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Jake Flax - Dvar Torah



Thank you Rabbi Greg, and welcome family and friends.

My portion is from Mishpatim, from the book of Exodus (or Shmot in Hebrew).


Mishpatim literally translates into the word “Laws”.


It follows the giving of the ten commandments on Mount Sinai which we believe came from Hashem, but Mishpatim are the laws which were about the way people relate to each other.


They were also much more numerous and more detailed. I also think they were much more specific to the time and place where they were constructed. 


The Ten Commandments to me feel more foundational, like a set of guiding principles. 


But Mishpatim is the product of a people trying to find their own way, and setting rules which they believed made the world a more fair place (even if that world from 3000 years ago seems very different to the world we live in now).




I like rules! Most people know that about me. 


So it's quite funny, I guess, that I received this specific portion to read on my Bar Mitzvah.

Maybe it's because there have been so many lawyers and accountants in my family tree.

Lawyers such as my grandfather Jeff, my cousins Leonard and John and of course my great uncles Arnold and Solly. As for accountancy in the family, I have my grandpa Jannie, and my great uncle Willie.


There are rules and laws everywhere in our world. We see them in our Torah and our Halacha, but we also see them in constitutions, company contracts, marriage contracts, and even at public swimming pools…and of course everyone remembers the “golden rules” that their mom and dad told them when they were 5 years old!  

There are also laws in mathematics and the sciences…which I love.


Everyone also knows that one of my favourite sciences is Geography.


I love the science of Geography because it is about understanding our planet. I also love Geography because I can think about the places I could travel to one day. In geography, I like the idea of using instruments to help with direction. One of the most important instruments for navigation is a compass.


Now, something that I could relate my love for geography and my portion would be the idea of a moral compass.



For me, Mishpatim is a bit about a people finding their moral compass. 


Having a moral compass is about having something that guides our decisions. An important thing to remember with your moral compass is that it can change according to your current state, almost like a normal compass.


There can be many influences that can affect your present situation, like your location, time, experiences, other people and what is going on in the world.


You can also strengthen your moral compass by focusing on helping others, and not only by focusing on your own needs.


A way I can explain this was that as part of my Bar mitzvah project with my shul, I recently started helping the Good Start Trust. This is a program that feeds disadvantaged schoolkids in Cape Town before they start their school day. These kids come to school on empty stomachs, and something as simple as giving them a nutritious breakfast can make a huge difference to their ability to learn and absorb knowledge. There is no doubt that doing mitzvahs changes one’s perspective. I know that the feeling of helping others definitely adds to MY moral compass.


The last thing I want to say about Mishpatim is that it teaches the importance of not following the crowd. A large amount of people can have a vision for what they think is correct, but it could also not be right. My parashah says in verse 23 that you “must not carry false rumours”, even if a big crowd are all saying the same thing. And it also says that you shouldn’t defend someone who is saying the wrong thing -  just because they are powerful, or just because they are weak. You must be independent. This kind of thinking was very ahead of its time! 


This for me is about making one’s own decisions, based on my own moral compass.


In other words, as I grow as a Jewish man, I will always have to determine for myself what is right and wrong, despite what is popular. Mishpatim speaks of this responsibility, which can be difficult in our modern times, especially with social media. 


When it comes to making a decision of what to do, it is always better to follow the path of what is fair and kind rather than just going along with the crowd.


I know that this is something that will always help me, to follow good role models - my teachers, my judaism, my parents, my grandparents, my family and to always remember my moral compass.


Shabbat Shalom


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