Sedra of the week: Mishpatim and Shekalim

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Sedra of the week: Mishpatim and Shekalim

Rebbetzin Emma Taylor looks ahead to this week's portion of the Torah

After the impressive sound and light show at Mount Sinai last week, this week’s Torah reading of Mishpatim seems more mundane but is filled with more than 50 mitzvot or commandments.

Among these laws we have the charge to look after the well-being of the convert, the widow and the orphan.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that the word almana, or widow, is similar to the word alam, to be mute.

Through the death of a husband or the loss of a parent, many can lose their voice, their advocate, and therefore it is up to us to stand in place of those who have been lost.

This command is not in reference only to these specific groups of people. So many of the laws written in this week’s sedra fall under the category of bein Adam lechaveiro, between man and man, the purpose of which is to fine tune our level of empathy for one another.

The fundamental principle behind all the laws relating to mitzvot between man and man is veahavta lereicha kamocha, to love your neighbour like yourself.

To do this effectively we must see everyone as our neighbour. The word implies a level of closeness: they are the people we pop into for some sugar and the ones we see in the morning while collecting our newspapers.

Yet however close we are with them, we never fully know what goes on behind closed doors, the struggles they face and the lives they really lead.

Viewing every individual as our neighbour, we are commanded to see them as humans with feelings, needs and a life story of which we may not be aware. Mishpatim teaches us that true compassion for others is at the heart of Judaism.

Emma Taylor is community rebbetzin and educator at Borehamwood and Elstree shul

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