middot order torah turn aside to order

turn aside to order

Written by  rabbi russ resnik

art-neatdeskMoses said, “I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight . . .” (Ex. 3:3).

All of the middot are practical, and order might contend to be the most practical of all. It entails things like putting the car keys back on their hook as soon as you walk in the door, setting your alarm so you get up early enough the next morning, and keeping your desk tidy to eliminate distractions. Like all the middot, however, order must be practiced in balance. Order out of balance can become petty and compulsive, but there’s an even bigger issue of balance, which appears in Parashat Shemot (Ex. 1:1–6:1).


Our need to get things into order must be balanced by the recognition that God has a greater order. And God’s order may not always look like the order we’re trying to maintain. So Moses, as he comes of age, goes out of Pharaoh’s house, where he grew up, and sees the suffering of his Hebrew kinsfolk. He immediately takes matters into his own hands and ends up killing an Egyptian slave-driver (Ex. 2:11ff.). Moses might imagine that he is beginning to reverse the disorder of the world around him, in which God’s chosen people are slaves. But he’ll discover that God has a different order, a different timing, and that he can only succeed as he learns to conform to that.

God’s order for Moses includes a period of exile from his kinsfolk and service to his father-in-law, Jethro the priest of Midian. During this long period, God’s plan for redeeming the Hebrews begins to move forward and Hashem chooses Moses to take the lead role within it. By this time, however, Moses has his mind on other things—like sheep—and he’ll have to turn aside from the order of his life to hear what God has to say. The story continues, “When Hashem saw that he had turned aside to look, God called to him out of the bush: ‘Moses! Moses!’ He answered, ‘Here I am’” (Ex. 4:4). As the encounter with God at the burning bush unfolds, it’s clear that Moses has to turn aside not just from herding sheep, but from the entire order of his life and outlook to come into God’s order.

So it’s good to upgrade and maintain the physical order of our lives, as we pursue this middah. Rabbi Lefin is right, of course: “All your actions and possessions should be orderly – each and every one in a set place and set time. Let your thoughts always be free to deal with that which lies ahead of you” (Cheshbon Hanefesh). My chaotic workspace is calling out for some attention this very day, but I have to recognize that God has a far greater order. In pursuit of mussar, we need to live orderly lives, but we also need to recognize that higher order—which sometimes might appear to our eyes to be disorder—and be ready to turn aside to respond to it.

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