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Mishpatim (Rulings) Exodus 21-24

Torah Portion:  Mishpatim (Rulings) Exodus 21-24

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

This week we read a Torah portion that covers the way Israel was to deal with many relationship issues that arose in their daily life. Since some of these no longer concern us we are tempted to skim over them and see them as unrelated to our present life.  For this reason I would like us to look at several judgments and see what Torah is saying to us on a deeper spiritual level. What are we to learn from these judgments that will affect how we live our lives as believers?

First I want us to look at Exodus 23:19 where we read, “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.” Why didn’t G-d say, “Don’t cook milk and meat together.”  If that was the overriding message why be specific and say, “a kid in its mother’s milk.” I think here Torah is teaching us about compassion and empathy. It is seeking to lower our level of allowing cruelty. It is callous to boil a kid in the very symbol of its mother’s nurture and love. But then we might say, so what, the animal is dead, it doesn’t feel or know anything. The judgment is not about the animal it is about us. Unlike most commandments that may relate to health of body and soul, this one is about our ethical compass. There are things we do so as not to harm others. This one is so as not to harm our own moral selves, to feel compassion and mercy for others, to be able to relate to others around us differently. Here G-d is asking that we be repulsed by even the idea of a dead animal floating in its mother’s milk. We are being called on to be hyper-sensitive about cruelty or injustice that we see in our world. We must never learn to tolerate such things in our world. When we are no longer shocked by immorality we become immoral.

Next I would like us to look at Exodus 22:24 which speaks of lending to the poor. This verse is usually looked at as, “you will” lend to the poor. In Torah there are two kinds of loans. The first being an item such as a car, TV, whatever the item the person is expected to return that item, not something else.

The second is money. When money is lent the borrower is not expected to return the same exact coins or bills but the equivalent. The original money becomes the full property of the borrower. Now to transfer this idea to G-d’s relationship to us: G-d loans us everything, our lives, our bodies, our property, our skills, everything we have. We are expected to repay this loan by using what He has loaned us for His purpose here in this world. We do His will with our entire being. How much do we owe? We owe everything. We see exactly this idea expressed in Matt. 25:14-30 where the master gave talents to his servants as a loan. He had expectations on what was to be done with the talents. Our lives, our everything, is on loan from our Father. He expects to be paid back by us living our lives for Him.

These are two examples of how Torah teaches us to live our life as moral, upright, righteous people each day. We see the same thoughts in the New Testament for example in Romans 12:20 talking about feeding our enemy and in Luke 6:29-30 where we are to give our coat and even our shirt if asked.

What is the effect of living our lives in such a way or if we do not what is the effect? Torah gives us a clue when it speaks in Exodus 22:21 and 23:9 reminding them of when they were strangers in Egypt. We must never look at others as less than us. Most of the great crimes against humanity have been committed against the stranger, the outsider, the one not like us. Humans are tribal creatures. We tend to relate to and have empathy for those in our tribe, people like us. We sometimes have less for those not like us. When the Germans killed 6 million they did not see them as people but as something that had to be eradicated from society. The Greeks saw non-Greeks as barbarians and waged war on them. The Torah and the New Testament calls us to treat people who may not be part of our family, group, or religion as being created in the image of G-d. We can do this by remembering we too were once strangers. We too once were outsiders but now we are different spiritually and are called to be a light, not more darkness.