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"How To"

By: Mrs Malka Hubscher

Parshat Mishpatim encompasses many mitzvot pertaining primarily to interpersonal laws between fellow Jews. Hashem commands Moshe in the beginning of the parsha (Shemot 21:1) “These are the laws that you shall ‘set’ (‘tasim’) before them.”  Hashem’s command to Moshe is more than just to tell the laws to B’nai Yisrael or even to teach them, rather the verb tasim is used, to place or set.  Rashi explains that Moshe was required to continue teaching and explaining the intricacies of the laws to the people until they fully understood and internalized these numerous and complex laws. One can imagine that if this was indeed required of Moshe, then this process took many months if not years to properly convey and teach these laws.  Therefore, perhaps we can conclude that the development of the parsha reflects the development that the people went through over the course of time while in the desert. 

The first set of laws deal with Jewish slaves, a topic that obviously relates to the newly freed slaves from Egypt.  In contrast to the lifelong and abusive slavery in Egypt, when a Jew owns a fellow Jew, he must be treated with dignity and the slavery is limited to 6 years.

The next set of laws is the rules of damages; the guidelines and instructions are delineated without a lot of explanations or reasoning behind the mitzvot. The Jews are busy learning the ‘how to’ of the Torah. They are charged with setting up a law-abiding community with clear expectations and consequences for disobeying the law or disrespecting another person’s property.

However, at the end of perek 22, the tone of the parsha changes. Now we see not only the laws recorded, but the Torah now provides explanations and the philosophy behind mitzvot.

  • “You shall not taunt or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (22:20)

  • “If you take your friend’s garment as collateral, you shall return in to him by sunset. For it is his only clothing….”(22: 25-26)

  • “Do not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind…” (23:8)

In this section there are also commandments of leading a moral lifestyle. Hashem expects us to live beyond following the letter of the law, maintaining a moral, ethical and generous community.  

“You shall be people of holiness…” (22:30)

Perhaps the change in tone of the parsha reflects a development of the Jewish people.  In the beginning of their journey as a people, Moshe taught them the basic laws need to create a lawful and functioning community. But as a Godly nation, we strive for more than just an efficient society.  We are given the challenge to create a deeply moral and ethical society based on both justice and loving kindness. So as the nation matured so did their understanding of the laws. Now Moshe explained to them the principles behind the laws, the values and ideologies of a Torah society.

The last section of Perek 23 teaches about the shalosh regalim, the three primary holidays in the Jewish calendar.  This reflects a further development of the Jewish society. The celebration of these holidays reminds the citizen of the Jewish nation to imbue sanctity into the mundane.  We not only create a lawful and ethical society but a sanctified one as well. The farmer brings his hard earned crops to the Mikdash thus proclaiming that all his financial success is attributed to Hashem.  The nation makes a pilgrimage to the Mikdash three times a year to commune with G-d and inspire themselves and their families by witnessing the sanctity of the Mikdash and Yerushalayim.

While this parsha is full of many seemingly dry laws, in the underlying development of the parsha we see how Moshe slowly and methodically educated the new nation in how to create the ultimate Torah society. First and foremost we need an organized and operational society with clear laws and standards. Once that is achieved, the people must learn that the expectation of a Jewish society is one where ethics and morals are of supreme importance.  And finally we learn that sanctity is truly achieved through elevating the physical world by appreciating that all of our bounty is a gift from Hashem, and by making room in our busy lives to commune with Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom.







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