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In Parshat Mishpatim we witness one of the great stylistic features of the Torah, its transition from narrative to law. Until now the book of Exodus has been primarily narrative: the story of the enslavement of the Israelites and their journey to freedom. Now comes detailed legislation, the “constitution of liberty.” This is not accidental but essential. In Judaism, law grows out of the historical experience of the people. Egypt was the Israelite’s school of the soul; memory of it was an ongoing seminar in the art and craft of freedom. It taught them what it felt like to be on the wrong side of power. “You know what it feels like to be a stranger,” says a resonant phrase in this week’s Sabbath School Lesson. The Israelites were the people commanded never to forget the bitter taste of slavery, so that they would never take freedom for granted. Those who do so, eventually lose it. Nowhere is this clearer than in the opening of today’s lesson. We have been reading about the Israelites’ historic experience of slavery. So the social legislation of Mishpatim begins with slavery. What is fascinating is not only what it says, but what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say: Abolish slavery. Surely it should have done so. Is that not the whole point of the story thus far? Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery. He, as the Egyptian viceroy Tzafenat Paane’ach, threatens them with slavery. Generations later, when a pharaoh arises who “knew not Joseph,” the entire Israelite people become Egypt’s slaves. Slavery, like vengeance, is a vicious circle that has no natural end. Why not, then, give it a supernatural end?

Why did The Most High not say: There shall be no more slavery? (Sacks, Jonathan. The Slow End of Slavery) Daily Readings: Sunday (Exodus 21:1-19): This section discusses laws pertaining to the Hebrew slave / servant, his mandatory release after six years of service, and the procedure followed when a servant expresses his desire to remain in his master's service. The Torah continues with the laws of the Israelite maidservant, and her terms of release. Other laws contained in this section: a husband's obligations towards his wife; punishments for murder, manslaughter, kidnapping and abusing parents; and the penalties accrued by a person who injures another. (Mishpatim Aliyah Summary)

Monday (Exodus 21:20 - 22:3): This section continues with laws of personal injury: the punishment for one who kills or injures his servant and for one who causes a woman to miscarry. The Torah then shifts its focus to a person's liabilities for damages caused by his possessions, such as an ox that gores; or his actions, such as leaving an open pit uncovered. A person who steals is liable to pay the funds, plus punitive damages. The section concludes with a person's right to self-defense when facing a marauding thief. (Mishpatim Aliyah Summary)


Tuesday (Exodus 22:4-26): An arsonist is liable for damages caused by fires he ignites. The Torah then details the potential liabilities of an individual who undertakes to be a guardian of another's possessions, a borrower, and a renter. More laws: the punishment for seducing a young woman, sorcery, bestiality and offering an idolatrous sacrifice; prohibitions against harassing a foreigner, widow, or orphan; the mitzvah of lending money to the poor and the prohibition against lending with interest. (Mishpatim Aliyah Summary)


Wednesday (Exodus 22:27 - 23:5): This section, too, introduces us to many new mitzvot (commandments): the prohibitions against cursing a judge or leader, consuming meat that was not ritually slaughtered, offering a sacrifice before the animal is eight days old, perjury, and judicial corruption; the commandments to separate all agricultural tithes in their proper order, sanctify the first-born son, return a lost animal to its owner, and help unload an overburdened animal. (Mishpatim Aliyah Summary)

Thursday (Exodus 23:6-19): We are commanded not to lie or take a bribe. The mitzvah of the Shemitah (Sabbatical year) is introduced: six years we work and harvest the land, and on the seventh year we allow the land to rest. Similarly, on a weekly basis, six days we work and on the seventh day we – and our cattle and servants – must rest. We are forbidden to mention the name of other gods. We are commanded to celebrate the three festivals — Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot – and to make pilgrimages to the Holy Temple on these occasions. Finally, we are told not to cook a young goat in (its mother's) milk. (Mishpatim Aliyah Summary)


Friday (Exodus 23:20-25): YHWH informed the Israelites that He would dispatch an angel to lead them into Canaan. This angel would not tolerate disobedience. If, however, the Israelites would hearken to the angel, and eradicate idolatry from the Promised Land, then they will be greatly rewarded. Their Canaanite enemies will fall before them and YHWH “will bless your food and your drink and will remove illness from your midst.” (Mishpatim Aliyah Summary)


