In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.
Joseph Shulam: Great Promises of Blessings 
The reading this next Shabbat is from the Torah portion (Parashat) Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1 – 24:18, from the prophets: Isaiah 66:1-24, the Gospels: Matthew 26:20-30. Reading the biblical text in a systematic way every week is the only way to infuse our life with God’s word and get to know and understand God better.
The Torah Portion follows the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the presentation of the Ten Commandments that were heard by all the people gathered under the mountain, and each nation or tribe that had joined together with Israel in this Exodus from Egypt heard God speak in their own language. These tribes and people are the so-called mixed multitude mentioned in Exodus 12:38:
“A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds—a great deal of livestock.” – Exodus 12:38 [NKJV]
The Torah portion Mishpatim (“judgments”), is an explanation of the Ten Commandments. The laws that deal with social justice, how to behave toward and treat Hebrew slaves, and non-Hebrew slaves, along with laws regarding damages (torts), laws with regard to a child that is disobedient to a father or his mother, and laws of bodily injury to a third party that is not a part of a conflict.
All these laws that are so important even today, were already given by God to the children of Israel around the 13th century BCE. There are some very important and interesting laws here that need to be understood and explained, but this Shabbat we will focus on the reading from the prophets, the Haftarah. (That is, the Hebrew name for the reading from the prophets after the reading from the Torah. Haftarah is an Aramaic word meaning “after,” dessert if you wish.)
The reading this week is from the last chapter of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 66:1-24. Before I get into the highlights of this portion of the reading from Isaiah 66, I would like to go back to Isaiah chapter 60 and follow the developments that build up to chapter 66.
The prophet Isaiah is making a case starting in chapter 60. It starts with predictions and promises that God, through history will bring Israel to the fulfillment of the promises that He made to Abraham our father.
During the time of Isaiah, Israel is a small country contending with big problems from inside and the exile of the elite class to the nation of Babylon, and the return from exile, and is surrounded by enemies on all sides. Suddenly Isaiah prophecies:
“Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising.” – Isaiah 60:1-3 [NKJV]
There is a change in the promises of God toward this nation that cover far more than half of the book of Isaiah in which they are condemned and criticized for failing to fulfill the destiny that God had designed for them.
Then here, suddenly appear great promises of blessings, the nations (the Gentiles) will come and help Israel return home. These wonderful promises are part of what we are actually living right now.
Evangelical Christians are standing up for Israel, supporting Israel both politically and financially, and supporting many projects that involve Aaliyah (the return of the Jewish people from exile back to the land given by God to Abraham and his seed as an everlasting inheritance).
Isaiah Chapter 61 is the chapter that Yeshua is reading from in the synagogue in Nazareth, probably on His birthday. Isaiah chapter 61 proclaiming freedom and release from the burden and a proclamation of the jubilee year:
“To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” – Isaiah 61:2,3 [NKJV]
The last chapters of Isaiah have cosmic implications that have a direct connection with what is happening in Israel and with regard to Israel as it relates to the End Time, and future world developments that will change not only Israel, but also the nations and their relationship to the almighty God and creator of our galaxy.
Here is just one of the examples of the cosmic changes to our solar system:
“The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, nor shall your moon withdraw itself; For the Lord will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended. Also, your people shall all be righteous; They shall inherit the land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified.” – Isaiah 60:19-21 [NKJV]
Isaiah chapter 62 is an invitation for the nations of the world who know the Lord to participate and partner with Israel and the Jewish nation and the Land of Israel and Jerusalem in the process of rebuilding and comforting and consoling and preparing for the vindication of Jerusalem and Israel for the years of neglect and unrepented sins:
“For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns. The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord will name.” – Isaiah 62:1,2 [NKJV]
The Apostle Paul in Romans 11:25,26, promises that with the fullness of the time of the Gentiles, all Israel will be saved.
Isaiah chapter 66 is the final road map of the last days of history: Jerusalem is the mother of the nations and becomes the comfort of all the nations.
“‘Rejoice with Jerusalem, and rejoice with her, all you who love her; Rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her; That you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom, That you may drink deeply and be delighted With the abundance of her glory.’ For thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, And the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; On her sides shall you be carried and be dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, So I will comfort you; And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.’ When you see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like grass; The hand of the Lord shall be known to His servants, And His indignation to His enemies. For behold, the Lord will come with fire And with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire.” – Isaiah 66:10-15 [NKJV]
In general, most Christians have ignored these texts from the end of Isaiah. However, these words of God are for us and with us, and so much good and encouragement is found and treasured in these words of God.
