“If a man acts intentionally to cunningly murder his neighbour; from My Altar take him to die.”
~ Exodus 21:14
As far as actions with negative effects go, murder is about as bad you get. As such, it’s not outrageous that Judaism advocates the death penalty.
But what’s God’s Altar got to do with it?
People who’ve done damage in the world usually regret their mistakes and often turn to religion for atonement. While this may be helpful on a personal level when sincere, it doesn’t clean-up the mess they made.
So God says: ‘First take responsibility, then we’ll talk’.
“Provide from among the entire people, God-fearing men of means, men of truth who despise money; and appoint them judges.”
~ Exodus 18:21
In one sentence, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, defines the exact criteria needed for being a judge.
Why doesn’t he mention the obvious: total knowledge of the law?
Because there’re two levels of knowledge: information and application. While information can be learned, its application is dependent on good character. Although Moses could teach anyone the laws, only those of character could implement them.
Any old donkey can schlep books on its back, but only a mensch can take the wisdom to heart.
“And Hashem showed him a tree; and he threw it into the water and the water became sweet.”
~ Shemos 15:25
After leaving Egypt, the Jewish people wandered without water for three days. When they finally found some, it was too bitter to drink.
How did throwing in a tree help?
The Rabbis say this was a miracle within a miracle: not only did a tree sweeten water, but the tree itself was bitter.
Life has bitter periods. Trying to sweeten your problems will, at best, only cover them up. Better to accept that good solutions – like good medicines – are bitter.
“And I shall pass through Egypt on this night, and I shall strike every firstborn … I, Hashem.”
~ Numbers 12:12
Unlike the other plagues, where Hashem commanded Moses to bring on the disaster, here Hashem says he’ll do it himself.
Although a King may have many servants to do his bidding, some tasks can only be done personally. Not because other people are incapable, rather it’s just not fitting.
We live in times of comfort and automation where almost anything can be done by simply clicking a button. Some things, however, will always need your direct and personal touch.
“The sorcerers said to Pharoah: ‘It’s the finger of God!’ but Pharoah’s heart hardened and he didn’t listen.”
~ Shemos 8:15
Unlike the first two plagues, where Pharoah’s advisers used their own sorcery to duplicate the blood and frogs, when it came to the lice they admitted defeat.
Until now every decision Pharoah made was through their trusted counsel, so why did he stop listening?
When someone is obsessed they’re not only blind to the obvious, they’re even deaf to the words of those they trust most.
If people say you’re not listening – don’t get your ears checked – check your ideas.
“The boy grew up and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he was a son to her…
It happened in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brothers and saw their burdens.”
~ Shemos 2:10-11
In the Exodus narrative, we’re told of Moses’ journey from prince of Egypt to redeemer of the Jews.
Why repeat that he “grew up” ?
Because people mature in two different ways: either physically through aging or spiritually through experience. Moses’ second “growing up” was the latter, a result of empathizing with his enslaved fellow Jews and then taking responsibility to help them.
Transforming your life into the one you dream of, is a function of you taking responsibility, not aging.
“Cursed be their rage for it is intense, and their anger for its cruel.”
~ Genesis 49:7
On his deathbed, Jacob gathers his sons for final words of encouragement. Some needed rebuke for their mistakes.
Instead of speaking directly, Jacob scolds their anger, why?
Because what parents say either builds or breaks their children, especially when trying to help them improve. The most supportive message is that mistakes – and the emotions which caused them – don’t reflect one’s essence. So Jacob criticises what they felt, not who they are.
How we speak to ourselves should be no different.