Torah Weekly

For the week ending 21 February 2004 / 29 Shevat 5764

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 Pesach, Shavuot and Succot we are to come to the Temple. The Torah concludes this listing of laws with a law of kashrut not to mix milk and meat.

G-d promises that He will lead the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, helping them conquer its inhabitants, and tells them that by fulfilling His commandments they will bring blessings to their nation. The people promise to do and listen to everything that G-d says. Moshe writes the Book of the Covenant, and reads it to the people. Moshe ascends the mountain to remain there for 40 days in order to receive the two Tablets of the Covenant.


Lore And Order

"These are the laws" (21:1)

The other day I received the following e-mail,

> Subject: urgent
> Very Urgent!
> FOR.
> If you receive an e-mail titled:
> "It Takes Guts to Say Jesus" DO NOT OPEN IT. It will erase everything on yourhard drive.
> This information was announced yesterday morning from IBM;
> AOL states that this is a very dangerous virus, much worse than
> "Melissa," and that there is NO Remedy for it at this time. Some very
> sick individual has succeeded in using the reformat
> function from Norton Utilities
> causing it to completely erase all documents on the hard drive. It has
> been designed to work with Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet
> Explorer. It destroys Macintosh and IBM compatible computers.
> This is a new, very malicious virus and not many people
> know about it. Pass this warning along to EVERYONE in your address book
> and please share it with all your online friends ASAP so that this
> threat maybe
> stopped. Please practice cautionary measures and tell anyone that may
> have access to your computer. Forward this warning to everyone that you
> know that might access the Internet.
> Joyce L. Bober
> Information Systems
> Pittsburgh Mailing Systems

Im pretty gullible when it comes to virus hoaxes, so of course I sent this off blithely to everyone in my e-mail address book. Barely had the ink dried on my group e-mail when I received some polite (and some not-so-polite) replies.

One of those replies was the following:

Thanks for the virus warning (I don't open mail from Jesus).

Five Jews changed the way we see the world:

Moses said: "The Law is everything."

Jesus said: "Love is everything."

Marx said: "Capital (money) is everything."

Freud said: "Sex is everything."

Then came Einstein... He said: "Everything is relative!"

Very funny, I thought to myself, but then I reread the first two lines and I thought, what a shame, here is someone who is Jewish, repeating a canard that has been trotted out against Judaism for the last two thousand-odd years.

The canard runs something like this: The Jews are hide-bound in a suffocating, stultifying morass of picky, picky laws. From the moment theyre born till the moment they die, from night till morning, they cant do this, they have to do this. Theyll be too early for this, too late for this.

Even your most dedicated pagan will have to admit, however, that the majority of laws that underpin society are an inheritance from the People to the Book. The rights and obligations that society accepts as norms were huge innovations three thousand years ago when the Jews brought them to the attention of a world where man was far from kind. However, one would be missing the point to limit Judaisms gift to mankind as merely societal. The Jews brought much more to the world than justice for women and children, for the weak and the oppressed. The Jews brought to the world the idea that every physical action can be imbued with spirituality if done in the right way.

The Jews relationship with G-d is not limited to a particular day of the week or just when he prays. There is no area of human existence from the moment we wake till we sleep, from the moment we are born to our final breath, that does not have the capacity to be elevated. This is the purpose of Jewish Law. And, if you think about it, it can be no other way. For the alternative, that there are vast tracts of human experience that are devoid of spiritual potential, would be to accuse the Creator of a certain sloppiness. G-d forbid!

You will find very few people picketing the National Geophysics Board in London, parading up and down with placards that read "Against Gravity!" Or "We demand our right to ascend!" Or "Gravity is a downer!"

You will find very few letters to the editor of the magazine Nature decrying the wanton growth of sunflowers or daisies.

No one considers the laws of nature as anything less than self-evident and imperative. They are no more optional than two plus two maybe making five.

The Torahs laws are no different. They are as inescapable and imperative as gravity. What makes the world scorn them is two-fold.

One the laws of the Torah are not demonstrable empirically. You cannot see that someone who puts on tefillin is more exalted, is on a higher spiritual level than someone who doesnt. Nor, to my knowledge, is there a blood test that detects the damage of non-kosher food to the Jewish soul.

And Two it doesnt really bother me if gravity does its thing, provided it doesnt bring ME down. If youre telling me I have to do this, I cant do that if youre cramping MY style, I can find plenty of reasons to become rabidly anti-Law.

Jewish Law is not a straightjacket, it is a garment of light in a world of darkness that illuminates our physical existence.

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