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Mishpatim (Rulings) Shemot (Exodus) 21

Torah Portion: Mishpatim (Rulings) Shemot (Exodus) 21:1-24:18

HafTorah: Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26

New Testament: Matt. 5:38-42, 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23; Acts 23:1-11; Hebrews 9:15-22; 10:28-29

This week we look at the continuation of G-d law. This Torah section begins with two Hebrew words, “ve’elli” which means in English, “and these” indicating that the words following are to be seen as part of the revelation from Sinai. The first verses up until Shemot 21:27 mainly deals with slavery and how to treat slaves. This seems difficult to us today. Why didn’t G-d just say do not have slaves? That would have been it and then go on.

In the world, at that time in history, slavery was part of every society. So, as we read these verses keep that in mind. The commandments here go light years ahead of what was the norm of the time. What was the prevailing social attitude toward slavery? The slave had no rights at all. They were no different from a cow or donkey. They were there to fulfill a purpose with no protection or rights. So practically these commandments go far far ahead of what was at the time. It would seem this was G-d’s way of bringing Israel, on their own, to the point of doing away with slavery as a common practice. It helped them to change their outlook and begin to see these people as people not objects, a way to introduce compassion and mercy into the situation.

In fact as we go on through this section it seems like an ongoing theme on how do we relate to the world. Before we get to that however I want to cover the first question I sent out this week. Look at verse 23:7. This is the only one of the “thou shall not” of the Torah where G-d tells us more than “thou shall not.” Here G-d says, “Flee from lying.” Why is that? We are told to tell the truth under all circumstances and to avoid any trace of falsehood.

Let us look at other scriptures about lying. Psalms 119:163, Proverbs 14:5, Acts 5:1, Col. 3:9-10, Matt 15:19, John 8:44, Ezek 13:8. This is just a really small sample of many verses on this subject. So what is the problem here? One thing, it is very tempting right? We don’t see anything wrong with stretching the truth, not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, avoiding responsibility. The list goes on and on.

The thing is, if we really believe that G-d runs the world, then lying must be seen as self defeating. If G-d is aware of our every action then when we lie we are undercutting that belief. Lying always drags more in its wake. Like in a courtroom, we must resolve to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, no matter the cost. That does not mean we are uncaring about people’s feelings or not concerned with how they may take the truth. Mercy and compassion should still rule how we do it but not if we do it. Flee from falsehoods.

Now to the last question on Shemot 22:22-27. How are we to relate to people? In each of the situations mentioned in these verses there is the black and white meaning but underneath that is a deeper meaning for us all. Widows and orphans are discussed in James 1:27. We must be able to see them as Yeshua saw them and as scripture describes them. What is the real issue here? They are alone. They have no one to look out for them. They are at the mercy of the world. We on the other hand are people who should be able to see them as G-d sees them, to put ourselves out to be able to stand up for them.

Lending money: what is the under lying principle here? Mercy and compassion. Not to lend and then hound the person to repay. Not to take his collateral so that he has no way to cover himself or no place to live. When we do an act of mercy, which lending can be, we don’t then negate that mercy by our actions after the loan.

We don’t charge interest on a loan. Proverbs 19:17,Deut. 23:19-20, Luke 6:32-36, I John 3:17. We help someone because it is who we are. We don’t do it expecting anything in return. The act is our commandment. The rest is left to G-d.

As we see through all these examples, our responsibility is to do what G-d expects from us as His children. Proverbs 19:17 tells us that G-d will repay. So our view should not be what is in it for me but this is what I am called to do and the Father will repay.

Mercy and compassion, these are to be some of the markers of our faith. It is really easy to lose our way to become cynical and bitter about life and about people. But that is not what the Father has called us to be. May G-d grant us wisdom each day to be ready to grasp those occasions where we can bring light not darkness.