It is not by accident that Yeshua reads from Isaiah 61:1-3 at the synagogue in Nazareth, the same text that applies to Yeshua as the fulfillment of these very words of Isaiah. The wonderful thing about the end of Isaiah is the full equality between the Israelites and the Gentiles in that promised New Jerusalem.
I would like to encourage you to read these verses at the end of Isaiah and to think about them and imagine that these promises of God are our future, the future of the whole world. I don’t know how, and don’t know when, but I know for sure that every detail promised by God will become a true and historical reality.
I am encouraged by these words of God at the end of Isaiah. I hope that after you read them all for yourselves, from Chapter 60 to 66, you too will be filled with both hope and encouragement and also with many questions that will motivate you to increase your faith and dedication toward our Lord!
Joseph Shulam: God’s Laws Are for Us Today 
Mishpatim is the reading from the Torah this Shabbat. It is from Exodus 21:1 – 24:18. The reading from the prophets is from Jeremiah 33:25,26, 34:8-22. The reading from the New Testament is from Mark 1:1 – 2:28.
Right after the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, Moses elaborates in practical details the meaning of the commandments. Mishpatim is translated as “judgments”, literally it means laws, or precepts. I find it very interesting that after the lofty Ten Commandments that were heard by all the people gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, the first judgment starts with the lowest class of people in the camp of Israel:
“Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them: If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him.” – Exodus 21:1-3 [NKJV]
God gives Moses these laws, and He starts with the Hebrew slave. He arranges the status of this Hebrew slave (servant) and the status of this man’s family. This is the most basic right of a human being – the preservation of his family. However, at the same time God protects the financial interest of the slave owner.
Today this must look really odd in the eyes of Western civilization. Slavery is considered totally wrong under any circumstances, although slavery still exists in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, South Arabia, and the Emirates.
There are also other kinds of slavery that exist all around the world. The worst of all slavery today is what is called “white slaves”, meaning women who are enslaved as sex slaves and trafficked mainly from former Soviet countries to the West. They are used and sold between those criminal traders in human flesh as “things”, not as fellow human beings.
There are financial slaves in many of the Gulf States in the Persian Gulf. They are imported from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other countries. Their passports are taken, and their living conditions are usually appalling. Their salaries are manipulated with terms that were not revealed to them before they agreed to work in these states. With all the sorrow of slavery, God is administrating the situation in the camp of Israel and being fair to both the slave and his family, and the owner.
The next judgement (law) that God gives Moses for the children of Israel is actually dealing with a Hebrew female slave. Her master must betroth her (marry her). If he does not like her, the husband must allow her to be redeemed. He can not sell her to someone else as a slave.
“And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her. And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money.” – Exodus 21:7-11 [NKJV]
Note that if the owner does not marry her, he can marry her to his son, and the son has to deal with her like all the daughters of Israel. In other words, she will not be as a slave, but like a free woman married normally. If he does not treat her right, and provide her with all her rights, she goes out free without any financial obligations.
We must understand that these laws are miles ahead of every law of every other nation. Egyptian laws, Assyrian laws, Babylonian, Persian, and even much later laws like Roman and Greek laws. I want to bring you examples from two of the most ancient codified laws:
Ur-Nammu is the oldest known law code surviving today. In the Sumerian language c. 2100–2050 BC.
About slaves: “If a slave marries a native (i.e. free) person, he/she is to hand the firstborn son over to his owner. If a man’s slave-woman, comparing herself to her mistress, speaks insolently to her, her mouth shall be scoured with 1 quart of salt.”
The Code of Hammurabi was trying to achieve equality. Biases still existed against those the lower end of the social spectrum, and some of the punishments and justice could be gruesome. The magnitude of criminal penalties often was based on the identity and gender of both the person committing the crime and the victim. The Code issues justice following the three classes of Babylonian society: property owners, freed men, and slaves.
For example, if a doctor killed a rich patient, he would have his hands cut off, but if he killed a slave, only financial restitution was required. Women could also receive punishments that their male counterparts would not, as men were permitted to have affairs with their servants and slaves, whereas married women would be harshly punished for committing adultery.
Ex. Law #196: “If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one break a man’s bone, they shall break his bone. If one destroy the eye of a freeman or break the bone of a freeman he shall pay one gold mina. If one damages the eye of a man’s slave or break a bone of a man’s slave he shall pay one-half his price.”
The Torah that God gave Moses for Israel to live by is a concession to the culture and times, but it is far above any of the other laws that existed in the world during that period.
