Truth and Consequences

There's the old TV game show "Truth or Consequences," and the New Mexico city by that name, originally named for the eponymous NBC radio show. But how about "Truth and Consequences"?

This week's Torah portion (Mishpatim, or "Judgments") is named for Torah's first major description of civil and criminal laws. On the heels of Sinai, the portion is full of if-then: "if" someone does this, "then" do that – truths and consequences, penalties and punishments. These teachings come early after Sinai for a reason: to transform the fleeing slaves and their riff-raff joiners into a cohesive group, a community, a civilization.

In the modern legal system we know and maybe take for granted, consequence is hardwired with judgments, fees, damages, penalties and prison terms. That these ideas embed in Torah, a spiritual document, makes sense in spiritual history. But how about in our spiritual present? To put a fine point on it, what consequence do we imagine when we turn away from spiritual truth?

Do we imagine that God punishes? Maybe we carry guilt and we feel divinely punished. Do we imagine that the invisible hand of justice is a holy hand that guides the human justice system? Maybe that's how we should understand "In God We Trust" on our courthouse walls and currency.

Or maybe we understand the modern notion of spiritual consequence for turning from spiritual truth in a more internal way – a sense of presence or absence in our life, more invitation than mandate.

My ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal co-chair colleague, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, evokes a loving God whose potency animates our own natural intuition for spiritual truth that no amount of evasion and even rebellion can extinguish. We know it, we know when we stray, and the most pointed consequence is how we feel the light of that knowledge. Rabbi Rachel writes:

If you're not real with Me

your life will feel hollow

and your heart be embittered.

I won't punish you; I won't need to.

Your hollowness will be punishment enough,

and the world will suffer for it.

If you're not real with Me

So let My words twine around your arm,

and shine like a headlamp

between your eyes to light your way.

Teach them to everyone you meet.

Write them at the end of your emails

and on your business cards.

Then you'll remember how to live

with the flow of all that is holy --you'll have heaven right here on earth.

Let that be our wise and holy judgment amidst all the if-thens of life. Let that be our truth, and our consequence.

R' David Evan Markus