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Parsha Mishpatim Exodus 21:1-24:18

Parsha Mishpatim Exodus 21:1-24:18

For people who hear the word “Torah” and immediately think of a list of laws and regulations, then this portion is for you. This portion contains quite a list of commandments, racking up a whopping total of 53 laws—23 compulsory and 30 prohibitory commandments. In this portion we are getting down to the “nitty gritty” things of the Torah, but that sounds too dirty. As it says in Psalm 19, “The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes…” So, if the commandment of the Lord is pure, then I’ll call this portion, the beginning of the “nuts and bolts” of the Torah. In other words, this is the “practical application of the Torah’s aspiration.”
Many people skip or gloss over these laws and go straight back to the exciting stories of the nation of Israel. But these portions can be more profound than any story we read in scripture, because it is from these laws that we better understand the nature of God.
I know I have used the term⁠ “Torah⁠” a lot, using the word to describe the 5 books of Moses. Yet, I have never done an observation concerning what the Torah is, in and of itself. The word Torah is commonly mistranslated as “law,” a better translation would be “instruction.” It is in these instructions that we better understand the nature and character of the One who gave them to mankind.
I’m sure we are all familiar with the idea professed by many in Christianity who say, “The law has been done away with.” And to be quite honest, it is tempting to go along with this idea, being that there are many complex issues in the Torah that would seemingly (in the human mind) be good to abolish. Yet, as stated so well by First Fruits of Zion in their article for this Torah portion, they write, “the mouth of God spoke every commandment of Torah.” If the mouth of God spoke every commandment into existence, then “As soon as we begin to discard commandments, we have begun editing God and reshaping the Almighty into an image which we deem more appropriate.”
We cannot change the Torah to fit our version of God. As Psalm 18 says, “Ha’El Tamim Darcho, Imrat Hashem Tz’rufah—God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven.” But the word “tz’rufah” doesn’t necessarily have to be translated as “proven.” The word “tz’rufah” deals with the concept of something being tested, purified or flawless. From this verse we gain the understanding that God’s word and His way are perfect and flawless, and as Isaiah the Prophet wrote, “…the word of our God stands forever.”
The study of the Torah is the study of God, and the more we understand the Torah, the more we will understand God. If we continue in this line of thinking, then, if someone were to fully understand Torah then they would understand God, and if they fully understood God…then He’s not God, because God is beyond our intellectual capacity. We can “know God” but only in the fullness He allows. We can understand Torah, but only in the limited capacity of our knowledge and experience. We change based on the circumstances and situations around us, but God never changes and neither does His word. The Torah communicates to us God’s divine nature and every commandment imparts a “pure revelation of His person.” FFOZ
“Moses with tablets of the Ten Commandments”by Rembrandt (1659)
This is a concept that must be understood before we even get to the starting gate. As Yeshua Himself said, “I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” The Torah tells us who God is and who we are to become. It describes God’s nature and tells us how to be just as He is.
 
Hopefully, I’ve now brought more clarity to the concept of the importance of Torah. But before we jump right into the “instructions” found in these passages, I want to take a short journey to sum up the Torah as best as possible. Before we start I want to ask a question: Why is a summary important before we begin exploring the laws found in the Torah? Because if we know the summary, then we will know how to interpret the laws presented throughout the Bible.The summary will give us the Heart of the Torah, and when we understand the Heart of the Torah we will be able to “rightly divid[e] the word of truth.”
 
Rabbi Simlai lived during the time of the third century in the Galilee area of Israel. He is best noted for being the one to state the number of Torah commands as 613. His statements are recorded in the Talmud and can be found in Makkot 23b. With the idea of 613 commandments, many Rabbis began hunting for a verse from the Tanach (Tanach is an acronym used to describe the whole Hebrew Bible) that could be used that would summarize the Torah in its entirety. We are all familiar with the 10 commandments and they are a good starting point to quickly reduce our number from 613 to 10. The 10 sum up the 613. Rabbi Simlai himself was also on the hunt to figure out how to summarize the entire Torah with one commandment and verse. He began with Psalm 15. In this Psalm, King David asks the question, “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?” Then David goes on to describe the attributes and qualities one must have. We can summarize the 10 commandments using one chapter, Psalm 15. How do we summarize even better? Rabbi Simlai next takes Isaiah 33:15 and says the entire Torah is summed up by these 6 commandments, found in this one verse. Then in Micah 6:8, Micah instructs the people with 3 commandments “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Continue on and we find that Isaiah 56 instructs us to “Keep justice, and do righteousness” Now we’re down from 10 commandments to 2. But what is the one verse and one commandment that sums up the whole Torah? Rabbi Simlai sums up his thoughts and concludes with Amos 5:4 saying that the whole Torah centers on this one commandment and verse, “Seek Me and live.”
 
