Torah Weekly

For the week ending 10 February 2024 / 1 Adar Alef 5784

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.


Stand and Be Counted

“Do not be a follower of the majority for evil” (23:2)

Apparently, at the end of the Second World War, a group of non-Jewish British intellectuals decided to convert and become Jewish. Basically, their rationale was, if you’re not part of the solution, you will become part of the problem. They saw how Germany, arguably the most civilized country in Europe, had descended into unparalleled barbarity in just a few short years, and so they converted and became part of the Jewish People.

In last week’s Torah portion, Rashi comments on the opening verse, “And Yitro heard…” - “What did he hear that made him come? The splitting of the sea and the War of Amalek.” Why, of all the great miracles that the Jewish People experienced, should these two specific events have inspired Yitro to convert?

Amalek is the nation whose implacable hatred of the Jews is without reason. It is instinctive and visceral. Antisemitism is as normal to Amalek as breathing or eating. But not everyone comes from the seed of Amalek. There will always be those in the middle.

Yitro saw that if a person doesn’t act on inspiration, not only does that inspiration wane and falter but it rots and becomes the opposite: revulsion. He understood that if he did not act on the inspiration of the unbelievable miracle of the splitting of the sea, he too would eventually become like Amalek, a Jew-hater.

Anyone with an eye or and ear for current events will be struck by the supreme irony of the accusation by South Africa that Israel is committing acts of genocide. The concept of Genocide was coined by a Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, to describe the Nazi atrocities. Alone among the 17 judges who deliberated on interim measures in the case concerning the Application of the Genocide Convention in the Gaza Strip (South Africa v. Israel), Julia Sebutinde, of Uganda, voted against all proposed provisional measures. In her dissenting view, she argued the absence of a credible indication of genocidal intent by Israel. Genocide is the intention to obliterate a nation, not the ghastly concomitant casualties of an urban war, where civilians are used as human shields by cynical state terrorists.

And what about the other 17 judges?

“Do not be a follower of the majority for evil.”

The Jewish People may not have many friends, but it warms the heart when someone stands up like Yitro and wants to be counted with us.

*Source: Chochmat HaMatzpun

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