Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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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.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Parshat Mishpatim

The New Covenant

I have been approached on numerous occasions by Christian missionaries, telling me that if I was a sincere Jew who really believed in the Bible, I had no choice but to adopt Christianity, because it was a fulfillment of Judaism.

One of the sources they would bring to my attention is from Sefer Yirmiyahu:

"I will make a new covenant (ברית חדשה) with the house of Israel…; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; forasmuch as they broke My covenant…But this is the covenant…I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying: 'Know the Lord'; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them." (Yirmiyahu 31:30-33)

I was able to show the missionaries the next pesukim which basically say that God will never reject Israel (see ibid 34-35), so if they believed the previous pesukim they should also believe these ones. Therefore, rather than me converting to Christianity, they should be converting to Judaism!!

Nevertheless, how do we explain the first set of pesukim that basically state that because Israel rejected the old covenant, God will make a new one, one inscribed on their hearts? Is the "old" Torah, given when we left Egypt, no longer valid?

The answer to this question can be found in this week's parsha. As part of the giving of the Torah, Moshe performs an elaborate ceremony, building altars, offering sacrifices and sprinkling blood over the altars and the people. "Moshe wrote all the words of the Lord and all the people answered in unison saying, 'All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do'…and he took the Book of the Covenant and read it within the hearing of the people, and they said, 'All that the Lord spoke we will do and we will hear'" (Shemot 24:4-7).

This ceremony ratifies Israel's acceptance of the Torah. Moshe first writes the terms of the agreement and Israel accepted it. Moshe then performs the ceremony, signifying the union between God and Israel. Finally, Moshe reads the agreement, now called "the book of the covenant" and the people ratify it once more.

What is "the book of the covenant"?

I would like to suggest that this "book of the covenant" is the "old" covenant, made "on the day…I took them…out of Egypt". It describes God's commitment to Israel, that He chooses them and promises them to be His people. It then describes Israel's commitment to be kingdom of priests and a holy nation and to keep the Torah. Moshe read it to the people and they accepted it.

Israel was unfaithful to it. This covenant therefore, needs to be renewed. God promises that He will renew the covenant. This time, however, it will not be written on stone; it will be written on Israel's hearts. It will be no longer necessary to teach about God. His existence will be so obvious, that all will know the Lord, from the greatest to the smallest.

The Torah itself will never be abrogated, but our commitment to it will be renewed.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Mishpatim, entitled: "The Law" appears at


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