Of course, for most of us as Christians, we sum up the Torah through the words of Yeshua when He was asked about the “greatest—all encompassing” commandment of the Torah. His reply is found in Matthew 22. “Yeshua said…‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
However, what many people don’t know is that this summarization by Yeshua was not a new concept to the Jewish people of the time. Yeshua was actually quoting a Rabbi of His era known as Rabbi Hillel. As the story goes, “A certain heathen came before Hillel and asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel replied, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it.’” Hillel wrapped up the entire Torah with the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I love his ending…once you understand the simple statement of what it truly means to love your neighbor, “the rest is commentary.” Basically he’s saying, “love your neighbor” is the commandment, the rest of Torah is how to apply that commandment to everyday life. That is really what the Torah is about. As I already wrote, most of the commandments we read about are the “practical applications of the Torah’s aspirations.” We aspire to love God and love our neighbor, but what that looks like in reality is defined in the “nuts and bolts” of this Parsha and Parashot (portions) like this one.
 
This Parsha is titled “Mishpatim” which means “Judgments.” In the Torah the commands—instructions, are divided into 3 different categories. The first and most basic of these categories is titled the “Mishpatim—Judgements.” These are the laws that govern between people and are necessary to allow for a civilized society to retain social order. These commands would include such laws as “Do not murder” or “Do not steal.” In basic terms, these laws deal with human interactions between each other.
 
The next category is called “Edut—Testimonies.” These are laws and rulings that commemorate and remind us of past events through physical deeds. For example, we are told to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, but the Sabbath itself reminds us of Creation. Instructions are given on how to keep the feast of Passover, but Passover is about reminding us of the Exodus from Egypt. Tefillin—Phylacteries are worn by Jewish men during prayer as a reminder of the verse that says to bind God’s words as a sign on the arm and as frontlets between the eyes. These are the laws that give physical reality to a spiritual mentality.
 
The last category is titled, the “Chukim—Statutes.” These laws are ones that cannot be understood but are kept anyway because they are God’s laws. These laws would include commands such as, the red heifer sacrifice or the kosher dietary food laws. We don’t necessarily have a complete grasp on why God gave these laws or what their implications are; yet we keep them because they are important to God.The “Chukim” are done to honor God, though we don’t completely comprehend what they mean. These laws have come to be referred to by the Rabbis as “The Torah of Messiah,” because these are the laws that the Messiah will explain upon His arrival.
 
Though this Parsha (portion) is called “Mishpatim,” we find all three categories of laws mentioned in this portion and even some overlap regarding different commands. For example, take this verse, “The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.” This verse contains an essence of all three kinds of Mitzvot—Commandments. It is a physical command (Physical reminder-Edut) to bring to God’s house and to the Kohanim-the Priests, the first of the crops. (Taking care of your fellow man-Mishpat) It is through this command that you rise above the routine of everyday and connect to God (Chukim). So, through this command you fulfill all three types of commandments. Let me clarify—you do a physical act, which encourages peace between man and his fellow, whereby you find greater connection to God. That’s what this means. You bring to realization all three levels of the commandment by fulfilling one law in God’s Torah. God’s laws should always accomplish this work. Let me rephrase this again, because, this is what it means to follow God’s laws, and this is what it should accomplish…by keeping a physical command of God, it should encourages peace between man and his fellow and bring you to a closer connection with God.

With all that being said, I am running out of space and time to get into some of the commandments we find mentioned in this portion. So quickly let’s dive right into the first chapter of this portion and look at some of the specific commands that God gave to the children of Israel. In Exodus 21:2-6, God talks about how to deal with a Hebrew servant. One thing to mention before we get really deep into this portion is that the word “Slave” used in the Bible, is often, if not all the time, the Hebrew word “Eved.” This word can also mean “Servant,” even as Moses himself was called an “Eved Hashem—A Servant of God.”
Biblical slavery is not the same slavery that we as Americans understand from our horrific history. What we are dealing with in these specific verses of chapter 21 deal with how to care for a Hebrew indentured-servant. These verses are actually directed toward those who are rich rather than vice-versa. These verses are telling those that are well off, that it is not okay to pass up a fellow Hebrew who has fallen on bad times. It is a Torah command that the rich take care of their fellow man. This does not mean the government step in and redistribute wealth, which is not in the Torah. The main point is…take care of each other. Verses 5 and 6 go on to deal with the procedure, if a Hebrew servant should want to remain with his master.
I don’t have time to get into the intricacies of the process, but it is important to note that this was looked down upon within Jewish culture and practice. And now we must ask the question, Why? We can find our answer in the first verse of the 10 commandments. “Anochi Hashem Elokecha Asher Hotzeticha M’Eretz Mitzraim M’Beit Avadim—I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.”
God brought His people out of Egypt to be a people unto Himself. When someone willingly puts himself or herself in the position of serving under another person forever, they take for granted the freedom that God wanted everyone in Israel to experience. God wants servants who are grateful to Him and who are not indebted to anyone or anything else besides Him. Notice, nowhere in the Torah does God demand that the Israelites bend the knee to worship and serve Him. God wants us to stand before the world upright and erect, without shame, because He is our God. He doesn’t want us to bow to Him because He demands it; He wants us to bow before Him because He deserves it! May we be those who are reserved of God and have not bowed the knee to anything or anyone but Him!
 
With that, I want to leave you with some parting words in summarization of everything we have discovered. Firstly, remember that the Torah was given that we may become even as He is. Secondly, as Rabbi Simlai revealed to us, the whole Torah is summed up in the verse “Seek Me and live.”
And finally…live Torah! Don’t live as slave to anyone. Keep your head up, heart open, face set towards Jerusalem, and kneel to the King of Kings, not because it’s required, but because He deserves it!  
 
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

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