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Bet Israel Masorti Synagogue

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19 Yehuda Hanasi St., POB 437, Netanya 4210300, Israel
Phone: 972-(0)9-862-4345

Parshat Mishpatim (2016)

D’var Torah delivered by Mike Garmise on Shabbat, 27th Sh’vat 5776, 6th February 2016

In last week’s parsha, Yitro blithely tells Moshe to appoint judges to sit聽and dispense justice. Honest, upright, God-fearing, bribery-proof聽Israelites who will administer justice according to the Torah of God and聽Moshe. 78,600 judges were needed, according to Rashi, based on the聽number of judges needed for the tens, the fifties, the hundreds and the聽thousands. Only in this week’s parsha do we begin see how laws there are聽and how much the judges had to learn in order to apply these laws聽properly.

How much time did it take Moshe to bring his new judges up to聽snuff?聽And just look at how many of the laws are stuffed into one parsha. 53聽mitzvoth. The range of subjects is breathtaking. Here’s a brief resume:

The Jewish slave and maidservant, manslaughter, murder, injuring or聽cursing a parent, kidnapping, killing or injuring slaves, personal damages,聽killer ox, a hole in the ground, damage by goring, penalties for stealing.聽Damage by grazing, damage by fire, the unpaid custodian, the paid聽custodian, the borrowed article, seduction, occult practices, idolatry and聽oppression, lending money, strayed animals, the fallen animal, Shmitah聽(7th) year, Shabbat, the 3 pilgrimage holidays, prohibition against milk聽and meat.

Taken together, we can say that the parsha is a repetition of the Ten聽Commandments we read last week, with specific details illustrating many聽of them. But what do we actually learn from these specifics?

One thing we learn is that the Torah and the mitzvoth are realistic. This is聽no idealistic description of a society in which everything works properly.聽No. We have people whose oxen tend to gore others even though their聽owners should have kept them tied up. There are people who will drill聽holes in the middle of the public road where people can fall in. Obviously聽we can find modern day equivalents of these actions.

We read about slaves. Wait a minute. Haven’t the Israelites just been聽freed from 200 years of slavery? Shouldn’t it be outlawed? It should, yes,聽but the reality of the time dictates that slaves are a necessary part of life.聽So let’s set down the rules and make the conditions bearable, at least for聽Hebrew slaves, male and female.

And with this we begin to see where the Torah is leading us: to a modus聽vivendi which looks out for the maximum number of people in society聽and provides the most humane conditions possible under the聽circumstances.

Our parsha is also the source of a heated and emotional debate that聽survives and thrives (if that is the word) to this day. Abortion. If a聽pregnant woman happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and聽is hit by one of two men fighting, if she aborts 鈥 and there is no tragedy聽(that is the woman is not killed), the one who hit her will be liable to pay聽what is determined by the law. If there is damage to the woman (she is聽killed or maimed), the man in exchange will forfeit his life (will be killed)聽or will give an eye for an eye 鈥 or pay 鈥

It is clear here that the main concern is for the woman, not the fetus. Yet,聽according to Rabbi Beth Kalisch, when the Bible was translated into聽Greek and the Septuagint became THE source of Biblical knowledge for聽the Christians, instead of juxtaposing light injury or severe injury to the聽woman, the Septuagint version of the text juxtaposes an injury to an聽“imperfectly formed” fetus versus a “perfectly formed” fetus. This聽mistranslation gave the life of the fetus greater value than that of mother.聽And abortion is a red flag to this day.

Beyond the flash point subjects and the pyrotechnics of Mount Sinai, the聽laws in Mishpatim send us one unmistakable message: that allegedly聽mundane subjects between man and man are as important as allegedly big聽ones between man and God. A sort of “God is in the small things”聽approach.

This is especially important today, in our society. We are supposed to聽care for and about one another. When we read that special funds for聽Ethiopian pupils are being cut, against the advice of all the social services聽involved in helping these people, who reject the cut, we wonder where聽those few thousand shekels are going to be wasted. When the minister of聽education promotes the introduction of a separate program for gifted聽pupils in the religious school system, so that they won’t have to sit in the聽same class as pupils in the state secular system or Arabs, or learn聽something against HIS world view, we wonder where those millions of聽shekels could be used more productively. When Knesset members vote聽themselves an extra parliamentary assistant as well as a salary hike, we聽wonder if those millions couldn’t have been used more effectively to keep聽the elderly warm and properly fed. We have a divine mandate to care for聽each other. Our government, representing us, has this same divine聽mandate. What’s not clear?聽There are so many subjects that cry out for our attention and our聽indignation that we resemble people in supermarkets facing such a long聽aisle of breakfast cereals that we are unable to choose.

But I found a potential ray of hope this week. The tax authorities have聽decided, after a year of dithering, to tax rabbis and holy men and miracle聽workers for the money they take in for conducting weddings and britot,聽for kashrut supervision and for selling charms and holy waters. Maybe聽with the millions in taxes that will be collected, our government will聽finally be able to afford the small things that they feel unable to provide聽now (unless of course one of the miracle workers threatens to place a聽curse on the tax collectors, which will reverse the whole process).

We have a beautiful country with wonderful people. Isn’t it about time we聽all began to enjoy our natural bounty?

Shabbat Shalom


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