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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The One Law of the Torah

The One Law of the Torah

Feb 17, 2007 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Mishpatim

Our parashah this week is called “Mishpatim” or laws.

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The Ethereal and the Material

The Ethereal and the Material

Feb 17, 2007 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Mishpatim

Parashat Mishpatim records the pinnacle of closeness between God and people. After the Ten Commandments (last week) and a catalogue of other civil and ethical laws, Moses affirms the covenant by sacrificing animals and dashing their blood against an altar. “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadav and Avihu (two of Aaron’s sons) and seventy elders of Israel ascended; and they saw the God of Israel; under his feet there was the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity.” (Exodus 24:9—10). What do the people do immediately after experiencing this sublime revelation? They head for the bagels and whitefish!

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The Lesson of Egypt

The Lesson of Egypt

Feb 25, 2006 By David Marcus | Commentary | Mishpatim

Last week’s parashah contained a magnificent description of the revelation at Mt. Sinai.

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The Ear that Heard

The Ear that Heard

Feb 25, 2006 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Mishpatim

Parashat Mishpatim opens appropriately with laws concerning slavery. Having achieved their freedom after 400 years of bondage, the Israelites are instructed regarding the laws concerning Hebrew slaves. Why is Torah so quick to speak of these particular mitzvot at the outset of the Israelite journey? All too often, freed slaves are quick to become the oppressor. And Torah is consistently vigilant vis–à–vis this danger. The Israelites are encouraged to remember their experience and recount it to future generations; yet, at the same time, they must remember their status as strangers.

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Society and the Stranger

Society and the Stranger

Feb 5, 2005 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Mishpatim

Sensitivity to the plight of the stranger stands at the core of Parashat Mishpatim. With debates raging over migrant workers in the United States and the treatment of foreign laborers in Israel, our Torah reading could not come at a more appropriate time. Just a few weeks ago, the Jerusalem Report ran a cover story on the plight of the foreign–worker community in Israel.

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Reverence for Contradictory Texts

Reverence for Contradictory Texts

Feb 5, 2005 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Mishpatim | Shabbat Shekalim

Sometimes the smallest of words contains the largest of meanings.

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Justice and Capital Punishment

Justice and Capital Punishment

Feb 21, 2004 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Mishpatim

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, the spiritual leader of Palestinian Jewry in the disordered decades after the Bar Kokhba rebellion (132-135 C.E.), firmly believed that, “The world rests on three things: On justice, on truth and on peace, as it is written (Zechariah 8:16) ‘With truth, justice and peace shall you judge in your gates.'” (Pirkei Avot 1:18). His pronouncement was clearly a vision for reconstituting a society wrecked by the havoc of war. The precondition for a peaceful civil society was a system of administering justice on the basis of truth. A viable body politic needed a corpus of laws drafted equitably and applied fairly.

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Making a Vision into a Reality

Making a Vision into a Reality

Feb 21, 2004 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Mishpatim

Words can be similar but carry different connotations. “Legal” has a good connotation. “Legalistic” does not. Judaism is often accused of being too legalistic. This charge has been leveled not just at the Judaism of the Talmud and subsequent law codes, but also against many of the laws enumerated in the Torah itself. Too often, there is a tendency to take the Ten Commandments (found in last week’s parasha) as the only commandments.

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Creation and Liberation

Creation and Liberation

Feb 1, 2003 By Lauren Eichler Berkun | Commentary | Mishpatim

Why do we observe Shabbat rest? The most common response to this question is learned from last week’s Torah portion: we rest on Shabbat, because God rested on Shabbat. Thus, Shabbat becomes a “remembrance of Creation.” The law of Shabbat in the Ten Commandments highlights the connection between Shabbat and Creation:

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work… For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:9–11).

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The Abolition of the Death Penalty

The Abolition of the Death Penalty

Feb 1, 2003 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Mishpatim

In the closing days of his administration, outgoing IIlinois Governor George Ryan pardoned or commuted the sentences of all prisoners on the state’s death row. The governor’s action sparked a renewed debate about the death penalty in the United States. For Jews, this debate presents the opportunity to review and clarify the stance of Jewish law on capital punishment not only for our own information but in light of public policy discussions now underway.

