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.
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)
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!
This is a very difficult time in many parts of the world, but the horrors in Israel touch me very closely. I am an ardent Zionist and a Jew. I have children and grandchildren who live in Israel, including in Jerusalem. I have many friends and relatives there. I just came back from that miraculous country but while I was there 4 people were viciously murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Since then more murders have occurred. My first thoughts in the morning and my last thoughts at night are of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin z”l (may they be remembered as a blessing) who were murdered only because they were Jewish and lived in Israel. That’s the only reason! I think of their 4 children who will grow up without their wonderful parents. And I can’t understand it.
Last week in synagogue we read the story of the creation of the world and humanity. We also read about the first murder. Cain, jealous of Abel, killed him. God said, “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground….the ground which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand… “
“The voice of your brother’s blood…” Such powerful words.
After God gave mankind free choice murder occurred, even at the very beginning. It’s impossible to understand.
There is an interesting animated movie going on in the Middle East. Syria, Iraq, Islamic State,Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen are like balls of flame, burning in war and hatred. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Iraq are brimming with unrest and dictatorship. And in the middle of it all Israel, a jewel of green land and democracy, stands on its own against the surrounding chaos, refusing to get sucked in.
Yet, there are these terrible, tragic losses of life.
This week we read the story of Noah in the Bible. Sick of humanity’s cruelty God destroyed the world by flooding it. The rainbow we see after a rainfall is the symbol of God’s oath that the world will never be entirely destroyed again.
Many of us sit in our chairs praying for peace in Israel and the rest of the world. We can’t understand God’s allowing the violence to continue or the terrorism raging in Israel’s streets or the loss of the young, exceptional parents of 6 children. We can only do what Israelis are doing in Israel- live good lives, do acts of kindness, and don’t allow hatred to rule our minds and actions.