Parsha Thought – Mishpatim

  • Exodus 21:1-24:18
  • Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:25-26
  • Matthew 17:1-11

This week’s Torah Portion follows the giving of the Ten Commandments. Separating the Ten Commandments and this Parsha are a few commandments regarding the altar that will be built in the future at the end of Parsha Yitro. However, this week’s reading begins with:

“These are the right-rulings which you are to set before them: “When you buy a Hebrew servant, he serves six years, and in the seventh he goes out free, for no charge.” -Shemot 21:1-2

Are we reading this correctly? After being led out of Egypt and enduring the hardships and sufferings of slavery, one of the first things that the Israelites are told is “If you buy an ‘eved Ivri’ (Hebrew servant), he shall work for six years; and in the seventh he shall go free, for no charge.” How strange that the first laws given after being slaves for all those years would be about owning an “eved”? The question is then, how does one even become a servant?

The scripture lists two ways that a Hebrew can fall into into servitude. One is found in Vayikra/Leviticus 25:39 and would be a way to escape extreme poverty and would it be their choice. The other way is if he is a thief and he does not have sufficient funds to repay the victim (Shemot/Exodus 22:2). Remember that this is only for six years and on the seventh he goes free regardless of how much work still needs to be done. Another important note is the way in which it is required to treat an evad. According to Torah, the master is obligated to meet every need and provide for their servant. The servant is to eat before the master does, he is to be given the Shabbat (Sabbath) off as a day of rest, and he is to be treated as if he is a member of the family. It is even said that if the owner of the evad only has one pillow in the house and the servant does not have one, the master is to give it to him.

“Masters, give your servants what is righteous and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in the heavens.” (Colossians 4:1)

Here is a B’rit Chadesha/New Testament instance that reminds the reader that since Yahweh saw them in their suffering and took them as His own to provide for them, so must you do the same for those who are indebted to you. You are to care deeply for them and deal with them fairly, just as you have been provided for.

This parsha is all about ethics. You will be faced with situations that require you to consider the dignity of other human beings before you act. You will be required to treat each living soul (human or animal) with the utmost respect because you serve a God who hears the cry of the oppressed. Without guidelines, the Israelites would have no idea how that should look since, for so long, they had been considered less than human. They were not people with emotions and souls, but tools and machines for the Pharaoh’s labor force.

We’ve been told that the entirety of the Torah hinges on the two great Mitzvot, to love your Elohim with every ounce of your ability and to love your neighbor as yourself. Keep that in mind as you read through this week’s Sidrah. Perhaps we can learn, in a greater detail, what that second half really looks like.

For more on this see this week’s Haftara reading found in Yirmeyahu/Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:25-26

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