I Don’t Know: Thoughts On Reading Parsha Mishpatim

I don’t know.
I am an American,
And I was brought to believe in democracy with a small d
And I believe in it way more than I’ve seen it.

I grew up with crazy and arbitrary parents,
In a school system run by martinets
And a religion run by men who wouldn’t answer my questions or let me participate
Because I was a girl,
During a war that was stupid and destructive
In a country run by incompetents on a good day. 
And generally, when you set rules before me,
I am going to argue with you. 
As that great sage, Bruce Springsteen, wrote,
“when they said sit down I stood up”.
Or at least that’s how I like to think of myself. 
The truth is,
I’m actually a law-abiding coward. 
When they say sit down,
I sit down,
Though I make a few wise-ass comments
Out of the side of my mouth
As I park my butt in a comfy seat.
Well yes.  
But I also sit down
There IS a right and wrong. 
I don’t go the wrong way down a one-way street,  
Partly because that’s how I was taught
And partly because, well,  
If you go the wrong way down a one-way street
You might get killed
Or you might kill someone else.
We all know this. 
We know what is sensible. 
We are, perhaps, born knowing this.
Don’t you all,
Past a certain age,
And assuming you’re not a sociopath,
Know the difference between right and wrong?
Do we need religion to be ethical?
Do we need the threat that a supernatural being is going to punish us
In order not to do bad?
Do you need to be a good Jew to be good?
Jewish tradition and teaching
Comes down as firmly as it is possible to come down
On the side of Yes. 
I don’t know.
How beloved we were by Moses and our rabbis,
That that they took such care
To make sure we lead safe and righteous lives. 
And yet, how poorly Moses and the rabbis must have thought of us
To need to control us so completely with so many rules?

I don’t know.
We may not need God to run things. 
We know what we need.
And maybe we don’t need some self-appointed spokesperson telling us what to do,
Most of us know what is right and what is wrong.
We have internalized this God-sense
And what we need is acknowledge it
And listen to
This embodiment of our best selves,
This impulse towards community and peace
And our laws, if done correctly,
Are our blessed parameters,
And this is
As mortal humans
Our vision is limited,
Our compassion sometimes lacks,
Our self-control does not always work
And the rule of law protects us from tyrants and chaos. 
This I know:
We must always remember that
Ethical living is practical and necessary,
That when we are decent to each other,
And when we make decent laws,
We are kadosh, holy,
That we may live together
In Holy Wholeness.
This I know.

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