Parshat Mishpatim

This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his neshama

-By Elisheva Maline

Before discussing this week's Parshat Mishpatim in all its "closely embroidered" detailing, realize that Judaism is a relationship as well as a religion. Our connection to G-d has the potential to be like that of a father with His child. Naturally, beautiful relationships are the result of invested time and energy and some of the best parent-child relationships are also the ones where people pay close attention to little details. For instance, when I was fifteen, my father surprised me with a trip to Starbucks. He knew I love starbuck's hazlenut latte, though, and that was reason enough to take me. I know my father appreciates a phone call every Friday afternoon and come what may, I try to make time to call him.

Feeling close to Hashem is not just a mindset reserved for the pious, anyone can attain this level of connectedness. Notice, G-d keeps us clothed winter and summer. He makes sure we have money for food and school. He sends us friends who can laugh with us. He gives us reason to be happy by noticing and watching out for the big and little things. Now, how can we do the same for Him?

In this week's Parsha, Moshe gives a skeletal outline of the Torah's laws. The mitzvos (commandments) shown deal with the building up of a lasting relationship with G-d (ben adam li'makom, between man and G-d) as well as mitzvos on how to maintain good relations with our fellow man (ben adam la'chavairo). The commandments range from how to keep kashrut (the Jewish diet) to business ethics, and the proper treatment of animals. 

One mitzvah (commandment) that I always end up zeroing in on in this week's Parsha pertains to treatment of servants. For one thing, one of the only ways a person could get denigrated to a position of servitude was usually because he stole something he was incapable of paying back. Thus the Jewish court sent him to work off his debt till the next shmitah cycle (which occurs every seven years). The only other way for him to become a slave was if he owned nothing but the shirt on his back and sold himself. However, unlike the the picture conjured by African American slavery in mid 19th century United States, a Jewish slave's life was quite humane. He had to be given the same sleeping and eating arrangements as his master. Also, he had servants' rights: if it was discovered that a servant was being physically mistreated by his master, the owner was ordered to release him to freedom. Nowadays, it's clear to everyone (thanks to the level of communation society has achieved) that Judaism focuses on helping every human being in a dignified manner. Traditional Judaism sponsors organizations that help anyone in need with things ranging from someone needing to borrow a drill, wedding dresses to money loans. Just open up the local Jewish phone book, you'll find it full of numbers.

At the end of the Parsha Moses goes up to Mount Sinai to meet with God for 40 days and 40 nights, leaving Aaron, his older brother and Chur, his sister Miriam's son, in charge of the Jewish people till his eventual return to solidify our relationship with G-d by giving over the Torah's laws.

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