God’s Currency

God’s Currency

Feb 12, 2021 By Gordon Tucker | Commentary | Mishpatim | Shabbat Shekalim

The arrival of Parashat Shekalim (plural of shekel) each year is what might be called the liturgical “rite of spring” in the Jewish tradition, signaling that Pesah is six–seven weeks away, and preparations (spiritual and physical) for the great festival are very soon to begin. This year, it will be observed on Rosh Hodesh Adar, when the weekly reading will be Parashat Mishpatim.

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Mother’s Milk

Mother’s Milk

Feb 21, 2020 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Mishpatim

In 1976 the Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg published a book called The Cheese and the Worms, an account and analysis of a 16th-century Inquisition trial. The defendant in this trial was a miller from the Friuli region of Italy named Menocchio. Among the heresies that he stood accused of was his apparent claim that the world came into existence through a process of putrefaction.

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Opt-In Judaism

Opt-In Judaism

Feb 1, 2019 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Mishpatim

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” may be the most well-known line of any movie. Spoken by Don Corleone to Johnny Fontane in The Godfather, it communicates the chilling reality of doing business with a mobster.

The Talmud suggests that God made a similar offer to Israel at Mount Sinai (BT Shabbat 88a). The Torah’s description that Israel stood under the mountain (תחתית ההר) to receive revelation in Exod 19:17, inspires the Rabbis to imagine God holding the mountain over the people—threatening them to accept the Torah . . . or else.

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Kashrut and Refugees

Kashrut and Refugees

Feb 9, 2018 By Julia Andelman | Commentary | Mishpatim

There’s an old joke based on the three appearances of the commandment “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk”—the first being in this week’s parashah, Mishpatim (Exod. 23:19). The narrow prohibition against “eating the flesh of an animal together with the milk that was meant to sustain it” (Etz Hayim, 474) was expanded over time into a vast array of laws regarding the separation of all dairy and all meat.

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Expanding Our Understanding of the Religious Life

Expanding Our Understanding of the Religious Life

Feb 24, 2017 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Mishpatim

There is a strange—little spoken about—law that my mind, particularly over the last few months, keeps revisiting. The Talmud teaches that when one builds a synagogue or house of study the structure should preferably have windows (BT Berakhot 34b). Indeed, this idea is codified as law in the foundational legal code, the Shulhan Arukh (OH 90:2).

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Taking Care of Ourselves and the Stranger

Taking Care of Ourselves and the Stranger

Feb 24, 2017 By David Rosenn | Commentary | Mishpatim

This week’s Torah reading contains instructions for taking care of one’s own: “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them like a creditor; exact no interest from them” (Exod. 22:25).

Deuteronomy is even clearer, stating, “You shall not charge interest on loans to your countrymen, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. But you may charge interest to a foreigner…” (23:20-21).

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Knowing the Feelings of the Stranger

Knowing the Feelings of the Stranger

Feb 5, 2016 By Marc Gary | Commentary | Mishpatim

This week’s parashah comprises a multitude of ordinances, providing an embarrassment of riches upon which to comment. Capital punishment, abortion, workers’ rights—to name just a few of the issues suggested by the parashah—offer ample grist for the commentator’s mill. Yet in this political year, with all of its focus on immigration, refugees, and minority rights, it would seem almost churlish to avoid addressing one of the key themes of the Torah reading: the treatment of theger (stranger).

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The Spirit and the Letter

The Spirit and the Letter

Feb 5, 2016 By Yonatan Y. Brafman | Commentary | Mishpatim

After the heights of the revelation at Sinai, Parashat Mishpatim settles down to more mundane topics, including a lengthy discussion of torts. Perhaps motivated by this sudden change of altitude, Nahmanides interprets these details as expansions on the Ten Commandments, such as the prohibitions on coveting and theft: “For if a man does not know the laws of the house and field or other possessions, he might think that they belong to him and thus covet them and take them for himself”.

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I Can’t Stand My Neighbor, but His Ox Needs a Hand

I Can’t Stand My Neighbor, but His Ox Needs a Hand

Feb 13, 2015 By Joel Alter | Commentary | Mishpatim

A rabbi and an astronomer have the middle and window seats on a long-haul flight while the fellow on the aisle is a champion sleeper. As neither of our sophisticated travelers is taking a stroll anytime soon, the astronomer begins to talk: “Tell me, rabbi. What, essentially, is Judaism for?” The rabbi thinks a bit, casting about for a reasonable response. He offers a few broad strokes and believes he’s done about as well as might be expected. The traveler responds, “All these rules and teachings and traditions, rabbi! Can’t it all be boiled down to ‘Be Nice?’” The rabbi nods and says, “All these galaxies and black holes and neutrinos and supernovas . . . professor, can’t it all be boiled down to ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star?’”

