People who know me know that I love to read. One of my favorite series is the “Divergent” series, the first of which has come out as movie. It turns out that “Divergent” really ties into my portion of Mishpatim. In fact, it also has a “bat mitzvah” ceremony.
It’s really called the “Choosing Ceremony” and is very similar to today, minus a few details. Don’t worry, no blood will be drawn! But when you get beyond those details what’s happening? Teenagers are deciding their future, and starting to make choices for themselves. It’s the first time they are really responsible for those choices. Also, the Choosing Ceremony, like the Bat Mitzvah is the moment when they start to become independent of their family.
Today, I am making my choices, although thankfully I won’t be becoming fully independent and I have a lot more freedom to decide than most people did in the book.
Another similarity is how Mishpatim and the dystopian of Chicago in Divergent are both based on a strict set of rules that people have to follow – and both societies expect full obedience to those rules.
The Torah expects 24/7 obedience. When the Israelites are at Sinai, they say “Na’aseh v’nishma” which means that they will “do and listen” – in other words, that they will obey even before they have totally understood the reasons behind the laws. It so happens that this is said in chapter 24, verse 7. So they really were pledging to be loyal 24/7. But the Torah also has a built-in flexibility where laws can be changed if they no longer make sense.
Here’s a great example. The Torah says, “Eye for an eye.” But the rabbis of the Talmud later made it clear that the law is not talking about literally taking out someone’s eye, but paying them money and compensation for their injury.
Another example found in my portion is slavery. We don’t have it any more. But these laws still are important, because the Torah is teaching us how to treat employees and also to love the person who is different from us.
In the world of swimming, another one of my favorite activities, I’ve learned that rules or standards are important – and there are a LOT of them. They’ve changed a lot too, just like the laws of the Torah.
For example, in the breast stroke, there are rules regarding the pullout, the kick, the actual stroke, breathing patterns and more. These standards were changed very recently, just four or five months ago. I’ve had to learn a new pullout and really practice it to get it right.
In swimming, when you don’t get a stroke right during a race, you get disqualified, so there is no margin for error. This has given me good practice at being able to develop self discipline and limit my mistakes. Fortunately, in life, there’s a greater margin for error. You can even make some mistakes when leading services or reading Torah, and the rabbi has promised that we won’t get disqualified.
Not only are rules meant to change in order to adjust with the times, but sometimes we might need to protest against a rule that we think is unjust. We shouldn’t just follow orders blindly. When the Israelites said “Na’aseh V’nishma,” while the doing came first, the word “Nishma” teaches us that the laws eventually need to make sense, even if they don’t right away. That’s an important message of Divergent, and also of becoming a Bat Mitzvah. Because when things don’t make sense, or when the law or society is unjust, we can choose to protest against them or try to change them.
Maybe the most important lesson my Torah portion teaches is that we should love the stranger. With that in mind, my Mitzvah project is called “Goggles for Guppies.” I’ve been collecting new or gently used goggles, swim caps and bathing suits which are being donated to underprivileged children who can’t afford them. So far, I’ve collected over 200 caps, over 75 goggles and about 50 suits.
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