Torah Weekly

For the week ending 17 February 2007 / 29 Shevat 5767

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.


Nearer To Life

“…at the appointed time of the month in the springtime, for at that time you left Egypt…” (23:15)

The man stood at the front desk of the inn after a long and tiring journey. Despite his fatigue, or maybe because of it, he had the disquieting feeling that something was out of place in this inn. But what was it… what was it?

As he finished checking in he suddenly became aware of a sound; a sound as familiar as it was out of place. Tick, tock, tick, tock. That was it! The watch! The innkeeper’s watch!

“That watch…” he said to the innkeeper. That watch is my rabbi’s watch!”

“How do you know?” said the innkeeper.

“Because my rabbi’s watch is different than any other watch in the world.”

“How so?”

“With each tick, every watch in the world says, ‘One more second of your life gone. Tick! One step nearer to death, Tock! Nearer to death, tick! Nearer to death, tock!…’ Every watch in the world is like that except for my rabbi’s watch; his watch says, ‘One second closer to the Geula (redemption), tick! One step closer to the World of Truth, tock! One step nearer to eternal life, tick! Nearer to life, tick! Nearer to life, tock…’ I have no doubt that that watch is my rabbi’s watch.”

“A few year’s ago,” said the innkeeper, “there was a rabbi staying here at the inn. When he came to pay the check he realized he didn’t have enough money to pay, so instead he gave me this watch.”

The first mitzvah that the Jewish People received while they were still in Egypt was the sanctification of the moon. It’s axiomatic that something that comes at the beginning contains all that is to follow. Thus, as this mitzvah was the first mitzvah, it must be fundamental to Judaism. Ostensibly, however, the sanctification of the moon does not seem such a central pillar of Judaism. If you or I were writing the Torah, I doubt we would have selected this mitzvah to be the first? What, then, is so fundamental about the sanctification of the moon?

When G-d told the Jewish People to sanctify the new moon, He was giving them much more than a mitzvah. He was giving them a entirely different system of time.

In Hebrew, the word for time is zman. The root of zman is the same as hazmana, which can mean “preparation”, or “invitation.” When G-d took the Jewish People out of Egypt, they left a world of time which leads nowhere except to the grave, and entered a system of time where every second is a preparation, an invitation to something beyond time.

A step nearer to life.

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