Just look at this law from the Torah in comparison to the code of Hammurabi:
“If a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of his male or female servant, he shall let him go free for the sake of his tooth.” – Ex. 21:26,27 [NKJV]
In both in the Ur-Nammu laws and in the code of Hammurabi, if a man strikes the eye or the tooth of a slave, all he has to pay is two shekels of silver.
In this Torah portion, not only laws concerning man and woman are legislated, but also the treatment of farm animals is regulated. The Word of God presents a holistic attitude, and regulates relationship between men and women, free or slaves, and also relationship towards animals, public safety, and regulations between children and their parents. The Torah addresses a wide spectrum of legal matters that would make life in a community fair and just for all.
The teaching of the apostle Paul is often misunderstood and misappropriated to serve a lawless society, based on a false understanding of the essence of law and order for a human society and community. If you start looking in the teaching of Yeshua (Jesus) in the Gospels, you immediately see parables like the wise man and the foolish man, where the wise man is the one who hears and does (keeps the commandments) and the foolish man is the one who hears the commandments and ignores them.
Obedience to God’s laws is commanded by all the writers of the New Testament, including the apostle Paul and John and Peter, and for sure James. Here are some examples from the letters:
“…but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath…” – Romans 2:8 [NKJV]
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.” – Romans 6:12 [NKJV]
“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” – Romans 6:16 [NKJV]
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” – Galatians 3:1 [NKJV]
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” – Ephesians 6:1 [NKJV]
“Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.” – Colossians 3:20 [NKJV]
“Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God.” – Colossians 3:22 [NKJV]
“And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:14 [NKJV]
“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work…” – Titus 3:1 [NKJV]
“And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him…” – Hebrews 5:9 [NKJV]
“Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives…” – 1 Peter 3:1 [NKJV]
“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” – 1 Peter 4:17 [NKJV]
“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” – 1 John 2:3 [NKJV]
“And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” – 1 John 3:22 [NKJV]
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” – 1 John 5:2,3 [NKJV]
So, please don’t be allergic to keeping the commandments, at least the commandments that Yeshua (Jesus) and His apostles have given us. If you start counting the commandments that Yeshua and the apostles have given us, you would be surprised how many and how broad the spectrum of these commandments is.
In the New Testament alone, we have commandments that deal with how we should raise our children and how we should treat our wives, and how the wives should treat their husbands, and what is allowed to eat and what is not allowed to eat. We have commandments about money and charity, and worship, and leadership in the church, and relationship with the government, the taxes, worship, giving, justice and social issues… I propose to you that most churches don’t even teach that a disciple of Yeshua the Messiah should keep even the most basic commandments and requirements of our Lord and His apostles.
Yes, we are not under the law, and we ought not to be under the law! However, we must still be obedient to the commandments of God. To be under the law means to be burdened so much that we forget the grace of God, and everything becomes an unpleasant task. In this kind of situation, we are not happy, and God is even less happy about us. Look at what Paul said about the law of God:
“For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.” – Romans 7:22 [NKJV]
Here are some examples of the Old Testament:
“I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.” – Psalms 40:8 [NKJV]
“Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; For Your law is my delight.” – Psalms 119:77 [NKJV]
“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would then have perished in my affliction.” – Psalms 119:92 [NKJV]
“I long for Your salvation, O LORD, And Your law is my delight.” – Psalms 119:174 [NKJV]
We depend on the grace of God because of our weakness, but we enjoy the love of God because of Yeshua our Messiah, and we must do our best to follow Him and serve Him and obey His commands. The Gospels are so clear with this message, but there are teachers who twist and lead astray God’s flock in order to aggrandize themselves.
Let us stay humble and do our best to be not only hearers of the Word of God but doers also. Read the Torah portion and the prophets too.
Joseph Shulam: The Biblical Concept of Equality 
This upcoming Shabbat the reading in the synagogues will be Parashat Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1 – 24:18. The Haftarah (reading from the prophets) is Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:25,26. The reading from the New Testament is Matthew 26:20–30.
This text from the book of Exodus is of key importance nowadays. The Word of God is under attack, not by Muslims, and not by Jews, but by Christian pastors and professors in some Christian institutions. With the authority and integrity of the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, being questioned and destroyed – the very base of our knowledge of God and faith in Yeshua as the Messiah.
Our faith in God and in Yeshua is not a faith in lawlessness! Law and order are the basis of any cultured society. There has to be law and order, because the Lord God is not a God of confusion, and a society has to have regulations on every issue from property laws, to regulations on trade and finances, and every marriage includes promises and vows from each of the partners in the marriage to the other. There cannot be a rental of an apartment without a contract that regulates the period of the rental and the price of the rent.
