This week’s reading introduces a comprehensive civil code for the Israelites and outlines all the Jewish festivals.
It contains laws intended to protect the rights of ordinary citizens, including slaves, the personal safety of parents, victims of attack and kidnap and injured parties emerging from a fight.
Animals must be controlled by their owners and potholes must be fenced off or covered. Everyone has a right to protect their property, even if it means fatally wounding a robber who comes under cover of darkness.
Premarital sex obligates the man to seek a (consensual) marriage with the woman concerned. Witchcraft and bestiality are prohibited. The most serious offence in the week’s listings seems to be reserved for one who
oppresses the convert.
One should respect public officials, and 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. Decisions should be made by majority vote, but the impoverished should not be unduly favoured in a dispute. Lost animals should be returned, while overburdened animals should be assisted by the passer-by.
The reading ends with a promise God will send his angel to guide Israel. God warns the Israelites to complete their conquest, to avoid trouble later.
Moses is ordered by God to erect 12 stones, on which the codified laws are inscribed. A celebration ensues, and the participants enjoy a vision of God on his heavenly throne. Moses then ascends the mountain to collect two tablets and spends 40 days and nights there.
The added reading of Shekalim is one of four approaching Pesach. The half-shekel donation to Templar funds was used to maintain the building. Today, the custom to collect coins worth half the value of the unit of national currency is carried out on the eve of Purim during the Mincha prayer.
- Rabbi Ariel Abel CF serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is padre to Merseyside Army Cadet Force