By: Rabbi Menashe Sasson
Reporting from Jerusalem, Israel
The Hebrew word “mishpat” [משפט] means “law.” “Mishpatim,” [משפטים], the plural of “mishpat,” means “laws.”
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 “mundane” or not religious in nature.
Parashat Mishpatim begins “[n]ow these are the laws [המשפטים] which thou shalt set before them, Shemot 21:1, and then proceeds to list various “mundane” laws, including:
“If a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall into it, the owner of the pit shall make it good and give money to the owner of [the ox or ass], and the dead beast shall [belong to the owner of the pit].” Shemot 21:33-35.
“If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.” Shemot 21:37.
“If a thief be found breaking-in, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed on his account.” Shemot 22:1.
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.
“Three times thou shalt keep a feast to Me in the year.” Shemot 23:14.
“Thou 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; and I will cut them off.” Shemot 23:23.
There are at least three 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.