Parashat Masei

The Importance Of Intention

The Torah's establishment of Cities of Refuge introduces the idea that intention determines the meaning of an action.

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Unique among ancient law codes, the Torah consistently maintains its emphasis on kavvanah (intention). Indeed, our Jewish traditions continue that distinction to this day. Human beings represent something precious--the only permissible representation of God in the world. And what is most godly about us in our knowledge of good and evil. That awareness, and our ability to act on our own moral impulse, represents both an opportunity and a challenge. The challenge is to grow to reflect that Divine Image to the fullest extent we can. The opportunity is to create, through moral integrity and mitzvot (commandments), an environment in which God's presence is readily apparent.

As this week's reading says, "I, the Lord, dwell in the midst of the children of Israel." To which Rashi (11th century France) adds, "you shall not cause Me to abide in uncleanness." Our actions must reflect our intentions, as we strive to make our intentions correspond, ever more closely, to God's.

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.