By Rabbi Daniel Glass, May 2, 2008

“You shall have correct scales, correct weights... I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt”
Leviticus 19:36

Sometimes it seems that, aside from a tiny minority of the brilliant, the outstanding and the famous, most of us are part of the vast sea of humanity, living out an unexceptional and insignificant existence.

Early in Genesis we encounter a man named Enoch and we are told that he “walked with God” (Genesis 5:24).The Midrash explains that this closeness to God could be seen in Enoch’s work as a shoemaker; each stitch he added to every shoe was accompanied by thoughts of immense spiritual elevation and refinement. Conventionally, this is understood to mean he was able to remove his mind from his work and direct his thoughts towards a mystical, kabbalistic realm.

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, one of the 19th century’s great Jewish thinkers, however, suggests that the spiritual depth to be found in each stitch of Enoch’s needle lay precisely in his involvement with his work: his precision and integrity, his effort to ensure that each shoe he made provided the maximum comfort for its wearer, his concern that when he received payment for his work he would be handing over a completed item that was exactly what he had been asked for. This is what the Torah calls “walking with God”.

Our sidrah makes a connection between the Exodus from Egypt and something that seems entirely unrelated: the accuracy of a shopkeeper’s weights and measures.

Just as with Enoch, the point seems to be that God transformed nature through the ten plagues, destroyed one of the ancient world’s superpowers and liberated a nation of millions, not for the sake of a few unique, brilliant and gifted individuals and their achievements, but to provide an opportunity for the small, quiet acts of integrity and goodness — possibly unnoticed by the human eye — which can transform an ordinary existence into a life of greatness.

Last updated: 1:52pm, June 2 2008