Friday, February 01, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Mishpatim (Three out of the five words in that sentence were "death")

This parasha is full of fun things about which to write Divrei Torah (unlike next week's, Trumah, for which I have to write a really long one to deliver at the Library Minyan...)

I have many options about which to write, so instead of writing about one thing, I will comment briefly about several. In this parasha are both laws that are of ethical imperative and fierce justice, sometimes blended into one. It starts out describing the treatment of a Hebrew slave, that a lifetime of servitude is by no means part of an ideal society (the slave is expected to accept his freedom after six years). The rabbinic tradition is rife with commenting that the slave should be treated better than the master. If there is only one bed in the household, the slave should get the bed and the master can sleep on straw in the barn. The slave should get the best of the food, and the master has many responsibilities to the slave. Jewish slaves are exempted from many time-bound mitzvot so that they can perform their duties. If you injure your slave he is automatically free to go; that is not the way one treats their brother.

This parasha brings up crimes for which capital punishment would result, such as murder and kidnaping, as well as complete disdain for filial responsibilites, committing bestiality, idolatry, or sorcery (sorry Harry Potter, you are not exempt).

Miscarriage and abortion are addressed: If two men are fighting and one strikes a pregnant woman: if the unborn fetus is killed in this act, the striker owes her and her husband money, but if she dies too, he is put to death.

It is in this case where Hamurrabi's infamous Code of Law is pronounced: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, et al. This is where rabbinic interpretation of the law needs to come in. Eye for eye's value, etc. You must pay the cost of that injury which you inflicted, trauma, shame, potential lost. This is the first case of Workman's Comp.

Alright, I promised the ox that gores, the shor shenagach last year. This is a case that varies based on intention and negligence. If it is a first time offense, the ox shall be put to death. However, if the owner repeatedly allows a violent ox to misbehave and doesn't properly restrain or control it, if it gores and kills someone you are to stone both the ox and the owner. You are responsible for your animals.

The parasha deals with stealing and rape (it is not pro-either)...

It then retakes the merciful ethics. God is the defender of widows and orphans and if you mistreat them, God will turn on you and then makes a cute metaphor "Your own wives will become widows and your sons orphans". Yeah, you dead.

Also, you can't take the garment as collateral from a poor person who only owns one garment overnight or God will kick your ass.

That being said, you should not show favoritism in judgment, neither to the poor due to pity or the wealthy due to their importance, but be unbiased in judicial matters.

Lashon hara = bad.

The parasha deals with recovering lost objects, which is the focus of the Talmud in Bava Metzia we are currently studying in my Gemara class. The gemara goes into much detail exactly what must be done. Because I am merely scratching the surface of much of the parasha I won't go into details. Also, be nice to animals.

Don't oppress the stranger (you're going to see this one a few dozen times), Shmitta, Shabbat, the festivals, kid in its mother';s milk (which we all know means "no milk and meat") ,a eschatological and supernatural series of promises for what is going to happen once you properly enter the land (I will remove sickness, no more miscarriage, no hunger)

Finally after this long string of chukim, the people say Naaseh V'Nishma, we will do and [then] we will hear (that's the last time the Jews would ever say that before finding out the details, Rabbi Artson said yesterday in a lecture at VBS)

Some strange stuff about sapphire (the alliteration was unintentional), and Moses goes up to Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights.

Tune in next week (though I probably will not post it before Shabbat)

Shabbat Shalom.

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