Just over two years ago, a Jew by the name of Richard Alpert passed away. More commonly known as Ram Dass, this guru and psychologist transformed the lives of many spiritual seekers with his motto: “Be Here Now” – also the title of his seminal book, which popularized Eastern spirituality in the West in the 1970s. However, Parshat Mishpatim shows that this profound principle was revealed to the world in one of the most important moments in our own tradition.
Our weekly portion recounts God summoning Moshe to ascend Mount Sinai to receive the Torah:
“וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, עֲלֵה אֵלַי הָהָרָה–וֶהְיֵה-שָׁם“
“And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and be there” (Exodus 24:12)
If God has already called Moshe to come up the Mountain, why does he tell him “to be there”? What message is He trying to convey in these deep yet simple words?
The Divrei Yisrael, the Modzitzer Rebbe, suggests that many people are only partially present in their spiritual lives. They may attend services, go to classes, and show up at events they know they should be at, but on some level, they are not really there. If this was true in the insular shtetls of Poland in the early 20th century, how much more so today?
With buzzing in our pockets, ringing in our ears, and the glare of screens reflecting off our tired faces, do we remember how to disconnect? How to reconnect? If we’re taking a picture to share that precious moment, are we really living it? If our video is off during our Zoom meeting, are we really there? As we live through endless days that have morphed into weeks and months and almost a full year of work and family and money and house care and stress and health competing for our attention, so many have lost sight of themselves, drowning somewhere underneath it all.
When God called Moshe Rabbeinu up the mountain, He was teaching us an important and timeless lesson. When it comes to allowing Hashem into your life, it’s not enough to just show up. If you want to connect to that which is most important to you, to reignite the Divine spark within, you have to go deep inside. You must dare to be present. Just be here now. “Go up the mountain,” he said, “and be there.”
This coming Shabbat, we will all be wherever we will be. We will be observing Shabbat in the challenging and bizarre circumstances of our times. We will not attend lively prayer services, communal gatherings, or large and festive meals. Many will celebrate the day at home with their families, and many will be all alone. Yet again.
This week, embrace the rest of the Holy Sabbath. Use this sacred time as an opportunity to find your own presence – in both the spiritual reality of the day, as well as the seemingly mundane reality of your current place and time. Pray. Meditate. Sing. Listen to the sound of your own breath. Watch the light of the Shabbat candles dancing across your walls. Look your children in the eyes. How does raising our awareness enhance our day to day experiences? How does deepening our consciousness strengthen our connection with Hashem and those around us? Let’s try and see what happens.