In Every Space and Every Place
It was a fascinating view when 2 days ago the researchers at the Leicester University (U.K.) unveil the face of King Richard III. Combining their efforts with DNA tests, genealogical surveys, computer imaging, and academic research, the team concluded “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the skeletal remains that they uncovered beneath a Leicester car park were indeed those of Richard III, who was killed in battle in 1485.
It seems as if the car park will now become a tourist attraction, a central focus for history buffs and the otherwise curious to come and examine for themselves. How quickly circumstances change – yesterday a car park, today a burial site, tomorrow a tourist attraction.
Renewed interest in the events leading to Richard III’s death and the uncovering of his remains has an interesting parallel with a particular event at the end of the Torah. We are many months away from our celebration of Simchat Torah during which we will read the accounting of Moses’ death at the end of the Torah. The Torah records, “Moses, the servant of the Lord died there, in the land of Moab, at the command of the Lord. He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, near Beth-peor; and no one knows his burial place to this day (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). The Etz Hayim Torah commentary adds, “Many commentators have conjectured that the gravesite of Moses was concealed to prevent people from turning it into a shrine and using it as a location for a cult of Moses worship” (p. 1211). To be fair, tourists won’t be flocking to the grave of Richard III to worship him or idolize him, but the search for his remains has now concluded, and his death is now tied to a central location, a particular place, a focal point.
In contrast, Torah and Jewish tradition have different focal points. In last week’s parashah, Torah was revealed at Mount Sinai, a central location where the Israelites gathered after their redemption from slavery in Egypt. But this week’s reading from the Torah, Parashat Mishpatim, stresses the observance of the laws of Torah – in relationship with other human beings, in relationship with animals and the environment, and in relationship with God. Once we finish standing at Sinai, we take Torah with us – into every single encounter, every single moment of our lives.
While many of us are rightfully curious about the location of Mount Sinai or Moses’ burial place, the message of Torah is that holiness is not limited to outlined, predetermined places. Living a life of Torah, dedicating ourselves to understanding the ethical and moral commands of our tradition, seeking the spiritual and the transcendent, is something that we as Jews need to anywhere and everywhere we happen to be. Our Torah reading reminds us not to look in particular places, but rather, that we look in each and every place where we find ourselves.