By: Rabbi Menashe Sasson
The Hebrew word “mishpat” [משפט] means “law.” The plural of “mishpat” is“mishpatim,” [משפטים].
Parashat Mishpatim sets forth various laws, some of which can be thought of as “religious” in nature and others which can be thought of as “secular,” “mundane” or not religious in nature.
Parashat Mishpatim begins with “[n]ow these are the laws [המשפטים] which thou shalt set before them, Shemot 21:1, and then proceeds to list various “secular” or “mundane” laws, such as those regarding civil negligence, punitive damages, and the law of self-defense:
Shemot 21:33-35, and
Parashat Mishpatim then transitions to various “religious” laws, some of which include: “Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest. . . ,” Shemot 23:12, “[t]hree times thou shalt keep a feast to Me in the year,” Shemot 23:14, and “[t]hou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread . . . and the feast of the harvest . . . , and the feast of the ingathering.” Shemot 23:15-16.
HaShem then says, “Behold, I send an angel before thee, to thee in the way and to bring thee to the place which I have prepared. Take heed of him and obey his voice.” Shemot 23:20-21.
HaShem continues, saying that if the Jewish people “shalt indeed obey [the angel, then HaShem] will be an enemy to thy enemies and an adversary to thy adversaries.” Shemot 23:22.
HaShem is not speaking generally of the enemies of the Jewish people, but, rather, of those enemies who are occupying Eretz Israel, “the Emori, and the Hitti, and the Perizzi, and the Kena’ani, and the Hivvi, and the Yevusi; [saying that He] will cut them off.” Shemot 23:23.
There are several important lessons we can learn from Parashat Mishpatim:
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Menashe Sasson is a Sephardic rabbi and American attorney who resides in Jerusalem, Israel.