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Seeing Revelation

Seeing Revelation

Feb 9, 2002 By Lauren Eichler Berkun | Commentary | Mishpatim

The conclusion of this week’s Torah portion raises a profound question about the nature of Revelation. Was the revelation at Sinai an auditory or a visual experience? According to the book of Deuteronomy, the answer is quite clear: “You came forward and stood at the foot of the mountain. The mountain was ablaze with flames to the very skies, dark with densest clouds. The Lord spoke to you out of the fire; you heard the sound of words but perceived no shape — nothing but a voice” (Deut. 4:11).

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Heavenly Justice

Heavenly Justice

Feb 9, 2002 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Mishpatim

The other day, I was mentioning the wide impact of the books of Rabbi Harold Kushner, and the person I was talking to said, “Oh yes ­ When Good Things Happen to Bad People.” We laughed, because the actual title of the book is When Bad Things Happen to Good People. It is the suffering of good people — or, at least, innocent people — that is so troubling and that accounts for the great popularity of books that address this topic.

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Learning From a Gored Ox

Learning From a Gored Ox

Jan 24, 2001 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Mishpatim | Shabbat Shekalim

My comment this week will focus on a single verse that sheds light on a vast and contentious subject. Judaism has long been condemned for harboring traces of a double standard, that is, treating insiders more favorably than outsiders. I have no intention of denying the evidence or taking refuge in the universality of the phenomenon. Rather, I wish to show how Judaism struggled to transcend the pattern and bring its legal practice into sync with its theology. It is, after all, a postulate of the creation story that all members of the human family bear the stamp of God’s image.

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Moving Towards Perfection

Moving Towards Perfection

Feb 5, 2000 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Mishpatim

The controversies of one era are not necessarily those of another. When a leader of the Southern Baptists can declare on the Larry King Show that the soul of a Jew is still destined to burn in hell, we are jarringly thrown back to the bigotry of an earlier era bloodied by religious persecution. Progress can be measured by the once bitterly contested issues that no longer get a rise out of us. This is the reason I continue to enjoy looking at the Hertz Humash. Produced in England under the leadership of Chief Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz in the third and fourth decades of the twentieth century, it resonates with the polemics of an era when much of the enlightened world, not to speak of the benighted, still harbored grave doubts about the religious worth of Judaism. Our adversaries often determine the emphasis of our thought.

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The Experience of Revelation

The Experience of Revelation

Feb 13, 1999 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Mishpatim | Shabbat Shekalim

With exuberance and certainty, the young Heinrich Graetz, not yet 30 but soon to become the greatest Jewish historian of the nineteenth century, made a distinction between Judaism and paganism that would in time become commonplace: “To the pagan, the divine appears within nature as something observable to the eye. He becomes conscious of it as something seen. In contrast, to the Jew who knows that the divine exists beyond, outside of, and prior to nature, God reveals Himself through a demonstration of His will, through the medium of the ear. The human subject becomes conscious of the divine through hearing and obeying. Paganism sees its god, Judaism hears Him; that is, it hears the commandments of His will.”

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Judaism and Reproductive Rights

Judaism and Reproductive Rights

Jan 28, 1998 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Mishpatim

At the end of August 1993, I joined some 100 religious leaders of a moderate stripe who were invited by the President and First Lady for breakfast at the White House. What gave the event an added dose of excitement for me was the good luck to be seated at the President’s table.

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Linking Narrative to Law

Linking Narrative to Law

Feb 5, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Mishpatim

With this week’s parasha, our landscape changes abruptly. We take leave of the hospitable realm of narrative history and enter the austere world of legal rules and cultic regulations, where we shall stay put, with but one brief excursion, till we reach chapter 11 of the book of Numbers. There can be no doubt that law is central to the Torah’s conception of religion. Boundaries create order and give shape to existence. Community springs from the limits placed on individual freedom.

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Mishpatim

Mishpatim

Jan 1, 1980

8 The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord after King Zede- kiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to proclaim a release among them — 9

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Mishpatim

Mishpatim

Jan 1, 1980

1 These are the rules that you shall set before them:

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