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Law and Justice

Law and Justice

Feb 13, 2015 By Martin Oppenheimer | Commentary | Mishpatim

As an attorney, I am fascinated by the code of civil and criminal law contained in Mishpatim. In Egypt, law was made by the Pharoah, who could unilaterally decide the fate of his subjects. All lives and property were forfeit at his whim—as his subjects learned during the course of the plagues, and when the Egyptian army was decimated at the Red Sea. Conversely, Mosaic law focuses on equality and social justice. The poor, the downtrodden, the stranger—even the man whose destitution forced him to sell himself into slavery—were required to be treated with dignity under the law.

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Building Bridges

Building Bridges

Jan 22, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Mishpatim

After legislating the multiplicity of laws in what has become known as Sefer Ha-Brit, the “Book of the Covenant,” Parashat Mishpatim concludes on a pessimistic note—a warning to the Israelites.

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Defining a Moral and Just Society

Defining a Moral and Just Society

Jan 22, 2014 By Judith Hauptman | Commentary | Mishpatim

Sometimes an article in the newspaper reminds you of something in the Torah and makes you think in new ways about verses you have read many times before.

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Taking Time to Be There

Taking Time to Be There

Feb 6, 2013 By Lisa Gelber | Commentary | Mishpatim

Moses needs time to immerse himself in the law and his relationship with God. He needs to experience what it meant to climb this mountain, literally and figuratively. If he didn’t yet know that, God did.

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The Curious Case of the Slave Who Refuses Freedom

The Curious Case of the Slave Who Refuses Freedom

Feb 5, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Mishpatim

Coming on the heels of the Revelation at Sinai, Parashat Mishpatim opens with laws concerning slaves.

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Debtors to God

Debtors to God

Feb 18, 2012 By Charlie Schwartz | Commentary | Text Study | Mishpatim

This week’s midrash provides a striking metaphor for the nature of our existence in the world. Like the destitute person who has given his only garment as collateral on a loan, we are often destitute in our moral stature. We make mistakes, error, and sin. According to the midrash, every evening God takes our souls as we sleep as collateral for the spiritual debts we owe. And every morning, in spite of our failings, our souls are returned to us.

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Standing with Moses on the Mountaintop

Standing with Moses on the Mountaintop

Feb 18, 2012 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Mishpatim | Shabbat Shekalim

Readers of Mishpatim cannot fail to be struck by the contrast between the main body of the parashah and its conclusion. The former consists for the most part of rather dry case law, covering such things as goring oxen, robbery by day and by night, and release from indentured servitude. The end of the parashah could not be more different in subject and tone.

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The Routine and the Profound

The Routine and the Profound

Jan 29, 2011 By Barry Holtz | Commentary | Mishpatim

If Parashat Yitro, last week’s Torah reading, ends with the literal clap of God’s thunder, Parashat Mishpatim begins, perhaps not with a whimper, but certainly with at least a touch of anticlimax. From the heights of Yitro’s mystery, from the Decalogue and the Revelation, we are brought quite precipitously to the nitty-gritty of daily life, the laws of slave and slaveholder, the details of petty feuds, of accidental death and injury, of the goring ox, the fires in the vineyard, and the thief in the night.

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Our Converts Are Precious

Our Converts Are Precious

Jan 29, 2011 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Mishpatim

This midrash about an actual convert expands the scope of this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, which contemporary scholars call the “Covenant Collection” because of its numerous laws that follow and complement the Ten Commandments.

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Biblical Original Intent

Biblical Original Intent

Feb 12, 2010 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Mishpatim

Does the text of the Torah really mean what I am claiming it means or am I reading too much into it? Am I pushing my own agenda and value system on words that intend something else? What are the larger religious values that animate certain laws of the Torah? How does my own value system influence my reading of Torah?

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Our Obligation to “Strangers”

Our Obligation to “Strangers”

Feb 21, 2009 By David Marcus | Commentary | Mishpatim

Last week’s parashah contained a magnificent description of the revelation at Mount Sinai. The scene was dramatic: The people were gathered at the foot of the mountain as Moses ascended. There was smoke, fire, thunder, and loud sounding of the shofar. Then God revealed Himself and gave the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments represent the first laws of the mutual covenant between God and Israel, and this week’s parashah contains more of these laws that collectively are known in English as “The Book of the Covenant” (sefer habrit). Our sages long ago pointed out that our parashah starts with the Hebrew word for andve’eleh hamishpatim (and these are the rules), indicating a direct connection between the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant. Both were given on Sinai.

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