The Brick of SufferingJanuary 23, 2014 - 5:00 am
Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky.—Exodus 24:9–10
The Torah portion for this week is Mishpatim, which means “laws,” from Exodus 21:1–24:18, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 34:8–22.
Toward the end of this week’s Torah portion, we read about Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai, just before he received the Ten Commandments. Moses was not alone – he was accompanied by Aaron, Aaron’s sons, and 70 elders of Israel. All of them beheld a vision of God: “Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli.” What is the meaning of this vision?
The Sages explain the pavement was in the form of a brick – a brick that God kept before Him at all times while the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. The brick was a symbol of the Israelites’ suffering as they were forced to build the cities of Egypt through hard labour, which became even more intolerable toward the end when they had to make the bricks as well. By keeping a brick in His presence, the pain and suffering of God’s people was always on His mind.
Now, of course God’s people are always on His mind and He didn’t really need a brick to help Him remember! However, this vision of God is meant to serve as an example for all of us. What is the message?
In a word: empathy.
Empathy is different than sympathy. Sympathy is acknowledging someone’s pain. Empathy is feeling someone’s pain. When the verse tells us that God’s feet were resting on the pavement, it means that God felt the pain of His people. When they suffered, He suffered – their pain was always in the forefront of His mind.
It is so essential to make empathy a part of our daily lives, but it’s not always easy. It’s hard to relate to the hungry when our refrigerators are full. It’s hard to feel the pain of the homeless when we are in the comfort of our homes. It’s difficult to remember the bitterness of loneliness when we are surrounded by family. Here, in our verse, God keeps a constant reminder in front of Him – the brick of suffering. We can adapt this idea and do the same.
In most Jewish homes, a charity box is kept out in a prominent place. It serves not only as a convenient way to deposit change and give to charity, but it’s also a constant reminder that there are people in the world with far less than we have. However, any reminder will do. It can be a ribbon, a wristband, or a sign. What’s important is to take time to really feel someone’s pain and then to create a constant reminder – one that directs our goals and actions as we go through our day — and bring godliness to our world.