Adam Spilkin - Dvar Torah
My torah portion is called “Mishpatim”. Mishpatim means “judgments”.
Moses informs the Israelites of many ethical and ritual laws and seals the covenant between the Children of Israel and God. “And these are the judgments which you will place before them” (Exodus 21:1)
Following the revelation at Sinai, G-d legislates a series of laws for the people of Israel. These mishpatim include a wide range of civil laws, criminal laws, ritual laws and financial and family laws. We learn about the law concerning slaves, violence, property, the laws of restitution as well as social and religious laws. Also included are laws warning against the mistreatment of foreigners, the observance of the seasonal festivals and the agricultural gifts that are to be brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem; the laws of kashrut and the prohibition against cooking meat and milk and the mitzvah of prayers. Altogether the Parshah of Mishpatim contains 53 mitzvot - 23 commandments and 30 prohibitions, Mishpatim is one of the longest portions in the Torah.
The civil laws opens with the laws about Hebrew slaves because it contains the aspect of freeing the slave on the seventh year in remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt.
All Jews have Hashem as their Master. They must serve Him. The Torah is telling the individual who buys another Jew to realise that his relationship with such a Jew cannot be one of Master and slave, because every Jew is already a slave belonging to another master, to Hashem!
Slavery seems to have been much more accepted and socially tolerated during the biblical and ancient times but it was to be practised in a more humane and orderly manner.
Today unfortunately slavery continues to exist. New forms of slavery are often referred to as “human trafficking”. Slavery exists in every corner of our world in everyday setting, near our homes and our work places, people are forced into domestic service, prostitution, farm labour and factory labour.
Millions of children are forced into labour; People are tricked into taking a loan for as little as the cost of medicine for a sick child, then forced to work to repay the debt, sometimes for generations; Women and girls are married without choice and are forced into lives of servitude often with physical violence.
The message of this law pertaining to slavery in the Torah was meant to improve the lives of slaves in ancient times and to help them re-enter society and re-engage in free society. Clearly this is not the case today and this reminds us that there is a lot of work to be done with regards to slavery. As long as human trafficking and slavery continue to exist in our world, it is up to all of us to get involved and take action to help these individuals who are caught up in such circumstances and together we can work towards the eventual elimination of all these negative forces in our world.
The word “mishpat” actually means “justice,” which seems to imply that these aren’t just laws about what we should or should not do. They are laws about restoring the balance of justice when it’s been broken. If you break someone’s property, this is what you owe them. If you injure or harm someone, this is how you must repay them, or this is your punishment.
In order to be a productive member of society, you have to follow the laws and be kind to people.
In the Torah we are commanded to “share bread with the hungry”. For my mitzvah project, I chose to feed the homeless. Every two weeks for the past couple of months I have been making 6 loaves of peanut butter sandwiches and jam sandwiches and then I went with my mom and handed them out to the homeless people who live on the streets near Milnerton Beach. I know by doing this I am practising both tzedakkah and mitzvot and the best part was that I felt so good doing it. And by doing this small deed, I am also practising tikkun olam, repairing this world, in my own small way. And to think that such a small deed can make such a difference in someone’s life. It really made me feel good.
We need to show kindness and love to those around us at all times – to our neighbours, our families, those we do business with, and the public in general.
Mishpatim concludes with the promise from Hashem to lead the Israelites into the land of Israel, safeguard their journey, ensure the destruction of their enemies and guarantee their safety in the land - that is IF we uphold the laws of the Torah and do the mitzvoth.
To conclude, even the mitzvot between us and other individuals affect our relationship with G-d. Every good deed we perform, enhances and strengthens our relationship with G-d and also benefits all of humanity.
So spread kindness and love this week.