Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:8), Shabbat Shekalim (Exodus 30:11-16)

This is the first of the four special Sabbaths  (Shekalim, Zachor,  Parah, and HaChodesh) that each require a second scroll reading and special haftarah and are intended to lead up to Passover.  The special reading for Shabbat Shekalim is Exodus 30:11-16 about the census that was taken of the adult (20 and up) Israelites by means of a half-shekel donation.  We’ll read that again in a few weeks, in Parashat Ki Tissa.  The special haftarah is  II Kings 11:17-12:17 (Ashkenazim, 12:1-17), concerning money donated to the priests for Temple maintenance.

After three weeks of exciting, action-packed Torah portions, we come to Mishpatim (rules, ordinances).  Perhaps the Israelites thought, we just got the Law at Sinai, what’s all this detail?  Rules are needed for a functioning society, which is what the Israelites need to become.  And so, they are to learn rules pertaining to civil, criminal, moral, and ritual matters.  The first part of Mishpatim (21:2-22:16 – sections as presented in the Etz Hayim chumash) mainly concerns civil and criminal law, starting with treatment of Hebrew slaves,  followed by penalties (e.g., fines, restitution, death) for various crimes, such as manslaughter versus premeditated murder, assault, kidnapping, striking one’s parents, accidentally (during a fight) causing a bystander’s miscarriage, damage caused by a wayward ox or other livestock, and responsibility of someone to whom something is lent.  This section also includes (Ch. 21) “23 But if other damage ensues, the penalty shall be life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” This is the first of three times this general formula is used in the Torah, here specifically concerning the fight and miscarriage.  It is ancient legalese for “appropriate compensation,” not maiming.  Section 2 (22:17-23:19) is mainly laws of a moral and humanitarian bent, such as returning lost items and wandering animals to their owner, judging fairly and not favoring rich or poor, take care of the needy, and, in general, being compassionate, remembering their own experience as slaves. There are also brief mentions of dedicating the firstborn to the Lord and the three harvest festivals (for when they have something to harvest).  A third section (23:20-33) is a review of divine promises and strong warnings against adopting the ways of the Canaanites.  The last section (24:1-18) includes the enthusiastic acceptance of the all this by the people (at least for now) and a theophany in which Moses, Aaron, Nadav, Abihu, and the 70 elders see the Lord (24:9-10).  And then Moses goes off to spend 40 days on Mt. Sinai writing down the Law, leaving the people in good hands.  Or so he thinks.

I was curious as to how much of the law presented in Mishpatim was influenced by Egyptian practice versus earlier exposure to Mesopotamian law.  I’d like to look at that in more depth, but for now I learned a bit from http://history-world.org/egyptian_law.htm, http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/04meso.html, http://rationalrevolution.net/articles/ten_commandments.htm , and http://www.ushistory.org/civ/4c.asp .  No Egyptian legal code per se has survived, though information can be gleaned from, e.g., court proceedings.  The Egyptians seem to have been more laid-back than the Mesopotamians in their outlook, since their lives were predictable; the Nile flooded at regular times and they were protected by the natural boundaries of the desert and the sea.  They were also pioneers of social equality before the law.  According to R. G. Price ( http://rationalrevolution.net/articles/ten_commandments.htm ), the instruction for lawmaking given to the Egyptian viziers was, “the creator-god states that he has made all men equal in opportunity and that, if there be any violation of this equality, the fault is man’s.”While classes existed, women apparently had full legal rights and even slaves might own property.  The Mesopotamians lived more precariously, subject to unpredictable floods and surrounded by largely hostile peoples. They were also more urbanized.  Their law codes, even before the Code of Hammurabi (282 laws, written long before the Exodus) included retaliation in kind (“lex talionis,” eye for an eye, etc.). Penalties depended on whether you were an aristocrat, a commoner, or a slave.  However, the prologue to the Code of Hammurabi states its goal is justice, visible in the land, with the destruction of the wicked, so that the strong might not injure the weak. Those that needed protecting were to be protected.  In the laws in the Torah, the Mesopotamian roots are visible, while the equality of classes is an extension of its beginnings in Egypt.  But overall, as we saw in a comparison of the stories of Noah and Gilgamesh, the Biblical writings are distinct in their moral context; the world of Noah is destroyed because of its wickedness.  Mishpatim is a fusion of moral exhortations, ritual instructions, and law.  And that law is from a divine, not human, source.

Shabbat shalom,


Going to the Eye Doctor

I was very scared about going to the eye doctor to get a certain procedure done on my eyes. The doctor tried to put me at ease but to no avail. It was after he finished with my first eye that I nearly jumped out of the chair. “There there”, he said “only one eye left!”



