"And these are the judgments that you shall place before them" Exodus 21:1


Parashat Mishpatim and the preceding Parashat Yitro show God Himself to be the originator of the principle that the rule of law is the foundation of civil society. In pointing out the grammatical use of the conjunctive link-word "And" at the beginning of the first sentence of Parashat Mishpatim, Rashi highlights the important connection between the lofty revelation of the Torah at Sinai and the nitty-gritty legalities of civil law.

Parashat Mishpatim sets out the legal minutiae of protection, liberty and dignity in regard to the Hebrew man-slave and woman-slave (21:2-11); assault and kidnapping (21:12-26); damages and theft (21:28-37; 22:1-5); safekeeping and loss (22:6-14); seduction and idolatry (22:15-19); welcoming the stranger and respecting leaders (22:20-28); honest judges and equality before the law (23:1-9); Sabbath and Holy Days (23:6 -19).

Laws of justice and caring underscore the sensitivity required in engaging with diverse contexts including animal (22:29; 23:20) and agricultural (22:28; 23:19). Sometimes counter-intuitive (23:4-5), they lead us beyond ourselves to a broader, deeper empathy with "the other".

In 2016 the rule of law is under threat, hijacked by terrorism, hatred, corruption, cruelty, perversion and greed. Faith and political leaders increasingly unite to stem the tide of a globally emerging uncivil society. This goal is mirrored in Parashat Mishpatim.

The end of the parashah describes a vision of a sapphire brick under the feet of the enthroned Almighty (24:9-11). This brick rests, as it were, upon the lawful interaction between all human beings. By creating a just society in which we help others to flourish, we reconnect as enriched human beings with the divine author of our laws. This is of mutual benefit to God and the Jewish people and affirms the covenantal relationship established at Sinai.

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