar, childbirth, before he addresses the spiritual diseases listed as Tzara’at. Even the father of all biblical commentators says of some of the details, “I don’t know what this means (Leviticus 11:4).” At least this time, God begins with the easily understood commandments. We must ask, “If God had a good reason to begin the Passover laws with something beyond our ken, and God surely did, why change the approach when instructing the nation in the laws of purity?

 

The Exodus had to begin with the people experiencing displacement. They understood from the plagues they had witnessed devastating their former masters that their world was not the same. God wanted them to appreciate that a relationship with the Divine would change absolutely everything about the way they viewed and interacted with the world. God began with the abstract to ensure that even when they brought an offering, it would not be the same as the offerings with which they were familiar. The revolution was not just against the Egyptians; it was a paradigm shift in their perception of reality.

 

The Children of Israel lived this paradigm shift in the exodus, the Splitting of the Sea, Manna, Water from a Rock, Revelation and the Tabernacle. They began to grasp their new reality, but, as Hannah Arendt warned, “The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative on the day after the revolution (Again, thanks, M.J.).” They were in danger of becoming comfortable in their new reality, stuck, as it were, in the ceremonies of the Tabernacle, and the structure of their Divine camp.

 

God took that with which they were familiar, childbirth, and then challenged them with another Paradigm Shift, the laws of a spiritual disease that could be a gift or public humiliation, or both, separating them from the community even as the stricken person would depend on the prayers of the people from whom he was removed.

 

Torah demands that we be consistently open to Paradigm Shifts; changing the way we view reality, shifting from one approach to another, looking at the world anew, comfortable with a new perspective. When the Torah constantly asks that its words “Be new in our eyes, as if we are receiving the Torah today,” it is not simply asking that we are open to a new reading of a verse, or application of a law. The Torah is asking us to live in a state of Paradigm Shift, a life in which our approach to prayer changes each day, as should our approach to all the commandments and texts.

 

Each Shabbat offers a Paradigm Shift, an opportunity to approach the future with different goals, seeking a relationship with God that until today was beyond our understanding, but achievable now.

Shabbat Shalom,

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Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg, is founder and President of the leading Torah website, The Foundation Stone. Rav Simcha is an internationally known teacher of Torah and has etablished yeshivot on several continents.