Puns about Health (Dentists) [selected]

1.        I’ve been to the dentist several times so I know the drill. Maurice – Greensboro, NC
4.        My cavity wasn’t fixed by my regular dentist, but by a guy who was filling in.        
6.        Dentists have their own flossify on how to keep teeth clean.        
7.        The dentist put braces on his patient as a stop-gap measure.  Adele – Bohemia, NY        
8.        I got my job at the dentist’s office by word of mouth. Adele – Bohemia, NY        
12.        The dentist’s alibi was full of holes, so the police performed a cavity search. skygy        
16.        Ten years without brushing causes horrible tooth decade.        
19.        Dentists don’t like a hard day at the orifice.        
21.        An orthodontist was found dead, killed with a hatchet. However, no one was arrested as the death was declared axe-idental.   Justin – Delmar, NY        
22.         There was a dentist who was convicted of incisor trading.                
26.        Is an uninfected tooth in a pre-carious state?  Pun Gent – India        

The Lost & Found Wallet

A poor Jew finds a wallet with seven hundred dollars. At his shul he reads a notice stating that a wealthy Jew has lost his wallet and is offering a fifty dollar reward to anyone who returns it. Quickly he locates the owner giving him the wallet.  

The rich man counts the money and says, “I see you have already taken your reward.”

The poor man responds, “What are you talking about?”

The wealthy Jew continues, “This wallet had seven hundred and fifty dollars in it when I lost it.”

The two men begin arguing, and eventually they come before the community Rav.  

Both men present their case. The poor man first, then the wealthy man who concludes by saying, “Rabbi, I trust you believe me.”  

The rabbi says, “Of course.” The rich man smiles, and the poor man is devastated. Then the rabbi take the wallet out of the wealthy man’s hands and gives it to the poor man who found it.  

“What are you doing?!” the rich man yells angrily.

The rabbi responds, “You are, of course, an honest man, and if you say that you’re missing wallet had seven hundred and fifty dollars in it, I’m sure it did. But if the man who found this wallet is a liar and a thief, he wouldn’t have returned it at all. Which means that this wallet must belong to somebody else. If that man steps forward, he’ll get the money. Otherwise, it stays with the man who found it.”

“What about my money?” the rich man asks.  

“Well, we’ll just have to wait until somebody finds a wallet with seven hundred fifty dollars in it!”


Courtroom Humor

By Defendant:  Judge, I want you to appoint me another lawyer.
By the Court:  And why is that?
Defendant:  Because the Public Defender isn’t interested in my case.
The Court (addressing the public defender):  Do you have any comments on the defendant’s motion?
By the Public Defender:  I’m sorry, Your Honor. I wasn’t listening.

By Attorney:  When he went — had you gone — and had she — if she wanted to and were able, for the time being excluding all the restraints on her not to go — gone also — would he have brought you — meaning you and she — with him to the station?
By Opposing Counsel:  Objection your Honor! That question ought to be taken out and shot.

By Attorney:  What gear were you in at the moment of impact?
By Witness:  Gucci sweats and Reeboks.

By Attorney:  Doctor, did you say he was shot in the woods?
By Witness:  No — I said he was shot in the lumbar region.

By Attorney:  What is your name?
By Witness:  [states name]
Attorney:  And what is your marital status?
Witness:  Fair.

By Attorney:  When was the last time you saw the deceased?
By Witness:  At his funeral.
Attorney:  Did he make any comments to you at that time?

By Attorney (having thought of an ill conceived question that he evidently decided not to ask):  Your Honor — I’d like to strike the next question.



Big Government. Small Brains. Dumb Laws.

Haines, Alaska   A person may only carry a concealed slingshot if that person has received the appropriate license.

California  Sunshine is guaranteed to the masses.
Animals are banned from mating publicly within 1,500 feet of a tavern, school, or place of worship.
No vehicle without a driver may exceed 60 miles per hour.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware  One may not whisper in church. (actually, the law reads “place of worship”)

Florida  A special law prohibits unmarried women from parachuting on Sunday or she shall risk arrest, fine, and/or jailing.
If an elephant is left tied to a parking meter, the parking fee has to be paid just as it would for a vehicle.
Men may not be seen publicly in any kind of strapless gown.

Kentucky Throwing eggs at a public speaker could result in up to one year in prison. (Repealed, 1975)

St. Louis, Missouri   It’s illegal to sit on the curb of any city street and drink beer from a bucket.

New York    Citizens may not greet each other by “putting one’s thumb to the nose and wiggling the fingers”.

New Jersey    It is against the law for a man to knit during the fishing season.
You may not slurp your soup.

Pennsylvania   It is illegal to have over 16 women live in a house together because that constitutes a brothel.
Any motorist driving along a country road at night must stop every mile and send up a rocket signal, wait 10 minutes for the road to be cleared of livestock, and continue.

Pittsburgh, PA    It is still illegal to bring a donkey or a mule onto a trolley car.

Texas   One must acknowledge a supreme being before being able to hold public office. [Why does this not surprise me?]
A recently passed anticrime law requires criminals to give their victims 24 hours notice, either orally or in writing, and to explain the nature of the crime to be committed.

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One Response to Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:8), Shabbat Shekalim (Exodus 30:11-16)

  1. Pingback: Resources for Exodus 30:11 - 16

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