Torah Weekly - Parshat Mishpatim

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Parshat Mishpatim

For the week ending 29 Shevat 5760 / 4 & 5 February 2000

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  • So Close And Yet So Far Away
  • Haftorah
  • Pride and Prejudice
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  • Overview


    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.

    Hashem 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 Hashem 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.




    "And you will bow down from a distance." (24:1)

    We perceive G-d in two ways. We believe that He is pre-existent, the Cause, the Creator and the Sustainer of all reality. He is far beyond and above. Ultimately distant. No creature can fathom Him, for what can the painting know of the Painter? He created thought, so no thought can think of Him. He is utterly separate and distant beyond all concept of space and time.

    And yet He is very, very near. There is no place or time where He is not. For if He were not there, that place could not be, that second would never take place. He fills all worlds and encompasses all worlds.

    G-d is both transcendent and immanent.

    It is the unique privilege of the Jewish People to proclaim these two seemingly opposite aspects of our perception of G-d. Many religions have a concept of G-d being supremely elevated above all, but they falter in their recognition of His imminence. They fail to understand that He is here right now. He sees all, knows the secrets of every living thing and is interested in their every move.

    During their kedusha prayer, the Jewish People rise and proclaim like the angels: "Holy, Holy, Holy, Hashem, Master of Legions. The whole world is filled with His Glory." And: "Blessed is the Glory of Hashemfrom His place."

    The first statement depicts our relationship with G-d as immanent — the universe is "filled with His Glory," no place or time being devoid of Him. The second statement expresses G-d's transcendence, His utter separation and elevation from this world — "from His place."

    This is the deeper meaning of the words of the Prophet Yeshaya: "Peace to afar and to close at hand, says Hashem." To the righteous who are faithful to these two beliefs, G-d radiates a constant stream of Heavenly influence.

    These two aspects express themselves in the awe of Heaven, on the one hand, and the love of G-d on the other. A person is awed by that which is above and beyond him. That which is near at hand doesn't strike fear into his heart. It's too close. On the other hand, love only flourishes in closeness. It's difficult to love when there is no contact.

    "And you will bow down from a distance."

    The hidden meaning of this verse in this week's parsha is that bowing — expression of fear and awe — is the natural partner of distance — G-d's transcendence.

    Sources: Kedushat Levi, Arizal


    Shmuel I 20:18 - 42



    Machar Chodesh is the Haftara read when Shabbat falls on the day before Rosh Chodesh. It relates the story of one of the heroes of Israel, Yonatan, whose integrity and humility are the focus of the following narrative:

    King Saul's son Yonatan was in line for the throne of Israel. But Yonatan knew of G-d's decree that kingship be transferred to David, Saul's son-in-law.

    Suspecting that Saul would soon sentence David to death for planning to usurp the throne, Yonatan and David made a plan. David would hide in the field while Yonatan returned to the palace to discover Saul's intentions. Then, Yonatan would return to the field with bow and arrows. After shooting, he would call to his servant to gather the arrows. If Yonatan would shout, "the arrows are behind you," David would know that the danger lay behind him and that he was safe. If, however, Yonatan would shout "the arrows are ahead of you," David would know that danger waits ahead and he must flee.

    At the palace, Saul asks about David's absence, and Yonatan replies that David had gone to Bethlehem for a family event. Sensing that Yonatan is merely protecting David, Saul flies into a rage, making no effort to hide his deadly intentions toward David.

    Yonatan returns to the field, shoots his arrow, and calls to his servant to retrieve it, shouting, "The arrow is ahead of you." With the sign given, he sends his servant home. Immediately, David appears from his hiding place. The two embrace and pledge allegiance to one another.

    Yonatan's devotion to his friend David is unparalleled as is his honesty and humility. This is one of the most heartwarming stories in the Tanach. A story of a true friend whose pride did not get in the way of doing what was right.

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Eli Ballon

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