Parsha_Push for Mishpatim
Rabbanit Dr. Adina Sternberg
Many are used to seeing Parshat Mishpatim as presenting the civil aspects of the Torah, focusing on interpersonal relationships, and dealing with slaves, damages, loans, bribery etc. However, we tend to ignore the first few verses of this text which appear at the end of the previous parsha: “And God said to Moshe this is what you should say to the People of Israel”. Before the civil laws, God gives laws concerning building an altar to worship Him, prohibiting idols, cutting stones and stairs. The end of Parshat Mishpatim also deals with religious laws such as Shabbat, Shmita and the pilgrimage on the holidays.
Instead of seeing this as a parsha that deals with interpersonal relationships, we might prefer to view it as one that applies divine principles – whether civil or religious – in a social context.
While a person can observe Shabbat in the confinement of his or her own home, striving to mimic God’s rest on the seventh day, as subscribed in the ten commandments, one can also see Shabbat as a means to ensure other people’s rest on this day. If one can individually feel sanctity in time through experiencing a personal elevation on Shabbat, then as in our parsha, the holy days can bring people together before God. Spirituality becomes a communal aspiration.
While the ten commandments are scripted in the singular: You may not have other gods, you must observe the Shabbat, etc., Parshat Mishpatim presents laws to be put before the people of Israel as a group. There is an individual covenant we enter at Mount Sinai, including the ten commandments, and there is a communal covenant we participate in, embodied in Parshat Mishpatim.
Human beings are both private entities and social beings. Thus, our religious world demands of us to worship God both as individuals and as part of a national covenant. At all times we are requested to ask ourselves: What does God want of me and what does God want of us? How can I develop and contribute to the world as an individual and how do I become part of a greater identity, joining force to worship God and make this world a better place.