God/dess imitating humanity
This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, takes us down the legal rabbit hole which is the covenant between Am - Israel and God. After the wonderful mystical experience of receiving Torah we now start going into the details of what it means to be in a covenant. Much like a Ketubah (Jewish wedding contract) does on a smaller scale. We could remain with “I love you and want to live with you”, but we don’t. We go into the details of what each partner promises to bring into their home, and to the details of what they imagine this Jewish home to look like.
So we have a lot’s of laws, which we won’t go into just now, and rather turn turn to look at one moment of the story, when Moshe and a group of people go back to the Sinai to sacrifice to God. And then they see this:
וַיַּ֥עַל מֹשֶׁ֖ה וְאַהֲרֹ֑ן נָדָב֙ וַאֲבִיה֔וּא וְשִׁבְעִ֖ים מִזִּקְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ וַיִּרְא֕וּ אֵ֖ת אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְתַ֣חַת רַגְלָ֗יו כְּמַעֲשֵׂה֙ לִבְנַ֣ת הַסַּפִּ֔יר וּכְעֶ֥צֶם הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם לָטֹֽהַר׃ (שמות כ"ד 9-10)
“Then Moshe and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy elders of Israel ascended; and they saw the God of Israel: under His feet there was like a fashioning of sapphire pavement, and like the very heavens for pureness.”
We won't go now into the surprising fact that they saw God. Rather, we'll focus on the words “Livnat haSapir”, which have been translated here to “sapphire pavement”, though that isn't the only way to read them. The word “livnat” has very often taken to mean “white”, so perhaps they were seeing something pure and diamond like under the feet of God. We find a different understanding of this in Rabbeinu Bahya’s medeival commentary when he sees the word “livnat” as pointing to the word “levenah”, brick.
“…like the structure of a brick made of sapphire.” This image recalled to them the fact that the Israelite's’ heavy slave labour in Egypt consisted of their making mud bricks. Seeing such an image in the heavens proved to the people viewing it that when the Israelites suffer persecution by the Gentile nations in the terrestrial world the Shechinah shares their suffering in the celestial spheres.”
This is an opposite but similar notion to imitatio Dei – not humans imitating God, but God and the heavens imitating humans.
I want us to expand this understanding to say that when there is any suffering the world (human or otherwise), the throne of God embodies it.
But let's take it into a more positive direction, and learn here that the throne of God holds much more than our suffering!
The throne of God is built out of the good work we do in the world.
This brings us back to the minutia of mitzvot (commandments) that we start learning about in depth with this Torah portion. Each of these mitzvot is brick, and even the smallest act we do adds beauty and strength to the throne of God and so, to the world.