Torah Weekly

For the week ending 18 February 2023 / 27 Shevat 5783

Parshat Mishpatim

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Jewish People receive a series of laws concerning social justice. Topics include: Proper treatment of Jewish 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 Jewish 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 — for Pesach, Shavuot and Succot — we are to come to the Temple. The Torah concludes this listing of laws with a law of kashrut to not cook or mix meat and milk.


The Thing is Not a Play

“And these are the ordinances that you should place before them:” (21:01)

An actor-manager was a leading actor who set up his own permanent theatrical company and managed the business, sometimes taking over a theater to perform select plays in which he usually starred. It was a method of theatrical production used consistently since the 16th century, particularly common in 19th-century Britain and the United States. One of the last great actor-managers was Sir Donald Wolfitt. There’s an apocryphal story about Sir Donald, that in one particular classical play he had to read a long excerpt from a scroll that was presented to him by a page boy. Wolfitt never bothered to actually learn the speech, instead reading it out every night. One night, someone persuaded the page boy to bring to the stage a blank scroll. With great gravitas, Wolfitt unwound the scroll, saw that it was blank, handed it back to the page boy, saying, “Here. You read it.”

An audience would never guess the shenanigans and cover-ups that actors perpetrate to keep the show going. As the saying goes, “The show must go on!”

How would an actor feel if every member in the audience had a script and a little flashlight to monitor every line he said? Well, that’s exactly what a ba’al koreh – someone who reads the Torah for the congregation – must feel. Everyone in “the audience” is following his every line, listening carefully to make sure there is not even the slightest deviation.

Of course, the difference is that the Torah is reality. The Zohar HaKadosh says that “The Holy One looked into the Torah and created the world.” Just as the world is immutable, so is the Torah. It’s not as Hamlet said, “The play’s the thing.” Rather, “The thing (i.e. the Torah) is not a play.”

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