Torah Portion: Mishpatim (Judgments) Exodus(Sh’mot) 21:1-24:18
Haftorah Reading: Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26
This is one of those Torah portions that sometimes gets pushed to the back of our minds. These judgments seem to be mostly outside of our more enlightened way of viewing our faith. Do we really need to consider these judgments as having any place in our modern world view?
I pray over the next few minutes we can all understand the importance of these words for us today. That understanding can begin with the first words of our portion. In Hebrew the words are Ve’aleh, which means, “and these.” In Hebrew these words are always used to connect thoughts or subjects. Last week the Torah portion mainly covered the giving of the Ten Commandments. So here in today’s portion, these two small beginning words connect the judgments with the Ten Commandments. Both were given to Moshe on the mountain. We could look at the Ten Commandments as being the outline and the judgments this week as being the details on how to keep the commandments. It may surprise us to find these judgments referenced often in the Messianic scripture. I hope you were able to find examples of this in your study this week.
To help us, I want to go deeper with a few examples of how connected these judgments are to verses in the Messianic scripture. I will use my question for the week to guide us along. Let’s look at Exodus/Sh’mot 21:28-32, 21:33-34 and 21:35-36. In each of these examples we see where damages or even death are caused to an animal or a person. In the second set we read of a pit that has been left open and an animal falls in. The owner of the pit is responsible for the damages caused to the animal. Lastly, we read about an ox which kills another ox. If the offending animal had been known to have this tendency and had not been restrained by the owner, the owner is responsible for damages caused by the attacking ox.
As we read these three examples one thing stands out in all three. What theme do you see here? Each one speaks of responsibility. Now let’s look in Luke 17:1-2 and see how this same principle is applied by Yeshua when talking to His disciples. What do you see stressed in these verses? We see the parallel story in Matthew 18:6 and Mark 9:42. I think these verses are also stressing responsibility. Believers who have a position of authority, such as teachers or any other leader, where they are leading younger, less mature believers are responsible for how they carry out that task. Not only are they responsible for what they teach but also how they live. I think this applies to all of us. How we live our lives in front of the world around us is eternally important. We all have relationships with people who know what we say, what we believe and what our faith means to us. If we are lax in our responsibility and lead someone astray what does Yeshua say about us? It would be better if a millstone were hung around our neck and we were thrown into the sea.
This Torah section sets out exactly how important our lives are. It is important how we live and the example we are presenting to the world. We read many other verses in the Messianic Scripture that speaks of this same principle. Two such passages are: I Timothy 1:6-7 and James 3:1. These two verses talk about teachers mainly but I think they can apply to us all. We are all teachers on some level.
Going back to our Torah examples, we see Moshe saying that each of us bear responsibility for our behavior and what picture our lives present to the world. By our example, our words, our conduct, are we showing people how to walk on firm spiritual ground or are we leading them towards falling into a dark spiritual pit. We also are responsible for covering those pits we find left open so as to protect those coming after us, thus protecting them from harm. Scripture is clear, those who teach, and that includes all of us, have a responsibility to be a G-dly representative of our faith.
Lastly, I want us to look at what G-d has to say about how we relate to the stranger among us. This is spoken of in two verses in our Torah portion. Look at Exodus/Sh’mot 22:20 and 23:9. We can also read in Deut./D’Varim 10:17-19 where G-d reminds us of our responsibilities to those among us who are not like us. The widows, orphans and strangers are mentioned often in scripture. In our portion we read in Exodus/Sh’mot 22:21-24 where G-d will hear the cry of the widows and orphans and He will be moved into action for them. This is something, we as G-d’s people, must be aware of. We, more than anyone else, have a responsibility to care for and provide for the poor and needy among us. It is who G-d is so it must be who we are in our life.