Parashat Mishpatim starts in Exodus 21:1 with the issue of slavery, Hebrew slaves have different laws and rules than non-Hebrew slaves. For us in the 21st Century this sounds wrong, but in fact the Torah is super-just and righteous to all, including to the local people, the Hebrews, and the stranger that is either passing through or staying for a season in the camp of Israel.
First, even the apostle Paul says:
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” – Galatians 6:10 [ESV]
Humanism of the 21st Century, based on the French Revolution cry for equality, has taken this very important and valuable social order to the absurd. The value of equality has been out of proportions and from a very positive and important social principle for correcting unrighteousness and prejudice, it has become an excuse for unrighteous destruction of the very human nature.
Men and women are equal before the Almighty Creator of all, who will judge all mankind equality, but they are not equal in their physiology. They deserve the same pay for the same work, but men cannot give birth and suffer in the process of giving birth. Same-sex marriages can’t reproduce and replenish the earth. In order to have children they have to hire a surrogate mother in India or Nepal or somewhere else in the world. In most countries children are equal to their parents but they cannot be sent to work and bring money home before they are at least 16 years old.
There has to be law to run any organization, corporation, business, family or country. The new teaching, that is actually an old teaching from the second half of the 2nd Century after Christ, is that teaching that the church (or the Christians) don’t need anything from the so-called “Old Testament”.
Please read the laws in Exodus 21:1 – 24:18 and see the great wisdom and importance, and grace in what God gave to the Hebrews from Mount Sinai, and how important it is for today’s church to take the principles from there and apply them to our lives and synagogues and churches. Here are a few examples from Parashat Mishpatim:
“When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.” – Exodus 21:18,19 [ESV]
“When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his.” – Exodus 21:33,34 [ESV]
“If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.” – Exodus 22:6 [ESV]
“If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins.” – Exodus 22:16,17 [ESV]
“If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” – Exodus 22:25-27 [ESV]
“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.” – Exodus 23:1-3 [ESV]
Can a society live righteously without laws like these? In the earliest codes of law of humanity some identical or very similar laws like these were already legislated. People in Mesopotamia and north of the Euphrates River in the 3rd Millennium before Christ already realized that such laws are necessary for having a just and orderly society.
The Torah is actually the greatest demonstration of God’s grace for humanity, and a true revelation of His nature. Remember that when Yeshua returns, He is coming to judge the world and many, many people mercilessly will be sent to hell for ever and ever.
God’s grace is there from the beginning, and the Torah and relationship of the Lord to Israel is the most forgiving and the most gracious and loving revelation of God’s character, full of grace and truth, lovingkindness, and mercy. Just read Exodus 34:5,6 and see the very revelation of God’s nature and relationship to humanity.
Joseph Shulam: Caring for Everyone in Your Society 
This week’s Torah reading is called Mishpatim (“ordinances”, “judgments”, or “statutes”). It starts in Exodus chapter 21:1 and ends in chapter 24:18. There are some very important principles in this portion of the Torah reading this Shabbat.
The Torah teaches that if you commit premeditated (planned) murder, you will pay with your own life. However, if you kill a person by accident, God has provided for you a city of refuge, and when the high priest dies you and all the other people who are in the city of refuge will go free, and no one can harm you.
Here we find a very interesting principle that is used in dealing with the question of death that atones for sins committed by mistake or without malicious intent. The death of the high priest in Israel during biblical times when, we had a temple and priests, atoned for those sins committed without malicious intent. And the men and women who were in the cities of refuge were released. This is an important principle of the Torah that demonstrates that the death of a third party can atone and release a person of guilt for such a serious crime as killing a person out of things like negligence or accident.
Another principle that is introduced in chapter 23 is the issue of “an eye for an eye”. The real issue is not that of retribution for damage inflicted on an other person, but the compensation that the guilty person has to give in order to compensate for an accidentally-committed bodily damage to a person.
The compensation is the value of an eye for an eye. The value of a tooth for a tooth. The value of a hand for a hand. The value of a foot for a foot. The value of a burn for a burn. The value of a wound for a wound. The value of a bruise for a bruise. The fact that the Torah elaborates the principle with so many examples is a clear indication that the Torah is dealing with financial compensation that is normally appointed by the rules of the court.
