SALT - Sunday, 21 Shevat 5779 - January 27, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Towards the end of Parashat Mishpatim, the Torah tells of the vision beheld by the leaders of Benei Yisrael at the time of the Revelation at Sinai: “They saw the God of Israel, and under His feet was the likeness of a sapphire brick, and purity like the essence of the sky” (24:10). 
 
            Rashi, citing the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 23:8), explains why the image of a brick appeared next to God’s “feet” at this time.  He writes that the brick “was before Him at the time of bondage [in Egypt], in order to remember Israel’s distress, who were enslaved with brickwork.”  According to the Midrash, God is depicted here as keeping with Him an image of a brick during the period of Benei Yisrael’s enslavement in Egypt, when they were forced to produce bricks.  As is commonly explained, the Midrash here teaches the importance of empathizing with the plight of those in distress, how we must make an active effort to think of those enduring pain and injustice, to always be mindful that there are people who are suffering.
 
            Rashi then continues by citing the Midrash’s explanation of the other sight beheld at the time of the Revelation – “ke-etzem ha-shamayim la-tohar,” the beautiful vision of the pure “essence of the sky.”  This means, in Rashi’s words, that “once they were redeemed, there was joy and elation before Him.”  Just as God made a point of sharing, as it were, in Benei Yisrael’s pain as they suffered as slaves in Egypt, He likewise shared in their joy at the time of their redemption.
 
            Rav Yerucham Levovitz (in Da’at Torah) notes in this context that very often, it is more difficult to share in other people’s good fortune and success than in their pain and suffering.  Even when people warmly congratulate those who are celebrating a happy occasion, personal milestone or achievement, Rav Yerucham writes, they might feel a slight tinge of jealousy.  They themselves might be unaware of this feeling, but in many situations, it is sensed, to one extent or another.  When somebody we know enjoys a certain type of good fortune or success which we do not, it is often difficult to feel truly joyous over that individual’s happiness.  It is specifically for this reason, Rav Yerucham writes, that God is described as both empathizing with Benei Yisrael during their period of suffering, and celebrating with them during their period of triumph.  The Midrash teaches us of the importance of not only sharing the pain of those in distress, but also sharing the joy of those enjoying good fortune and success, and the need to overcome our instinctive feelings of jealousy and truly celebrate the happiness and achievements of other people.