Shabbat (Exodus 23:26 - 24:18): This section continues describing the blessings the Israelites will receive if they faithfully serve YHWH: no miscarriages or barren women, longevity, wide spacious borders and supernatural assistance in their quest to conquer the Holy Land. YHWH warns the Israelites against entering into treaties with the Canaanite natives or allowing them to remain in the land after the Israelite invasion. The Torah now relates some of the events that occurred in the days immediately prior to the giving of the Torah. Moses went up the mountain and received a message from YHWH which he communicated to the people. The Israelites enthusiastically committed themselves to following all of The Almighty’s laws. Moses transcribed the “Book of the Covenant” and read it to the people. Then, together with the Israelite firstborn, Moses offered sacrifices and sprinkled the blood on the people, bringing them into a covenant with YHWH. This section concludes with YHWH summoning Moses – after the giving of the Torah – to ascend the mountain where he would remain for forty days and nights, and would then be given the Tablets. (Mishpatim Aliyah Summary)



Just because the death penalty cannot be enforced today, does not mean the law is off the books. Each one of these sins carries the same grievous weight. In the Torah, it is just as grievous a sin to curse one's parents or to strike them as it is to murder someone. “For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death.” (Mark 7:10)

The Torah says that murderers, kidnappers, and insolent children are to be put to death. “He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:15). There is no indication that the parent was killed or even badly hurt in the altercation with the child. The mere act of hitting one's father or mother is enough impudence that YHWH deems it as bad as murder. This shows us how The Most High’s values are sometimes different from ours. Of course, we would never advocate striking one's father or mother, but neither would we feel comfortable putting someone to death for doing so. Family counseling? Yes. Anger management classes? Sure. Death by stoning? Probably not. YHWH sees it differently. When He says, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12), He means it. Similarly, Exodus 21:17 says, “He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death." What does it mean to curse one's parents? According to traditional Judaism, the passage is not speaking of simply abusive language; it is speaking of a real curse. If a son or daughter uses the holy name of The Almighty to utter an intentional curse against one of their parents; that son or daughter is worthy of death. Without a sovereign Torah-court wielding civil authority, the death-penalty can no longer be applied. No one has been stoned by Torah-law in almost two-thousand years. The extreme punishment for striking or cursing one's parents teaches the importance that biblical religion places on the integrity and decency of the family. Rebellion, violence and insolence against one's parents, whether physical or verbal, are as much a threat to the fabric of society as murder and kidnapping. In today's world, society teaches children, particularly teenagers, to disrespect their parents. It is normal to hear teenagers speak to their parents with impertinent and insolent words. It is embarrassing to be around a family where the children are out of order. Children who disrespectfully speak back to their parents are a public disgrace to their family. As a people, we have lost the biblical value of honoring father and mother. The apostle Shaul warned that in the last days, a spirit of rebelliousness would be unleashed upon the world. He said that men will be “arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable.”(2 Timothy 3:2-3) He advised us to “avoid such men as these” (2 Timothy 3:5).

Paul's recommendation is good child-rearing advice. If you don't want your child to grow up to be disrespectful and mouthy toward you, don't have him socialize with other children who are disrespectful to their parents. It's a serious matter. If you knew that your son's peers were murderers and kidnappers, you would not allow him to be under their influence for even a moment. According to the Bible, children who scorn their parents are just as bad.

(Torah Club: Depths of the Torah. Tough-Love with Torah)

What do the Haftarah (Isaiah 66:1-24) and the Brit ha-Chadash (Mark 9:40–50) have in common with the Sabbath School Lesson? (פָּרָ שַׁ ת מִּ שְׁ פָּטִ ים ) / Mishpatim Parashat :Readings s’Week Next Torah: Exodus 21:1-24:18; Numbers 28:9-15* Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24* Brit ha-Chadasha: Mark 9:40–50* Sources used for this Weeks Portion are Derived from: Mishpatim Aliyah Summary., retrieved on January 27, 2019. Sacks, Jonathan. The Slow End of Slavery., retrieved on January 27, 2019. Torah Club: Depths of the Torah. Tough-Love with Torah. Daniel Lancaster, First Fruits of Zion, retrieved on January 27, 2019

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Shabbat Shalom

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