We see this principle well-demonstrated in our reading this Shabbat, when the discussion is in a chase of a slave that is damaged in his eye or in tooth – because is a Hebrew slave – if you as his master don’t take care to provide him with the proper protection, and an eye of your slave is damaged, the price of his eye is total freedom from slavery.
Even if the slave loses a tooth he is set free as compensation for his loss. In other words, the value of a slave’s eye or tooth is much greater than the value of an eye of a stranger that happened to pass by and have his eye damaged.
I like this principle very much because it puts the responsibility on the master to take double care and protection that the slave that he owns (temporarily) is secured and guaranteed.
We see here that even though the Torah was written during a period when slavery was common in the whole Middle East, and actually in the world, the Torah takes special precautions to give the slave extra privileges.
How do I interpret these principles today? Those people who are under our care as employees or guests, or those who are less fortunate in our society, deserve not only the same protection and privileges as anyone else, but more care because of their dependence on you and on the society and community.
This practice of the Torah would have solved so much suffering and so much pain and so much injustice even in our world today. If our communities, churches, and synagogues, would learn this principle I can imagine major success in evangelism and in real “church growth”. Yes, it would be not only a real and good “church growth”, but also a healthy growth that will produce a just and righteous community in a world that is so full of unrighteousness.
Yehuda Bachana: Is Our Compassion Making Us Cruel? 
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
These are the laws you are to set before them… – Exodus 21:1 [NIV]
After the Ten Commandments are given, there is a long list of laws and orders related to the course of life, such as a person’s property, responsibility for this property, laws of loss, and the relationship between the citizen and the government.
This Shabbat I want to talk a bit about the contrast between the exciting and the mundane, between the extraordinary and the ordinary. Then I want to talk a little about mercy, fair trial, and justice.
Many commentators tend to see Parashat Yitro and Parashat Mishpatim as complementary, one following after the other. The giving of the Torah begins with the Ten Commandments in Parashat Yitro, and then continues on in Parashat Mishpatim.
I would like to suggest otherwise, that there is a contrast between these two Torah portions, as opposed to a connection. The contrast is in the fact that these parashot present two contradicting mental and spiritual states.
The portion in which the Torah is given culminates in a one-time revelation. And Parashat Mishpatim is about the daily requirements of human society.
The difference between exciting and ordinary
Last week we read the portion of Yitro, the portion of the Ten Commandments. When we read the Ten Commandments, it is customary in Israel to stand. And in our congregation we stood, and we thought about the weight of the matter. In last week’s Torah portion, God Himself came down from heaven in order to give us, to all humanity, the Tablets of the Law.
Last week’s parasha was a climax, God’s one-time revelation to all the people. The excitement was tremendous, the whole nation saw it. There was awe, a real fear in the hearts of the people. There was a full pyrotechnics display: smoke, fire, voices, noises, rumbling. And there was an emotional high.
The giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai is a foundational event for the Jewish people throughout the ages. But immediately afterwards comes the great fall of the Golden Calf.
There are more stories in which there are great, exciting, and tremendous events, followed by a big fall. In the story of the creation of the world, we read about the creation of nature, the animals, the garden. Everything is new, everything is fresh, everything is amazing. But immediately afterwards, we have a great fall and the disgraceful expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
The parting of the Red Sea is perhaps the greatest miracle in the Torah. The people of Israel are stuck between the desert and the sea. They see the Egyptian army closing in on them. The people cry to Moses, saying they would have preferred to be slaves in Egypt than to die “free” in the desert.
And at the height of pressure and fear, God parts the sea! Just thinking about it gets me excited. Think about it: an entire people, passing through the middle of the sea, with walls of water on each side. It’s an almost unimaginable image.
Then the sea closed over the entire Egyptian army. With a mighty miracle, God brought the people of Israel through the sea and destroyed the Egyptian army all in one blow. A mind-blowing miracle.
But what happens immediately after that? The people of Israel quarreled with Moses and God over water, and then about the food, then about the manna, and then again over the water.
People are all human beings. We need things to be regular, steady. We don’t do well with one-time events, especially when they take us to the peak of all spiritual experience.
We see that after the peak, then comes the fall. And the higher we are, the more painful the fall. Falling out of your chair hurts far less than falling from a skyscraper…
The balance of everyday life
As believers, we need to find the balance of everyday life. I think that most of us live in some kind of dualism. A spiritual peak at the end of the week, in being with the congregation, when we fervently debate the meaning of a particular verse or theology. (Ironically, these debates are usually on theoretical issues, which are not at all relevant to our daily lives. We debate and get angry mainly about “theoretical ideas”.)
