Saturday, February 17, 2007

Parshas Mishpatim - Between Chaos and Order

Parshas Mishpatim is essentially an extensive selection of laws, as befits its name. After the transcendent spiritual closeness to G-d on Sinai, it seems a rather mundane topic, and yet the 10 Commandments themselves, were those of law. Moses is often described as the Lawgiver, yet in actuality it is G-d who is the Lawgiver.

Today is also Mevorchim Rosh Chodesh Adar, the blessing for the new month of Adar, which will begin on Sunday and Monday. Adar famously highlights Purim, the festival of lots, in which Haman cast lots to decide the date for the destruction of the Jewish people. The very use of lots is random, leaving things to the chaos of chance. Haman's people, the Amalekites, are described in a somewhat similar way, when it says, Asher Karcha Baderech, They Encountered You Along the Way.

Kara tends to be used to describe things that happen at random, by chance. Haman's impulse to wipe out the Jews also seems random. He encounters a single Jew, Mordechai, who does not bow to him, and decides to wipe out all the Jews. Amalek seem to also randomly have encountered the Jews and decided to attack them. It seems at odds that the greatest enemies of the Jews should be acting in such a random way.

These days we are very fond of trying to understand the motivations for killers. After the Utah shooting, we once again have loads of experts trying to determine motive. But yet this is a completely irrelevant task. We do not need to know the motive of a murderer, except to catch him. What is important about a murderer, is not his motives, but his act. That is what defines him as a murderer. Not the stories from friends and relatives of what a nice person he was or how much he suffered or what his justifications were. It's the act that counts.

Murder can be entirely random, but the consequences are not. That is law. When law moves its emphasis from punishing the act, to exploring and thus identifying with the state of mind of the murderer, justice ceases and moral relativism takes hold. Moral relativism by its very nature is random. It shapes itself to the circumstances, impulses and prejudices of the observers. Murder ceases to be murder. Law ceases to be law. The world becomes a jungle full of predators with justifications.

Law orders the chaos of human impulses, creates impassable barriers and systems that regulate human behavior and protect human beings from each other and from those administrating the law. G-d is the Lawgiver because order in all things properly comes from him. That is why a judge who rules justly is said to be a partner with G-d in Creation.

Randomness by contrast seeks to overthrow that order. The randomness of Amalek denies a central order to the world, denies G-d. Instead it views the world as a playground for its appetites. Amalek saw the Jews and decided to slaughter them. Haman felt offended and decided to take vengeance on an entire people. In doing so they showed that they did not respect any higher power, but their own impulses and saw the world as run by random chance.

It is why the Mishpatim of G-d, the Laws of G-d, stand in opposition to the Lots of Haman. And in the perfect retort, G-d turned the randomness of Haman's lots into an ordered result that pointed to the outcome he wanted. Just as he turned the seeming randomness of Haman's impulsive visit to Ahasverosh to demand Mordechai's hanging, into Mordechai's triumph.

Evil seeks to turn order into chaos, the chaos of blood and murder, justice is G-d's triumph over evil as the giver of laws.


Lemon Lime Moon said...

Wonderful once again!

It is a war of good vs evil.
There is no middle ground.

D.L said...

Yasher Koach. Good job

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article. Keep 'em coming :)

And Shavuah tov.

Re Haman and all murderers--every crime is precipitated by a motive of some sort. It might not make sense to logical, decent people but it always does to the killer. Understanding the motive for a crime is essential only to the extent that it can prevent similar crimes in the future.

What we see happening today is the exact opposite, motives, poor childhoods and a laundry list of troubles being used to justify a criminal's actions. We have a criminal justification system, not a justice system.

Back to what I was saying about motives--Haman wanted to slaughter the entire Jewish people because he felt slighted that Mordechai wouldn't bow to him. Haman's reaction, obviously way out of proportion to the perceived offense, but in his own mind it made perfect sense.

You're right. The Hamans of the world don't and won't surrender their will to the laws of G-d. They have become their own gods with their own self-serving laws.

Keli ata

Christopher Horn said...

Beautifully said.

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