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Friday, February 24, 2017 • 6:00pm
• Our Portion for the Week •
MISHPATIM – EXODUS 21:1 – 24:18
In this portion, we find details of the covenant entered into between God and Israel. Since the relationship is all-inclusive, we find here rules pertaining to social conduct, morality, ethics, civil and criminal law and ritual concerns. Like the Ten Commandments, the source of these rules is divine. The legal material set forth here is not a code in the strict sense, since there are significant subjects not touched upon. (These subjects are, however, dealt with elsewhere in the Torah.) On the other hand, the material does make clear that God's demands on His people cover matters of conscience as well as matters usually subject to juridical control. The portion concludes with an account of the ratification of the covenant, and Moses ascends Mt. Sinai to remain there 40 days and nights for the purpose of writing down the specific details. Thus, the freedom gained at the Exodus has now been confirmed and institutionalized in law. The next step will be to create a physical institution that will serve as the embodiment and reminder of the experience at Sinai.
• Our Question for the Week •
These are the rules that you shall set before them.
It has been noted that the rules of slavery are discussed so early in list of laws that mark this Torah portion. Is the placement of these rules in itself a commentary about a people who had just escaped from bondage? How difficult is it for a people who had been slaves for so long to remove their slave mentality? Is the focus on slavery here an admission that the Israelites are not quite ready to begin living in freedom? Or, is the fact that these rules of slavery are far more humane than the slavery they endured in Egypt supposed to represent a true turning point in the Israelite perspective?
We are taught that the laws of the Torah are timeless, and the people who follow them must adjust to them accordingly, rather than expecting the law adjusting to the people. In what ways is following the laws of the Torah an adjustment of our natural instincts? Or, are the laws of the Torah instinctive in the first place?