On the other hand, during the week we live very secularly, very earthly, and very detached from the imaginary ideal that we demand of others in our debates over the weekend.
We must find the balance. To be less “spiritual” with false standards that are lofty and inaccessible, and to live our daily lives alongside Yeshua and our faith in Him, alongside our families, neighbors, and coworkers, and alongside those we interact with on a daily basis.
I think that Yeshua was against this natural human behavior, which exists today and existed even during the time of Yeshua. This hypocrisy, which demands much of the other, but is full of concessions when it comes to myself, which is hidden, because outwardly we like to look like righteous people.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see… – Matthew 23:2-5a [NIV]
Here is the place to ask: Do we demand much from others? Do we like to look more righteous than we really are?
Do our religious debates lead to unity or division? Anger? Or love? Are most of the issues we debate about relevant to everyday life? Or are they just theoretical?
In this matter, we must strive towards unity.
A Call for Justice
The second issue I want to talk about is justice.
Chapter 23 of our parasha opens with instructions for judgment in Israel – and the requirement for a fair trial. Meaning the forbiddance to take bribes, the forbiddance to listen to a false witness, etc.
In the course of proper judgment, we find two interesting verses, and I would like to examine them:
…and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit. – Exodus 23:3 [NIV]
Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. – Exodus 23:6 [NIV]
I think there are two ways in which most people relate to the rich and the poor. Some of the people, amongst the officials and the judges, take the side of the rich and powerful. And often it annoys us.
For example, a large company gets tax breaks on an unimaginable scale, and the ordinary citizen, or the small business, gets choked by taxes left and right – that’s not fair!
Or if we go into debt, the banks will incur all possible interest payments, including repossession, and take everything from us. When a large company goes into debt, banks often intervene and reduce the debt – again it’s not fair!
Sometimes when a rich person comes to the congregation, we make the mistake of saying to him, “Come, sit up front, in the place of honor.” And to the poor, or the helpless, we say, “Go to the back, do not stand out, and do not interfere.”
On the other hand, the feeling of compassion inherent in most of us wants to feel sorry for the poor, and we take the side of the underdog. In many cases we consider the poor person to be in the right.
This happens many times in the framework of civil or family law. But it also happens in the context of Israel and our Palestinian neighbors, often Israel is seen us as the strong, the ruling, the aggressors, and the Palestinians as the underdog to be supported. The world sees them as the victims.
God warns our judges, and us, not to look with pity on the defendant with the ragged clothes and the holes in his shoes, and justify him when it comes at the expense of another person.
Is our compassion making us cruel?
God requires a warm and compassionate heart on the one hand, and on the other hand, He requires of us to take a look at the cold, hard, facts. And from there we have to make a decision that is true and just without being blinded by the wealth, influence, and power of the strong, but on the other hand not to let our emotions intervene to justify the poor and helpless – if they are guilty.
Chazal, the Jewish sages, teach us an interesting principle:
He who is compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate. – Midrash Tanchuma, Metzora 1
This sentence was first taught in connection with the King Saul:
Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. – 1 Samuel 15:3 [NIV]
Saul did not fulfill the commandment:
But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good… – 1 Samuel 15:9b [NIV]
And later, when Saul suspected that the priests of Nob had cooperated and helped David, Saul killed them mercilessly:
He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep. – 1 Samuel 22:19 [NIV]
Saul had compassion on the Amalekites and did not want to kill them as he was commanded, and then he was cruel to the people of Nob and killed them in exactly the same way he was supposed to kill the Amalekites.
From there comes the aforementioned talmudic expression. But this expression is deep and important to us and our conduct even today.
The world community tends to silence problems and scandals of all kinds: assault, sexual harassment, theft, fraud, exploitation, injury, and more.
We tend to forgive, to give another chance, not to report to the police, not to publicly defame someone, according to the understanding that we are all sinners and we all need a second chance, and we all need Yeshua.
But here’s where this expression comes in: “He who is compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate.”
If we do not complain to the police about sexual assault, or allow a person who makes members of the opposite sex uncomfortable to remain in our society, who are we helping and who are we harming?
If we know that there is someone who exploits others in our society, financially or materially, and we turn a blind eye, who are we helping and who are we harming?
The requirement in this week’s parasha is for true justice. Emotion is good and important, compassion is important, but the requirement of our weekly Torah portion, the requirement of God, is to ignore the wretchedness of man, to examine the cold, hard facts, and to truly judge.
We must make sure to keep the good people in the community safe and not allow them to become victims.