Mishpatim Shevat 27th 5779 בלוג מִּשְׁפָּטִים, כ”ז שבט תשע’
Parashat Mishpatim continues the giving of the Torah in Yitro. I continue to remind you that Torah is not chronological, “there is no earlier or later in the Torah” – אין מקדן ומאחר בתורה, rather it is pedagogical – teaching. The Ten Commandments speak to the individual and the individual to the nation. They are divided up in three portions: the first three are the mitzvot which are directed at our personal relationship with Him, our Creator. The second two are Chukkim, Ordinances which have a reason but no logical explanation. These are for us to have a better relationship with ourselves, and the last five are Mishpatim, “social ordinances” to help us to have a better relationship with our fellow man. The Creator established an order so that our relationships on earth would be good ones. For example, the ninth commandment is do not speak “lashon harah” – evil tongue, gossip. When we do, we damage our neighbor and in so doing, we damage our Creator since we are all made in His image.
As a reminder, the Torah was not presented to the people in the land of Israel to demonstrate the universality of the message. The Torah was also not enforced upon them by the Creator; they would have to accept it. Free Will is a very important aspect of His message. The portion begins in Ex. 21:1, “These are the Mishpatim which you (Moses) will set before them” and the very first ordinance would be regarding slavery. What was the first commandment? – “I am the God who brought you out of the house of slavery!” The Creator does NOT want us to be slaves to anything or anyone including Himself! There are many religions that teach us that we need to be a slave of God. Enslaving themselves to God makes them feel more “spiritual”. Instead our Creator wants us to be in relationship with Him; we can talk to Him and even lose our temper without fear that He will destroy us. Our relationship is based upon mutual respect. We are all equal before Him, having His Divine Spark within us.
Mishpatim covers so many areas however I’d like us give you a global idea. First, our most precious gift from Him is the freedom to be ourselves (bechirah chofshit – בחירה חושית). When you do not want to be free, you enslave yourself. Ask yourself this question: Am I a slave to anything? It is not easy to extricate ourselves from the things that are holding us back! I have counselled many people over the years in the area of addiction. We would celebrate their short victories, always aware that they were struggling and could regress at any time. There are so many addictions which are not called addictions. What has taken away your freedom and destroyed your humanity, which ultimately destroys God’s image in you? In my counseling, I have also come across a lot of mental and emotional disorders and when I tell them that they need professional help, they usually deny that they have a problem. Until someone recognizes that they have a problem, there is no chance of recovery. True freedom begins when we can be honest with ourselves. The Creator does not impose Himself but allows us to come to self- awareness and acceptance of our faults.
In this portion, the Creator is speaking to us about justice. He gave us minds so that we can think and not just follow blindly – that’s slavery. How can we respect or be good to others if we don’t allow those things to ourselves? It is important to ask the Creator and those around us, who we love and trust, to help us to see those areas of enslavement in our lives. Listen and be open to them. It is not good to be closed minded. Only fanatics think that only they are right and that everyone else is wrong. We can learn truth from others and then share it with others, but Truth is not subjective, it comes from the Creator.
In Mishpatim, we see a lot of talk about the death penalty but ask yourself why the rules were so strict at that time. They were not to be taken literally rather to be examined as principles: when we live in community, we all need to work together for the good of the whole; when a person does something to destroy it, he needs to be cut off from the community. In other words, you are welcome here, but this is our way; don’t impose your ways upon us. Sometimes we are slaves of our social environment, the government, our jobs. The Creator wants us to let go of our fears and to start living. It’s always easier to let others do for us while we prefer not to change anything. In community we each have a responsibility for the welfare of all.
What does an “an eye for an eye” mean? Again, this is not to be taken literally. There are different grades of responsibility to make things right when someone is injured. Insurance companies use these principles from Mishpatim in their investigations. First, they need to assess the damage done. Second, for the pain & suffering caused to the injured party. Third, the healing process during their time of recovery. Fourth, their loss of income needs to be taken in account and fifth, the emotional stress needs to be compensated. To bring the story of the ox who gores a neighbor to today, if someone owns a dog known to be dangerous because they bite, it needs to be muzzled. If someone owns a swimming pool, they need to put up a fence so that a child doesn’t drown. Bottom line, we are each responsible for the welfare of the whole.
Our Creator has given us freedom, not to be slaves yet our tendency is to prefer to be dependent. This is different than interdependent. Free Will is a very important gift from the Creator but it means that we are each responsible for ourselves and for giving the best of our ourselves to others. If we think only about ourselves, the community suffers. Our responsibility is to share these Ten Commandments with the entire world, Jew or Gentile. It is the underlying key for peace in this world.
Edited by Peggy Pardo