Continuing in the footsteps of the Aseres HaDibros in Parshas Yisro, Parshas Mishpatim, as the name of the Sedrah would tell you, is replete with new laws and statutes for the Jewish people to uphold. Toward the end of the Parsha, Moshe Rabbenu, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu, and the seventy elders ascended Har Sinai and caught a glimpse of the throne of God. The pasuk states: “and they perceived the God of Israel, and beneath His feet was like the forming of a sapphire brick and like the appearance of the heavens for clarity.” At first glance, the vision of a sapphire brick seems puzzling. What is so unique about a brick? Could there not be something more inspiring or meaningful that could’ve been portrayed to the leaders of the Jewish people?
Rashi explains that the reason for the Livnas HaSapir, this sapphire brick, served as a reminder of the trials of Bnai Yisrael in Egypt, reminiscent of the bricks that they had to make in their harsh labor forced upon by Paro. Some explain that this was done as a measure by God to show that He was with them throughout their struggle with the tyrannical Egyptian regime. Just as there were bricks while the Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt, so too there is a brick now, part and parcel to the Kisei HaKavod.
There’s an answer that speaks more to me, one that I heard from my teacher Dr. David Pelcovitz in a semicha class of ours. While it’s important to look to the future with our hopes and dreams, the Jewish people are a nation that constantly is looking back. The the lesson of Livnas HaSapir is not only that God remembers the bricks from Mitzrayim, but as Rav Yerucham Levovitz explains, that we must remember the bricks as well. Even in times of happiness, we remember the past. The experience of being enslaved in Egypt, even though Bnai Yisrael was no longer there, needed to stay with them to serve as a constant reminder, not necessarily of the horrible yoke of slavery, but to serve as their guidebook as to how to treat other people.
If one were to examine the laws that are written about the Hebrew slave from our parsha, you would see that they are treated fairly differently that one might expect. The experience of an even Ivri in their master’s home differs significantly to the experience of the Jewish people in Egypt or the slavery that existed in the United States before being outlawed. There are no whips, shackles, or harsh labor. Furthermore, there are many times in this Parsha and other places in the Torah that inform us that we must treat the stranger among us with respect, because we were once strangers in Egypt. We know how it feels to be uncomfortable. To not fit in. To be persecuted. We’ve experienced the pain first hand. The affliction levied by the Egyptian taskmasters gripped Bnai Yisrael with such terror. How on earth could we subject any other individuals to that sort of dastardly behavior? Therefore, we aren’t just supposed to be better: the Ribono Shel Olam set into motion a course of action whereby we MUST be better. God is setting the standard for us. We cannot act that way because the shoe has been on the other foot, so to speak. The pain is not long lost on us.