Mishpatim (Judgments)

Ex. 21:1-24:18

Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:25-26

Mathew 5:38-42



The children of Israel receive a series of laws concerning social justice. Topics include: proper treatment of servants; a husband's obligations to his wife; penalties for hitting people and for cursing parents, judges and leaders; financial responsibilities for damaging people or their property, either by oneself or by one's animate or inanimate property, or by pitfalls that one created; payments for theft; not returning an object that one accepted responsibility to guard; the right to self-defense of a person being robbed.


Other topics include: prohibitions against seduction; witchcraft, bestiality and sacrifices to idols. The Torah warns us to treat the convert, widow and orphan with dignity, and to avoid lying. Usury is forbidden and the rights over collateral are limited. Payment of obligations to the Temple should not be delayed, and the people must be holy, even concerning food. The Torah teaches the proper conduct for judges in court proceedings. The commandments of Shabbat and the Sabbatical year are outlined. Three times a year-Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkoth-we are to come to the Temple. The Torah concluded this listing of laws with a law of kashrut.


This week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, begins with the laws of slaves. The rules for Hebrew slaves applied equally to both sexes (Deut.15:12-17). One might choose to go into slavery to pay restitution for theft, to repay a debt, or obtain food and shelter in hard times.


Regarding the theme of slavery, the ancient rabbinical sages said that the sale and buying of Jewish slaves is a reminder of how we deal with our fleshly nature (old self) and our new inner man, the spirit within. Shaul wrote in Romans 6,7 and 8 about the struggle with the old and new natures. The sages of old tell us that there are different stages in which we overcome the old fleshly desires. One is what they called the Cana'anite  slave, which is the initial stage of service where we must overcome the "old self" which lusts for worldly pleasures. The second is the Hebrew slave which seeks a desire for Godliness. Last is the Hebrew maidservant whose greatest desire is to be united in marriage. In this, the sages state the ultimate desire is unity, marriage with Ha Shem. Thus the desire for the old life full of physical pleasures is submitted to Ha Shem and is transformed to Godly desire only. So the desire or goal is to not be conformed to this age, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of GOD (Rom.12:1-2).


There are positive and negative commandments listed in this Parasha.  They are meant to show us how we should live as a society.


Shavua Tov,


Rabbi  Z.

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