My Dvar Torah - Zoe Amato

My Parsha is called Mishpatim. It is found in the 2nd book of the Torah – Shmot. Mishpatim means laws. There are 56 civil laws contained in this Parsha. Mishpatim follows on from Yitro – which was about receiving the 10 Commandments.Mishpatim covers many many laws – including …. relationships between men and women, treatment of slaves, treatment of animals, a little bit of kashrut, laws governing crop growing, worshipping other Gods, and business ethics to name a few. There are also instructions outlining the details of the Three Pilgrimage Holidays, namely Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.I would like to focus on one aspect [Exodus 23:4 and 5] - the treatment of your enemy's donkey. There are two verses in my portion that say:• If you come upon your enemy's bull or his stray donkey, you shall surely return it to him.• If you see your enemy's donkey lying under its burden would you refrain from helping him? You shall surely help along with him.These laws are written to guide us in the way we treat our animals. That doesn’t only mean our pets. In those Ancient times, animals were used to assist families with their day to day lives, for example, transporting people and goods, assisting with heavy work in the fields etc. With help from the Talmud, I have drawn my own conclusions about how we treat animals in this day and age.The Talmud comments that one must ‘feed your animal before you feed yourself’. This is very important because it highlights that owning a pet is a huge responsibility. As you know, animals, specifically pets, are unable to ask for food and so they rely on their human owners to provide this so they do not suffer from hunger.Just imagine the time before supper … the table is nicely laid, the delicious steak is on the table, just waiting to be eaten. Everyone sees that tonight is a real feast and the poor dogs have been forgotten about. What would happen ? Well, in this case, there are a few answers … The dogs could start begging and then they would get into trouble and be sent out the room … still suffering from hunger! But it’s not their fault! Even worse, the dogs could STEAL the meat from the table … imagine the trouble they would be in then ?So, I ask you , is it the dog’s fault that they misbehave or is it the owner’s fault ?We own pets and we need to be RESPONSIBLE for them – not just the feeding and walking and brushing etc, but we need to keep them safe – make sure they can’t get out the property – we also need to make sure they don’t harm anyone else – by keeping dogs on leashes etc. There will always be an element of animal instinct that is beyond our control, but in the end, we are responsible for the well being of our own pets, and thus, the well being of all who come into contact with our pets.As I was reading through the Parsha I was thinking about how all these old rules about oxen and sorceresses and slaves have any relevance to the way we live now. But now, after doing some thinking, I realise that we can use this part of the Torah as a guide to our current lives. It is this realisation that brings me to the following point.The Torah is a dynamic book. Its ancient laws and ideologies still apply but thankfully, given our own free will, we are able to still use these ideas in our modern way of thinking. How exciting that we can still be Jewish and honour the Torah in 2014 – in our Modern Way !Shabbat Shalom

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