Questions and Concepts for Parsha Mishpatim
(Exodus 21:1-24:18)

This parsha, Mishpatim ("ordinances") is on the literal level concerned with civil law. It is far more than simple legislation however. It should be noted that these commands come right on the heels of "Ten Commandments" and laws concerning the altar (in the previous parsha). The lesson here is that to God there is no "separate" aspect of "religious life" in a person's existence. Every manner of our lives is to be holy. There is no division (in the sense of separation and/or picking and choosing) in Torah between moral, civil and ceremonial commandments. God's Torah is one as God is one. We are to be careful in everything that God has said (Exodus 23:13).

Something resembling a "division" in Torah is the idea of its commandments being made up of:

  • those which signify a special relationship with God
  • those that are not understood by us
  • those that exist in order for a group of people to function as a society (mishpatim)

Another reason the Torah portion of Mishpatim (which contains more laws than any other) is placed immediately following the revelation at Sinai, is so that we would realize that just as the Ten Commandments were given at Sinai, so were all the others. This includes these commands that appear "less spiritual" - seeming as rational as any man-made system. The famous commentator Rashi goes as far as saying that the 613 commandments of the Torah are subcategories of the Ten Commandments.

The desire to "bring God into every aspect of our lives" and thus "conform us to His image" may be described in terms of "unifying the Name of God" in our lives. What will one day occur on a global level (i.e., Zechariah 14:9 - "in that day His Name will be One") is something we can experience on an individual level, by bringing God into even the most mundane aspects of our existence. This is accomplished by learning Torah at deeper and deeper levels, which enables us to "fashion a Torah response" to EVERYTHING that God puts into our lives.

Thus the "spiritual high" of Mount Sinai, found in last week's parsha is followed by the "down to earth" commands in this week's. (We go from the lofty "Thou shall not steal," to instructions on prosecuting a thief!) True spirituality does not come from retreating away from life to some mountaintop or cave. We are to grapple with life's every day situations in such a way that we elevate them to a higher spiritual state.

Even something as commone as partaking of some wine is brought to a higher/deeper level on Friday nights where a cup of wine is raised, and a blessing said, to sanctify the Sabbath.

We are to be "doers of the Word" and not just "hearers of the Word." This week's Parsha begins with the words; "Aileh hamishpatim asher tasim lefneyhem" - which can be translated, "These are the laws which you should place INSIDE of them." Hebraic writings speak of   "internalizing" and "absorbing" the commands of Torah into our very bones. This same idea is reflected in the words of Yeshua when he said we are to "eat his flesh and drink his blood" (John 6:22-58), making the Torah as much of our very being as flesh and blood is. He came to teach these aspects of Torah, "fulfilling the Torah" (Matthew 5:17-21), which means to teach it correctly. He criticized those who failed to realize (and teach) this true inner dimension of the Torah (i.e., Matthew 23:23-28).