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

HafTorah:  Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26

Tonight we read the Torah portion Mishpatim or Judgments. This portion follows immediately after the giving of the Ten Commandments in last weeks Torah reading. The Jewish people had been in Egypt for hundreds of years, most of that time serving as slaves to the country of Egypt. They had little or no experience living as a free people, a people that had to deal with how to live as a free society. Here in this portion we read the beginning of G-d’s instructions on how a society should operate.


We see those things that are important to develop a working free people, a society that cared about the poor and needy, the widows and the orphans, a society that projected G-d’s heart in how it dealt with social and personal issues. We read G-d’s unchanging truths, not dependent on social norms or changing morals. We discard these commandments at our peril. Each one when looked at closely reveals the heart of G-d.

In the Messianic Writings or New Testament, we read in I Timothy 1:8-10 Paul’s instructions to Timothy about the Torah. Tonight I want us to look into some of these to see deeper than the words, to see the truth of G-d.

To begin, let us look at the very beginning of this Torah portion where it talks about the commandments on governing slaves and how they are to be treated and what conditions under which they are to go free.  First, we must ask why did G-d not abolish slavery straight away without setting out these commandments on how to treat a slave? It is difficult to legislate morality. G-d could have just forbidden it but would that have changed the heart of the people? However, He does set in place a system to lead the people to abandon it of their own free will.

A Hebrew slave was to go free after six years. There were punishments for mistreating slaves. It cost the owner financially. It seems from Jewish writings that slaves had to be provided for on a level near or equal to the owner.  Shabbat was a day of no work even for a slave. Why all this rather than just commanding that there would be no more slavery? I think G-d’s purpose in this was for the people to freely choose to abolish slavery themselves. They needed a change of heart.

This also applied to the slave. Here in Exodus 21:5-6 we read what happened when a slave did not want to go free. If the slave chose to stay with his mater he was brought before the judges to confirm his choice. He was then taken to the door and had his ear pierced by an awl against the door. What can we learn from this? Why was his ear pierced and why against the doorframe? This ear had heard the Law in Sinai and had heard that the people had been set free to serve G-d alone. However this person had chosen to serve another man. In our own lives, as believers, we are set free by our faith in Messiah. Yet sometimes, along the way, we choose to become the slave of something or someone else.  Sometimes we choose to go back to things that enslaved us before we knew the Messiah. This commandment is relevant to us today. Our freedom lies in the fact that we serve G-d. His way brings us life not death.

Think back to the night of Passover in scripture. The people had to apply the blood of the lamb to the doorpost of their homes so the death angel would pass over them. But here this person’s blood ran down the doorpost from his ear as he chose to continue as a slave. He sold his life to another. He rejected G-d’s deliverance.

This whole ceremony should speak to our hearts about who we are and whom we serve in our lives everyday. We are the servants of G-d. Why do we serve Him? Is it because it makes us feel good or do we serve Him out of fear of punishment if we don’t? Our reason for serving Him cannot be based on anything other than our desire to become one with the Father, it is who we are. Any other reason is self-serving. The Song of Songs depicts our relationship with the Father as a marriage. We have become one with Him. So, even in these verses about slaves G-d speaks to us from His deepest heart. He wants us, all of us, to serve Him because it is who we are, no other reason.

I pray that is your reason, if not you can come to that. He is the Lover of our soul. So when we read all these commandments don’t just throw them on the dust heap of history, for they show us who the Father really is.

One last verse to drive this point home, in Exodus 24:12 we read where G-d told Moses to, “come up to Me on the mountain, and be there.” Why the last three words? G-d wanted Moses’ undivided attention, for him to be completely there, only interested, only moved by G-d, not thinking about anything else. This reminds me of our lives and how hard it is to be totally present, free of distractions, when we are spending time with the Father or even with our wife, children or friends. Even when we are talking to someone we have the urge to check messages on our phone or our mind is off somewhere thinking of something else.

The Father wants us all – all of us. He wants us to “be there completely” with Him. Shabbat Shalom