Weekly Reading Insights: Mishpatim

Overview of the Torah Reading

To be read on Shabbat Mishpatim, Shabbat Mevarchim, Shabbat Shekalim, 27 Shvat 5780/Feb.18, 2023

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 verses

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.

An Essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, Director of Ascent

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"And [Moshe] took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the ears of the people and they said, all that G-d tells us we will do and we will hear" (Shemot/Exodus 24:7). One of the most exciting things about the practice of Judaism, especially Chasidic Judaism, is that every aspect of it, from the most straightforward to the most sublime, is explained. It is this understanding that helps us do as G-d commands. That is probably what attracted me most to Judaism.

This week's Torah portion teaches one of Judaism's most crucial principles: Na'aseh v'nishma, - "We will do (as we are commanded) and (only after do we expect that) we will hear (understand)". The Torah requires us to accept G-d's yoke unconditionally. All of the souls of the Jewish people were present at Mount Sinai and accepted this stipulation for all generations .

Blind faith is a challenge, especially in our days. How can we understand this?
There are two different verses that describe this event. In the first, in last week's Torah portion (Yitro 19:8), the Jewish people only say to G-d, "We will do." In this week's portion, Mishpatim, the Jewish people say "We will do and [then] we will hear."

The Rebbe Rayatz [1] tells a story about the oldest son (and ultimately the successor) of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi [2], Rabbi Dov Ber, when he was young, who once asked his father, "Why does the first verse say, 'All the things that G-d says we will do,' while the second verse says, 'All the things that G-d says we will do and we will hear'?" His father answered him that at first the Jewish people only said, "We will do." They accepted G-d's yoke with no preconditions at all. Moshe, not only the Jewish people's leader, but a true and faithful shepherd, wanted to give them something extra, a gift not bargained for. He empowered them with the following potential: When they would do the commandments in a way of accepting their yoke, they would automatically also gain the benefit of understanding the actions, of identifying in a personal way with the value, the why or what they do. Moshe caused the "We will hear" to be built into the "We will do."

This is the inner dimension of what Pirkei Avot [3] (Ethics of our Fathers) teaches, "Make His will your will (i.e. do His commandments without question) and He will make your will His will" (2:4). The simple explanation is that then G-d will do for you what you need. But we can also read it, you will then come to understand the commanded actions personally.

There is another teaching imbedded in this story. It is about the teacher. With a true teacher like Moshe, you can be certain you will always come to understand what the Torah requires of you.

Not long after the Rebbe Rayatz arrived in the USA, just before the High Holidays in 1942, he received a letter from a chasid who had recently also arrived in the US. How can it be that the rabbis in the US do not have beards!?! It was really not a question, more of a comment. In Europe it was standard that all the rabbis had beards. People who worked with non-Jews took advantage of a leniency in Jewish law to take off their beards with a defoliant powder. But not with a razor, which the Torah forbids.

The Rebbe Rayatz, who didn't believe that rabbis should shave their beards, said, tongue in cheek, that this is how he answered. "If they do not have beards, probably they have on what to base their behavior. G-d forbid, you can't say that all the rabbis in America are sinners! But unfortunately, they are causing others to sin because when a Jew sees his rabbi without a beard, he understands it is permissible and he shaves his beard with a razor, G-d forbid, and therefore transgresses a number of Jewish laws. In my opinion, what should they do? Just like there is a law that if a person wants to use a non-dairy milk, like almond milk in a meaty recipe, he is required to leave a few almonds floating in the milk so everyone who sees will understand that it is not cow's milk but almond milk, so also a rabbi who wants to go clean shaven should attach a small bag of the defoliant powder to their nose, so everyone will know they did not shave…"

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

[1]Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. 1880-1950. The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. Also known as the Frierdiker (previous) Rebbe.
[2] Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Known as the "Alter Rebbe". 1745-1812. The first Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch.
[3]Pirkei Avot is a section of the Mishnah. A classic repository of Judaism's wisdom and profound moral precepts. It is customarily studied during the period between Pesach and Rosh HaShanah.

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more, click to Mishpatim

one sample:

Contemporary Kabbalists

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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