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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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Shavuot and Visions

First Day of Shavo'otart by Laya Crust

Ezekiel ch 1, 3:12

The prophet Ezekiel was unique (to say the least) with incredible visions and amazing conversations with Gd.

On the second day of the holiday of Shavuot we read a section where the prophet Ezekiel describes a fantastic vision. “And I looked, and behold, a storm wind came out of the north, a great and a fire flaring up, and a brightness was about it. And out of the midst of it, as it were, the colour of electrum, out of the midst of the fire.”

Wow! What a vision! After that Ezekiel describes  four living creatures, each of whom have four heads. One is a man, one a lion, one an ox, and the fourth an eagle. These beings not only have faces, legs, hooves and wings, they propel themselves on elaborate wheels within wheels.

The holiday of Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Ezekiel’s vision parallels  the scene on Mount Sinai.

P1110570art by Laya Crust

It was a cataclysmic event with flames encircling the mountain, and lightning and thunder in the air. The description of  “Revelation” doesn’t include a four headed being, but that description encompasses different types of strength and humanity.  This text gives a different perspective to the wonder and amazement the people at the mountain must have experienced that day.

The text is so fabulous that it has also been immortalized in song.  The link below is a real treat- a rendition of “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel” by the Charioteers. They sang together from 1930 – 1957. I’ve also added a link to the same tune sung by Woodie Guthrie.

Mix – The Charioteers – Ezekiel Saw The Wheel by YouTube

Mix – Ezekiel saw The Wheel – Woody Guthrie

The book of Ezekiel is a really exciting one. Give yourself a treat and read it this weekend. And enjoy your Shavuot.

Laya Crust

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