Torah Weekly

For the week ending 6 February 2016 / 27 Shevat 5776

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.


The Clouds – From Both Sides

“And the Festival of the Ingathering at the end of the year” (23:16)

In other places in the Torah, the Festival of Succot is called just that – Succot. Why here does the Torah refer to it as the Festival of the Ingathering?

An old joke runs, “Why do Jews always answer one question with another?” “I don’t know – why do they?”

So as not to disappoint the makers of clichés and stereotypes, let’s answer this question with another.

Seeing as Succot celebrates the miraculous “Clouds of Glory” which surrounded us and protected us when we left Egypt, why don’t we celebrate the Festival of Succot on the fifteenth of Nissan, immediately following the Exodus?

The Vilna Gaon answers that immediately following the Exodus there was no need to commemorate the “Clouds of Glory”, just as there was no special commemoration of the manna, the miraculous food that sustained the Jewish People for nearly forty years, nor the special well of water that accompanied the Jewish People in the desert.

After the sin of the golden calf, however, G-d took away the “Clouds of Glory” and the Jewish People remained exposed to the elements and to their enemies. It was only after the first Yom Kippur on the tenth of Tishrei when Gd forgave the Jewish People that the Clouds returned. Therefore, the Festival of Succot doesn’t really celebrate the “Clouds of Glory” — it celebrates their return.

So it comes out that in our Torah portion, Mishpatim, which is chronologically before the sin of the golden calf, as yet there was no mitzvah to dwell in the succah to commemorate the return of “Clouds of Glory” — thus the Torah refers to it only as “the Festival of the Ingathering.”

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