When we open up the Torah and read the words of Parashat Mishpatim, we find many, many rules. These rules tell us what we should and should not do in a variety of situations. For example, Exodus 22:27, "You shall not curse a judge, and you shall not curse a leader among your people." Ironic how that is the first rule I quote...of course if you open a newspaper, read a news report online, you can always find someone who is cursing, bashing (or use whatever word you'd like) our leaders - on both sides! In the Torah, when we are told not to curse a judge - this is an implication to not curse God. Ultimately, it was God who chose our leaders and it is in God's name that these leaders lead...they pass judgments based on the Torah. So, when we curse our leaders, we are ultimately cursing God. I am not intending to suggest (not even for a second) that our leaders today are chosen by God...but if we are all created b'tzelem Elohim, "in the image of God," then surely all of us carries something of God in us - just something to think about!
For the remainder of this blog, I would like to focus on what I believe to be the underlying (and maybe even obvious to some) message in each of these "rules" or laws that we find in Mishpatim. Often, this Torah portion is referred to as "The Book of the Covenant." After all, this portion contains approximately 11.5% of the 613 Commandments. However, what is especially important about this portion is that these laws or ordinances (Mishpatim comes from the Hebrew word Shofet which means Judge) are Bein Adam l'Chavero, "between man and his fellow man." These laws speak of how we should and should not act toward each other. In this parasha, we find the following, "a life for a life," "an eye for an eye," "a tooth for a tooth..." These words have been debated since we received the Torah. For modern Jewish thinkers, the punishment described here intends that the punishment should fit the crime. If someone kills another, his punishment should be equal to the life. That is extremely hard to think about...and even more difficult (maybe even impossible) to figure out the value of a life. An eye for an eye...a tooth for a tooth - again, these are hard to value. So, what do we do?
According to Rashi, "If he blinded his fellow man's eye, he gives him the value of his eye, which is assessed in terms of how much his value was decreased by his blinding with respect to selling him as a slave in the marketplace." (Rashi's commentary to Exodus 21:24) In the Talmud, we find further discussion of this matter (the 8th Chapter of Baba Kamma - 83b-84a). Maybe this made sense in the time of the Rabbis...but what do we do today? We have a court system set up in the United States that allows us to seek compensation for our losses. So, that is how we "deal" with this today. Of course, it is impossible to try and figure out "if the punishment fits the crime." So, we must put our trust in the Court System (even if we do not agree with their decisions).
Bottom line - This Torah portion speaks to us about how we treat each other. Even the slaves and servants referred to in this portion are given equal treatment (as their resting on the Sabbath), regardless of whether they were Jewish or not. And, even the animals are to be treated fairly. "For a six-day period you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall desist, so that your ox and donkey may be at ease and your slavewoman's son and the stranger may be refreshed." (Exodus 23:12)
Friends - in a world in which we are constantly arguing over the "rights" of our fellow man and woman, it is vital for us to recognize several key points: 1) God made Laws that proved to us of the equality of man/woman, 2) Sometimes our interpretations may be different...it is up to us to discuss and learn together and from each other, 3) As God has continually returned to redeem us (from Egypt all the way to today), so should we seek to redeem those who live in desperation. We may not agree on a lot of things...but we can agree that one life = one life. It should NOT matter where that life lives or how that life lives. What should matter is that the lives are equal!
Kein Y'hi Ratzon! May this be God's will!