Mishpatim (Rulings) Ex 21-24

Torah Portion: Mishpatim (Rulings) Sh’mot (Exodus) 21-24

HafTorah: Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:225-26

I would like us to look first at Exodus 23:7 today. But before that think about this Torah section. It follows the spiritual high of the revelation at Sinai, the awesomeness of G-d coming before His people. Then here we seem to get mired in details. Mostly between man and his neighbors, things concerning, how to relate to our fellowman. I think G-d here is showing us that He is found in the details. The high points are great but they are fleeting. We live in the world everyday. How do we go about it in a way that glorifies G-d? So, to give us a little help I want us to ponder this verse on falsehood. This is easy right?

Let me give you a few examples of what constitutes a falsehood or lie, “Tell them I’m not home, I left home in plenty of time but the traffic was terrible.” What is so bad about these? They don’t hurt anyone. No pain was caused by a little white lie. We pretty much can deal with, “Thou shalt not murder or Thou shalt not steal. But how do we deal with this one?

It is interesting that the only thing G-d directly tells us to avoid is falsehood. We are to distance ourselves from falsehood. Why is this? Not only must we always tell the truth but we must avoid (run from) falsehood.

If we truly believe G-d runs the world, if He watches my every action, when I attempt to deceive people, I am not fooling Him. He sees it for what it is. Lying is a trap. One lie often drags another after it. It usually causes us to involve someone else. It is a train that is difficult to get off. G-d commands us to flee to not become involved in it for it shows our immaturity in our faith and lack of respect for Him.

Now I want us to look at the laws dealing with slavery. The first thought I expect we might have is, “Why didn’t G-d say there shall be no more slavery.” Israel had been slaves for hundreds of years in Egypt. They lived in a world where slavery was the accepted practice. It was the way the world worked. For G-d to have said no more slavery would have done nothing to change the attitude of the people toward the person that was their slave or the institution of slavery. People were seen as property with no rights. G-d put laws in place that would change this perception. He put laws in place that made the condition of slavery temporary – 7 years. Even one day in seven a slave was completely free from any obligations. The slave had to be provided with equal housing and food as the owner. This broke the cycle of dehumanizing people and over time brought about an end to the practice. The lesson was to never see a people as less or to see a race as inferior. We are all children of G-d and carry the spark of holiness within us and as such – all equal in His sight.

I did also ask about why a person who wanted to remain as a slave had to go through the process of having his ear pierced at the door of his house. It was certainly not what G-d intended. The same ear that had heard that Israel would serve only G-d has now put himself in perpetual servitude to a person. The door and doorposts were also witnesses to this word of G-d.

Now to my last question which seems to have touched a nerve with a few people. “Can we declare a commandment of G-d as irrelevant or obsolete without denying the eternal, unchanging nature of G-d? I really appreciate what everyone had to say. I asked it to get us thinking and it did! What do you think?

I believe that every commandment is still relevant and unchanging. I also believe that how we look at them may change as we change. The truth is the same but how we apply it may develop over our walk with G-d, the laws of slavery being an example. Also, the laws about women show us now in our world that people are not to be degraded or abused. We are G-d’s people and can learn from these commandments.