Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

My Photo
Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Parshat Mishpatim

The Law

God gave Israel the Torah in last week's parsha. This week, He proceeds to give Moshe a long list of laws. They include laws concerning the treatment of slaves, how to resolve conflicts between people and on returning lost animals of adversaries.

These laws appear to be pretty mundane compared to what Israel had just experienced. They stood at Sinai and G0d revealed Himself to them. He gave them the 10 Commandments and they experienced unprecedented events. Israel understood that there were to become a "kingdom of priests and a holy people".

Surely the next step for Israel should have been to receive guidelines on how to achieve an even closer communion with God, how to concentrate on their spiritual sides to attain even greater holiness and how to sanctify their very existence.

Yet instead, God gives them a series of laws about petty human relationships, which have little or no religious content to them. These laws could have been, and probably were, similar to the laws of other societies.

Nevertheless, this is precisely the Torah's point. Communion with God and achieving holiness is not to be attained through seclusion in the Bet Midrash, lengthy meditation in our prayers or through the punctilious observation of rituals. On the contrary, it can only be attained through complete interaction with society; through our day to day relationships.

The Torah wants Israel to create a society that is a: "kingdom of priests and a holy nation". However, as with any human interaction, conflict will occur. The Torah wants us to resolve the conflicts fairly and justly, to work towards social justice at all levels of society.

It can be no coincidence that the laws begin with our duties towards slaves. Israel themselves, had just been freed from "the house of bondage" and fully understood the unjust lot of the slave. The lowest echelon of society had to be treated with justice and to be given dignity and respect.

So too, when people argued. Their conflict needs to be resolved honestly by a principled judge. We even have duties to the animals of people we dislike, never mind the stranger, widow and orphan.

The roadmap to holiness is not in exclusion from society, but in our inclusion in our relationships with others. It is only when we learn to treat our fellow man, the way we would like to be treated, i.e. with honesty and respect, that we will have accomplished our mission at Sinai and become a true kingdom of priests and a holy nation.


Post a Comment

<< Home