Parshah Mishpatim משפטים (Exodus 21:1-24:18)
After the revelation at Mt. Sinai, God dictates a series of laws to the Nation of Israel. These include laws over servants, the punishment for assassination, kidnapping, assault and robbery, civil punishment for damages, the laws regarding loans, the responsibilities for the “four guardians”; and the rules that govern justice conduct in the courts.
The laws against maltreatment to strangers is also given as well as festival observance in the different seasons and the agricultural offerings that had to be taken to the Temple in Jerusalem; the prohibition against cooking meat with milk; and the precept of prayer. In all, the Mishpatim section contains 53 precepts- 23 positive (which imply doing something) and 30 negative (which imply prohibitions).
God promises to take the Nation of Israel to the Holy Land and advises them to not take the way of the pagans who lived there at that time.
The Jewish Nation proclaims “We will do and we will listen” to all that God orders. Leaving Aaron and Hur in charge of the Israelite camp, Moses ascends Mount Sinai and remains there forty days and forty nights to receive the Torah of God.
We live in difficult times- terror all over the world, liberty under attack, poverty and hunger in many regions of the globe, ignorance and prejudice which persists despite great efforts.
It is easy to lose hope in a better tomorrow. It is easy to give up in the face of despair in the entrenched resistance of evil, of suffering and of hate.
Surely we are not the first to feel the impulse to give up. This week´s parshah relates the encounter of our ancestors with despair. Having survived centuries of slavery in Egypt, we felt a great fear and a great euphoria when we heard the good news that Moses brought us. God had heard our shout! Liberty was near! The Torah tells us that they believed Moses, although the waited liberation did not arrive. After their hope took them to unimaginable heights, only to come crashing down to the painful reality of their continued slavery. The Torah tells, “and they did not hear Moses because of a shortness of spirit” Israel did not listen or pay attention to the words of Moses, because their spirit was impatient throughout their exile and the work was even harder than what they were recently given. “An infusion of new hope can make it even harder to tolerate suffering. The closer the liberation, the harder it is to tolerate the oppression: “The nation had a reason to become impatient with its destiny because when Moses came, he had given hope that their liberation was within a hand´s reach. This had given them a new perspective and had widened life.” These different interpretations enlighten the nature of despair: which can be physically devastating, which can impede us from accepting the good news of redemption, and that the same hope can make a bad reality less acceptable. What is left is commenting a bit more on the ancient or the modern despair. There are certain things that can only be understood from a point of lost hope. There are times that only by reaching bottom, being forced to abandon our egotism or our feeling of being in control, can open a true hope to go further. Only when we lose hope that we ourselves can provide the consolation that we need, can we look for help and consolation outside of ourselves.
Perhaps Mishpatim is more than a collection of laws, more likely it is a challenge to each of us on the way in which we live and the priorities that we give to the principles which govern our lives. On top of that, can we enslave ourselves because of the internal disorderliness and chaos in our lives? The Torah gives us a hint in teaching us that slavery is more than being controlled by the other. This section tells us that slavery begins with one. To the question of can we enslave ourselves to our own vices and lack of organization? This parshah then faces us with the hypothesis that by way of a jurisprudence system we become partners with God and in this way we transform the magnitude in order. Mishpatim then teaches us to morally travel from the initial state of Geneses of “tohu vaVohu/total and complete chaos” to a world which functions. It challenges us by forcing us to contemplate what it is to live in a world of rapid change and a world full of instability. In this “modern world of a cacophony of choices” how do we choose our priorities? Have we created the chaos of liberty in which we are enslaved to too many options? Is it possible that there are too many options?
If we read the parashah from this second perspective we see that an important biblical theme starts to emerge. It is that law and order are more than a mere social control system, but more an organizational vehicle which permits us to be eternal partners with God in the theater of creation. Shabbat Shalom ~~~~~~~~ Rivka Herrera Gonzalez
Read Torah from Around the World #259 de la WUPJ.
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