THOUGHT FOR PARSHAT MISHPATIM 5779
BY RABBI CHAIM FACHLER
Following last week's dramatic and very spiritual events at Mount Sinai, we are abruptly brought back down to earth. We discover another equally important dimension of the Torah detailed in Parshat Mishpatim, namely HaShem’s formula for social, financial and judicial stability. This structure will be further expounded in many future Parshiot, but in Mishpatim, which translates both as sentences and judgements - note the English parallel – we begin the process.
And it's no surprise that the Torah uses the example of the treatment of servants to define the moral standard expected of the newly created Jewish Nation. One example of this is if you owned only one pillow, your servant got it. The message here is simple. You treat your servant as well if not better than yourself. And if that's the respect we are instructed to show our servants, how much more so our friends, neighbours and of course family!
The Torah given at Sinai isn't only about study and observance. It's a fundamental blueprint for how we need to lead our lives, individually and communally. It’s our “Constitution”. And it's HaShem-given!
This universal message is also implied at the end of the Haftara in the sentence: “Im Lo Briti Yomam VeLayla, Chukot Shamayim Va’aretz Lo Sumti”. This is not easy to translate literally, but loosely it means: “If it wasn’t for My Covenant which is applicable day and night, I (HaShem) would not maintain the laws of the Creation”. In other words, the world as we know it exists solely due to our observance of this Covenant. This implies very clearly what HaShem would consider doing – Chalila - if we reject our given role in this world.
Interestingly, the commentators differ over the significance of the word Covenant. Some say it refers to the study of the Torah. Others suggest it refers to Prayer and the Sacrificial Service to HaShem. Others still, referring to the fact that Avraham experienced the first Brit Mila (circumcision), explain that this Covenant (Brit) epitomises Avraham’s renowned exemplary attitude to his fellow man.
This in turn is summarised by the Mishna in Pirkei Avot – Ethics of our Fathers. “The world stands on three pillars – Torah, Avoda (service) and Gemilut Chasadim (kindness to others).” A three-legged platform stands firm as long as all three legs are equally strong. But if any one pivot is ignored or overlooked, the situation becomes very precarious.
Our role as a light unto the nations needs to be constantly reviewed internally. Only when we practice what we preach, can we be effective in positively influencing others. May HaShem give us and our leaders – political and religious - the insight to appreciate the relevance and importance of each of these fundamental pillars of our beloved Judaism. And may He ensure a long period of strength and stability for Israel and Jews everywhere.