Blog Mishpatim 25 Shevat 5778 בלוג מִּשְׁפָּטִים, כ”ה שבט תשע”ח
The Ten Commandments are divided into three sections: The first three, the Mitzvot describe our relationship with the Creator; the next two, the Chukkim are about our relationship with ourselves and the last five, the Mishpatim, concern our behavior toward our neighbor. Moshe went up Mount Sinai a second time and returned with the Ten Commandments inscribed in stone by the Finger of God as an anthropomorphic term used in the Torah. In this, the Creator is showing us that they are unchangeable. Everything else is commentary and application. There is no choice about our obedience to these. Shabbat is Shabbat, not Sunday and not Friday. Today this has changed but not in the sight of our Creator. Whatever He gave us is for our good.
in this portion, there are 53 mishpatim, judgments or injunctions which were not presented in any particular order. There is a Hebrew expression – “ein muqdan u’meuchar b’Torah – ומאחר בתורה מקדם אין ” – which basically means that in the Torah there is no earlier or later; that they are not necessarily given in chronological order, but are meant to teach us principles for us to live by. I cannot emphasize enough that the Ten Commandments is our Foundation and everything else written is their application to our lives.
The portion begins with “וְאֵלֶּה, הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים, לִפְנֵיהֶם” – these are the ordinances which you will set before them.” They are not laws which are enforced upon us rather we are given the choice of obeying or not. The Almighty gave us “bechira chofshit – בחירה חופשית – free will” with the inherent privilege of making choices of how we live. This makes us responsible for the consequences of our actions. The Almighty doesn’t punish us as many teach; we are simply reaping the consequences of our behavior, for good or bad. In Exodus 24:7, The Hebrew people said … “All that the LORD has spoken we will do and listen (obey).”– כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע (to listen literally means to obey). Free will assumes responsibility.
Why does the portion begin with the ordinances on slavery, especially for Hebrew slaves? The new nation had just left Egypt and was infected with slave mentality. Israel had been formed in the womb of her surrogate mother who was addicted to idolatry. Today there is an epidemic of heroin in North America. Another drug, Methadone, a similar but lesser addictive drug is used to slowly wean people away from heroin. Our Creator brought this baby girl, who was born addicted to idolatry and was giving her a less addictive drug to help free her. That is what He is doing with the giving of the ordinances in the Torah. For example, the offerings or sacrifices would help the new nation slowly be redirected from the pagan sacrificial system to a more sanitized system until they would finally be freed from it completely. Today we no longer have a sacrificial system.
Egypt had been a very harsh mother and it would be very difficult to change the slave mentality of her child. The Creator could have simply waved His magic wand and set them free but instead He chose to give them free will, thus allowing them and future generations to choose. A slave is like a baby unable to make any decisions and Israel would need to grow up quickly. All these Mishpatim would teach them how to treat themselves, their neighbors, their enemies, their animals and even the animals of their enemies. They needed to learn what to do at that time, but the principles still apply to us today. For example, when someone had lost everything, and they needed to give up even their cloak, it had to be returned to them at night so that they wouldn’t freeze. Basically, this teaches the principle of mercy, of compassion. How does this apply to today? What happens if you have a mortgage on your house and you cannot pay. What does the bank do? They take your house and throw you out onto the streets. This is not Torah. Today business and greed are more important than mercy. We were to do good even for our enemy.
Applying the principles of the Torah are so much more important than taking the Torah literally. There is a progression of understanding concerning our behaviour. The Torah is not black and white, it forces us to live in the grey areas where we have to work and sweat to find the answers on how to best live – to be kind and merciful toward each other. The Creator wants us to think for ourselves and not blame others for what happens to us. When you are confronted with something that you do wrong, do you justify your actions, or do you accept what you did and then work to correct it? Justification is slave mentality and leaves no room for growth! People love to ask me if it is all right for them to do this or that. I ask them if I am their conscience. In this way, if they are questioned, they can say, well the rabbi said it’s okay. Mishpatim teaches us to be responsible and respectful toward others, to do what is right for others, even putting their needs before our own. When people challenge you about something you have done, listen to them, examine it and then decide for yourself. It’s time to grow up. Torah teaches us to take responsibility for what we do, and the beauty is that we can then be spared having to suffer the consequences because we made the effort to make it right. That is true teshuva. Simply put, there is no easy way out as most religious leaders love to promise their constituents.
To sum up and to best understand the Torah in its Hebrew context, do not take it literally. Do not assume that it was written chronologically rather that the stories are to set down principles to live by which will stand the test of time. Do not justify yourself, be responsible for your actions and always choose life. Life is hard work, and nothing comes easy but in the end the results are well worth-while.
Are you ready to be responsible? Are you ready to stop justifying yourself and instead to be brutally honest about who you are? Are you ready to stop having a slave mentality which makes you dependent upon others to tell you how to think? This is how to develop a personal relationship with the Bore Olam.