Sedra – Mishpatim

Sedra – Mishpatim

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

With Rabbi Ariel Abel.

FOLLOWING LAST week’s account of the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai, this week’s reading introduces a comprehensive civil code for the Israelites.

The Code contains laws that are intended to protect the human rights of ordinary citizens. This concern begins with the rights of slaves, and then continues to address the personal safety of parents, victims of attack and kidnap and injured parties emerging from a fight.

In today’s modern society, it is not unknown that adult children hit parents when they lose their temper!

Animals must be controlled by their owners. Pot-holes must be fenced off or covered. Everyone has a biblical right to protect their property, to the point of fatally wounding an intruder who comes under the cover of darkness to rob a house- owner.

Guardians or borrowers of another’s property are responsible for their charge. Premarital sex incurs an obligation on the man to seek a (consensual) marriage with the woman concerned. Witchcraft and bestiality are prohibited.

A sacrifice to other gods invalidates any use of that sacrifice. The most serious offence in this week’s listings, judging by the harsh reprimand for the offender, is reserved for one who oppresses the convert.

A warning is issued against loan sharks. One should respect (not to curse) the office of public officials. This is similar to the culture encouraged nowadays of zero tolerance for the abuse of any workers by members of the public. Agricultural workers should neither delay tithes nor trade non-kosher carcasses for human consumption but feed them to the dogs. There is a warning against peddling gossip and collaborating with false witnesses.

The Torah advocates that decisions are made by majority vote. The impoverished should not be unduly favoured in a dispute. Lost animals should be returned to their owners. Overburdened animals should be assisted by the passer-by. A résumé of Shabbat and the festivals follows.

The reading ends with a promise that God will send his angel to guide Israel. God warns the Israelites to complete their conquest of the land, to avoid trouble later. Moses is ordered by God to erect 12 stones, and the codified laws mentioned above are inscribed on them. A celebration ensues, and the participants enjoy a vision of God on his heavenly throne. Moses is told to collect the two tablets of stone from the cloud-covered top of the mountain. Moses ascends, and spends 40 days and nights there.

• Rabbi Ariel Abel is consultant to For Life Projects

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