of the Weekly Reading
To be read on Shabbat Mishpatim, Shabbat Mevarchim,
Shabbat Shekalim,29 Shvat 5777/Feb. 25, 2017
Torah: Exodus 21:1-24:18, Maftir: Shemot 30:11-16;
Haftorah: II Kings 11:17-12:17
Mishpatim is the 6th Reading out of 11 in Exodus
and it contains 5313 letters, in 1462 words, in 118
First, a long series of Jewish laws which include the
following topics: Jewish slaves, manslaughter, murder, injuring or cursing
a parent, kidnapping, causing injury, a homicidal ox, damage caused
by a pit in the ground, damage caused by goring, grazing, or fire, penalties
for stealing, custodians of articles, borrowing items, seduction of
an unmarried woman, occult practices, idolatry, oppression of others,
lending money, respecting judicial and other authorities, dedicating
to G-d first fruits and first born animals and children, flesh of an
animal killed by a predator, judicial honesty and sincerity, strayed
and fallen animals, bribery, the Sabbatical year, Shabbat and some holidays,
and milk and meat. G-d promised to send an angel to protect the Jews
in the desert and when they conquer the Land of Israel. G-d warned the
Jews to destroy the nations' idolatry and not to make peace treaties
with them. He promised to give the Jews food and water, and abolish
the Jews' enemies, sickness, miscarriage, and infertility. G-d made
a covenant with the Jews who declared 'we will do and we will understand".
Moshe ascended the mountain where he was to remain for forty days and
nights and to receive the tablets.
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent
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The title of this week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, refers to the body
of Torah laws that are easily understood by human intellect, such as not
to steal, etc., in contrast to other laws which are less easily understood,
such as kashrut. In keeping with this theme, most of this week's
reading discusses different "mishpatim", "laws"
or "judgments". However, at the end it relates how the Jews
accepted the Torah stating, "we will do and we will hear," expressing
their willingness to
perform G-d's will whether they understood it or not. This commitment
seems contradictory to the concept of rational "mishpatim".
Also, one of the prominent mitzvahs listed is the prohibition to mix milk
and meat, clearly a supra-rational commandment.
The Shelah begins his explanation with a comment on the verse: "This
is my G-d and I will praise Him; the G-d of my fathers, and I will exalt
Him". (Ex.15:2) In Hebrew, "I will praise Him" is one word
composed of the words "I" and "Him", meaning that
a Jew has strengthened his or her faith so much so as to become one with
G-d. In the next part, "the G-d of my fathers" and "I will
exalt Him" are separate phrases displaying the distance between the
Jew and G-d. This faith "of my
fathers" is one that is inherited from the forefathers gratis. It
may serve as a foundation, but our real goal is to realize G-d's greatness
and connect with Him. Why then does the verse seem to reverse the order,
putting inherited faith after the attained one? Actually, the verse is
referring to two levels of attained faith. Based upon inherent belief,
(level 1) a Jew must work to believe that G-d runs the world and one's
life and (level 2) that "This is G-d".
After understanding G-d's Omnipresence and Omnipotence, a Jew reaches
a state (level 3) in which he or she realizes that G-d cannot be fully
comprehended. At some point one must admit his or her understanding is
limited and that the incomprehensible must be left to faith in the "G-d
of my fathers", i.e. "Where intellect ends, faith starts".
At this level we perceive G-d's loftiness: "I will exalt Him".
Therefore, even though most of the laws in Mishpatim appeal to our intellect,
the declaration "We will do and we will hear" and the laws of
milk and meat serve to remind us that we have limited intellectual understanding
and must turn to our unquestioning faith in G-d to truly serve Him.
Faith may seem abstract or theoretical, or to be put on the back burner
till the going gets tough. Yet this is not as should be. Our belief in
G-d and his involvement in our lives is a constant and ongoing fact that
we must strive to realize at every moment. Our days should be spent knowing
challenge or event we encounter and every word we hear are sent by G-d
for our benefit. When we can't figure out "why am I stuck here"
or "why did he have to say that", then we must trust in G-d
that it is meant to be this way, and perhaps later we will understand.
Even if we don't "get it", as long
as we believe that G-d is in charge and the ultimate Cause, this is what
we are meant to do. This is a crucial part of our relationship with G-d.
Another interesting point is that the portion begins "And these
are the statutes" (Ex. 21:1). "And" signifies a continuation
of the previous Torah portion discussing Mt. Sinai. Rashi comments that
just as the Ten Commandments were divinely given, so were the intellectually
understandable statues of Mishpatim.
If we could derive many of the statutes through our reason, why was
it necessary for G-d to command them? In fact though, the reason we are
able to understand the statutes is because G-d gave us the ability to
do so at the time of Mt. Sinai. If not for this G-d-given capability,
we might not come to these obviously legitimate laws, and could even decree
the opposite, G-d forbid. This is true for all of humanity. The seven
Noahide laws, for all humankind, must be fulfilled because G-d
commanded them - and not only because they make sense.
A chosid asked the rebbe for a blessing for his father's health because
he was in intensive care. The rebbe told the son to give his father some
wine from the Rebbe's 'kos shel brocha'. The son went to the hospital
but the nurse said he can eat or drink anything. He had a breathing tube
The son did not know what to do. If he gave him the wine he might kill
his own father. But he had to do what the rebbe said. In the end when
no one was watching he pushed the tube to the side and put a few drops
into his father's mouth. He then ran out of the hospital. The next day
the hospital called and said there was a miracle. Your father has improved
incredibly. He is out of danger. The man ran to tell the rebbe. The rebbe
said the miracle is not that your father is better but that you
listened to my instructions!
This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevarchim of Rosh Chodesh Adar 1, the first of
the two Adar months in a Jewish leap year. Whereas Purim (Adar 14 &
15) is celebrated in the second of the two months, the birthday and anniversary
of the death of Moses (Adar 7) is celebrated during the first (by Ashkenazic
Jews). The Talmud says, "We increase in happiness during Adar".
During Adar, the concept of being happier is easy because there is much
happy energy flowing into the world during
this time. Happiness breaks all of the barriers. Don't wait for another
Shabbat Shalom, Shaul
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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's
Reading, see the archive.
THE SAGES OF KABBALAH ON KabbalaOnline.org
an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary
Kabbalists, and more,
click to Mishpatim
Put the Load on Me
From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; adapted by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky
Despite the fact that
Torah and its mitzvot are intended for the body's own spiritual and physical
benefit as well as for the soul, we nevertheless tend to view them as
a burden. When a person realizes that the Torah and mitzvot that he must
fulfill are the very source of life itself then he can truly be successful
and comfortable with his task
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