Tag Archives: commandments

Laws – Mishaptim

The Ten Commandments by Arava and Eleanore Lightstone

Mishpatim, which means “Laws” is a parsha that seems out of place. The previous five Torah readings have been full of drama and excitement. The giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, with lightning and thunder was last week’s Torah reading. Following that we expect something more colourful than lists of laws that discuss slavery, murder, and theft.

Rashi points out the the parsha begins with the words “ואלה המשפטים” – “and these are the laws.” The word “and” indicates that the text is a continuation of the previous passages. Rashi is telling us that the laws presented in this parsha are here because they are elaborations of the Ten Commandments from Yitro. We will see that most of the commandments are expanded upon.

God introduced Himself and His position in the first three commandments. Each of the remaining Commandments are clarified and elaborated upon in one degree or another in parshat “Mishpatim”. We read a variety of punishments related to various acts of murder- premeditated and accidental. There are references to honouring one’s parents, enlargement of the observance of Shabbat, details about types of robbery, and attention to the treatment of slaves.

Freeing the Slave by Laya Crust

The concept that parshat Mishpatim is a continuation of parshat Yitro is further supported by the way the two readings are bracketed visually and textually. Before the Ten Laws are announced to the Israelites there was thunder and lightning around Mount Sinai. “And the people perceived the thunder and lightning and the voice of the horn and the mountain smoking.” (Exodus 20: 15)

A Pavement of Sapphire Stone by Laya Crust

After the elaboration of the Commandments, Moses and the elders were invited to “come up.” It says, “and they saw the God of Israel and under His feet there was a likeness of a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very sky for purity.” (Exodus 24:10) This is a breathtaking image. Moses, a few chosen leaders and 70 elders were invited to the heights to witness God. The pavement of sapphire stone. The variety of translucent blues ranging in the skies above. The colours of peace, spirituality, calm, and the hues of the vastness of the firmament. Such a vision those chosen few were invited to witness!

That vision was just before the bracketing occurrence of pyrotechnics. “When Moses ascended the mountain the cloud covered the mountain…the presence of the Lord appeared …as a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” (Exodus 24: 15, 17) Here we read the visual bookends of lightning, thunder and cloud, dramatically encompassing the Laws that we , the Jews, are commanded to follow.

The narrative is also bracketed by the Israelites stating in slightly different ways ” כל אשר דבר ה׳ נעשה ונשמע” “All the God says we will do and we will hear”. (Exodus 24:7, as well as similar phrases in 19:8 and 24:3)

I hope this has been interesting to you. I had not connected the unity of these two Torah readings until I listened to a talk by Rabbi Alex Israel of Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. I hope, too that you enjoy the visuals and affirmations given to us through these parshiot.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

P.S. Parsha food idea via Eleanore Lightstone of Jerusalem..- A gingerbread Mount Siani with cranberries for the fire and ice cream for the clouds. What a great dessert!


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Ki Tavo

Ki TavoIsaiah chapter 60.

Isaiah (prophet)- c. 740 – 681 BCE 765 B.C.E.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, the darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples: but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory seen upon you. And nations will walk at your light…”

This is how the Haftarah for Ki Tavo begins.

It is the 6th of the seven Shabbatot of Consolation following Tisha B’Av. Isaiah paints a bright and promising future for the Jews who are still in exile. He tells them that the gates of Jerusalem will be open to them, they will be blessed with light and riches and the other nations will recognize them and be in darkness.

The poetic prose consistently refers to light and that is what I chose as the theme for this week’s painting. The sun and moon are both suspended in the sky and the rays of their light illuminate the dark mountains. This is to indicate that the path of B’nai Yisrael will be illuminated even when the landscape of the rest of the nations is in darkness. The two tall mountains are an acknowledgement of Mount Eval and Mount Gerizim from the parsha.

The imagery of the haftarah also fits very well with the message of the parsha. The themes of light and dark presented in the haftarah echo the rewards and punishments discussed in the parsha.

The parsha begins reminding the Israelites that Yaakov’s children went down to Egypt and became a successful family but then lost everything and were reduced to slaves.

The text continues with an interesting rendition of some of the Commandments. Rather than the “Thou shalt nots…” the language is strengthened to become “Cursed be he who…” followed by “the people shall say Amen.”  The language is stark, reminding b’nei Yisrael that the commandments are to be taken seriously, otherwise there are dark and bleak repercussions.

The next 15 verses are the lovely rewards B’nei Yisrael will reap by following God’s laws followed by 54 hugely frightening verses describing what will happen if the Israelites do not follow the Commandments.

These contrasts laid out in the parsha are echoed in the dark mountainscape of the desert. The light is the positives the Jews gain when following God. The darkness is the abyss the Jews find themselves in when they refuse to live morally and within the Commandments.

The beam of radiance represents the light God shines on b’nei Yisrael- the light mentioned by Isaiah to the desperate, exiled Jews. The Jews benefit from light and clarity while the other nations see Israel’s light. They recognize the “or le Goyim”- or the light unto the nations that Jews can share. The other nations can share in it too if they treat the Jews and the God of the Jews with respect.

The quotation seen at the base of the painting is the phrase I quoted at the beginning of this entry. “Arise, shine; for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you…and His glory shall be seen upon you.”

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