Torah Weekly

For the week ending 25 February 2017 / 29 Shevat 5777

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.


No Man Is an Island

“If a man shall uncover a pit… the owner of the pit will pay money; he will return (it) to his owner…” (21:33)

“No man is an island entire of itself” wrote John Donne in 1624. As Jews we may take this anti-isolationist exhortation one step further.

A Jew has the power to bring a flow of blessing into this world or, G-d forbid, the reverse. As Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner (zatzal) once put it, “Between us and the Ribbono Shel Olam, there is no Switzerland” (This was, of course, back in the days when Switzerland still had an untarnished reputation for neutrality.)

Nothing a Jew does is neutral.

A Jew has the keys to the physical and spiritual bounty reaching this world. It all depends on us doing the Will of G-d.

“If a man shall uncover a pit…”

Every person who sins “uncovers a pit” in this world by creating damaging spiritual forces that may harm others. The solution is that “the owner of the pit will pay.” In other words, the one who sinned should repair the situation by returning kesef (literally ‘money’). The word kesef in Hebrew is from the same root as “desire” or “longing”.

The way we can fix the damage, the uncovering of a spiritual pitfall, is by our longing to return to “the Owner” of the world — to G-d.

  • Sources: Likutei Sfat Emet in Mayana shel Torah

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