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

This is the first of the four special Sabbaths (Shekalim, Zachor, Parah, and HaChodesh) that lead up to Passover (AGH! CLEANING!).  The special reading for Shabbat Shekalim is Exodus 30:11-16 about the census that was taken of the adult Israelites via a half-shekel donation, or head tax.   The special haftarah is II Kings 11:17-12:17 (Ashkenazim, 12:1-17), also about shekalim, namely the money donated to the priests for Temple maintenance.   But wait – there’s more!  Rosh Chodesh Adar is Sunday and Monday, so we chant the Blessing for the New Month.  We still give precedence to Shabbat Shekalim instead of reading the one for Shabbat Erev Rosh Chodesh, but some congregations will add its first and last verses (I Samuel 20:18 and 42) after the Shabbat Shekalim haftarah.  Got that?

After three Torah portions jam-packed with action and core events, we come to a screeching halt and read Mishpatim (rules, ordinances).  The first word in this portion starts with v’, meaning “and,” an indication that, yes, this is a logical follow-up to the Ten Commandments.

As I wrote last year (I liked that summary):   “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. ”

Concerning that naively enthusiastic acceptance, “Na’aseh v’nishmah!” I referred to recently, here’s Richard Elliott Friedman’s take on the subject, from his Torah Commentary (thanks, Stanley):

“It has been noted that the word order here seems backward: Doesn’t one have to listen to the command before one can do it?! The promises to do and to listen come together in the order of this sentence in the Hebrew, so it may be that they were a known formula, constituting an oath of absolute obedience. But I understand them to be separate: The people’s promise to do the commandments is a repetition of what they had said before in v. 3. They repeat it formally now because Moses has just read them the written document. The people’s promise to listen is, as Rashbam wrote, a further promise, a commitment to follow the things that their God will say to them in the future. In Hebrew as in English, words for “listening” also imply obeying, as in: “Listen to your mother!” “Do you hear me?!” (As an alternative and more banal explanation of the seemingly backward order: the Septuagint has the two words in reverse order.)”

One subject that piques my interest this year is treatment of the ger, which is mentioned 36 times in the Torah, this week in 22:20 and 23:9.

20 You shall not wrong (vex) a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

9 You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.

Here’s a bit of commentary, based on Nehama Leibowitz, “New Studies in Shemot”, pp. 379-389.  See also http://www.jtsa.edu/x11522.xml

Ramban:  In wronging the stranger, you are implying he has no protection.  “You were strangers” is not to recall your weakness in Egypt, but, on the contrary, the fact that you were saved and your oppressors were destroyed.  Thus, if you turn oppressor, you will meet their fate.

Mekhilta (commentary on Exodus, ca. 300 C.E.): “wrong” (or “vex”) means wronging with words.  “Oppress” means wronging in money matters.  Further, you should not put the ger down by saying, just yesterday you worshipped other gods, the pork is still stuck to your teeth, and yet you dare argue with me!

Rashi:  22:20 Practical strategy to protect self: Your wronging him as a stranger is like the pot calling the kettle black, inciting him to wrong you back. Also, your memory of oppression might actually lead to deliberately treat the stranger as you were treated. 23:9 Appeal to historical memory: You know how painful it is for a stranger when he is oppressed.

So who are gerim today, besides the obvious resident (legal) aliens and illegal immigrants?  Unfortunately, while we in the Jewish community still readily define some outsiders as gerim, we fail to treat them as commanded.  I was disturbed by this item in the Jewish Week, http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/israel-news/convert-snub-israel-fuels-fresh-anger , about the refusal in Israel to recognize the Orthodox conversion of a young woman as valid,”evidently because it took place in a synagogue-based beit din (rabbinical court) that did not meet on a regular basis and not in an external beit din dedicated solely to conversions”.  This matters to her because it affects her immigration status in Israel; she is forced to remain a ger (gerah?)* rather than a Jew who can invoke the Law of Return.

And then there was this one in the Forward,”Jewish Day Schools’ Dirty Little Secret,” http://www.forward.com/articles/170753 , in which it is claimed that the failure of most (not all) Jewish day schools to accommodate Jewish children with disabilities (physical, mental, emotional) seems to stem less from a lack of resources, with few bothering to apply for existing funds, than from a lack of desire to do so.  Such schools implicitly label these children and their families as gerim and then fail to treat them as Torah commands they should.  And they teach Torah.   Ironic, isn’t it?

Shabbat shalom,

*Since this was posted 0n 020813, I have learned that I’ve learned that the feminine for ger is giyoret.  IGP, 121513



April 2010 census

“The government is really asking a lot of us this month — first we’re supposed to count how many people live in our home — then we’re supposed to count how much money we owe them. I actually got confused and accidentally sent a check to the census and a member of my household to the IRS. Sorry grandma.” -Jimmy Kimmel

Hard of Hearing

An older man had serious hearing problems for many years. He went to the doctor and the doctor was able to have him fitted for a set of hearing aids that allowed the man to hear 100%.

The old man went back in a month to the doctor and the doctor said, “Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again.”

The man replied, “Oh, I haven’t told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to their conversations. I’ve changed my will three times!”

Obey the speed limit

Sitting on the side of the highway waiting to catch speeding drivers, a State Police Officer sees a car puttering along at 22 MPH.

He thinks to himself, “This driver is just as dangerous as a speeder! “So he turns on his lights and pulls the driver over.

Approaching the car, he notices that there are five old ladies, two in the front seat and three in the back, wide eyed and white as ghosts.

The driver, obviously confused, says to him, “Officer, I don’t understand, I was doing exactly the speed limit! What seems to be the problem?”

“Ma’am,” the officer replies, “You weren’t speeding, but you should know that driving slower than the speed limit can also be a danger to other drivers.”

“Slower than the speed limit? No sir, I was doing the speed limit exactly twenty-two miles an hour!” the old woman says a bit proudly.

The State Police officer, trying to contain a chuckle explains to her that “22” was the route number, not the speed limit.

A bit embarrassed, the woman grinned and thanked the officer for pointing out her error.

“But before I let you go, Ma’am, I have to ask… Is everyone in this car OK? These women seem awfully shaken and they haven’t muttered a single peep this whole time,” the officer asks.

“Oh, they’ll be all right in a minute officer. We just got off Route 142.”

Funny Jewish Thoughts On Marriage

Menachem, a Jewish businessman, warned his son, Moshe, against marrying a non-Jew.

Moshe replied, ‘But she’s converting to Judaism.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ the old man said. ‘A *shiksa will cause problems.’

Moshe persisted.  After the wedding, Menachem called the son, who was in business with him, and asked him why he was not at work. ‘It’s *Shabbos,’ Moshe replied.

Menachem was surprised, ‘But we always work on Saturday. It’s our busiest day.’
‘I won’t work anymore on Saturday,’ Moshe insisted, ‘because my wife wants us to go to *shul on Shabbos.’

‘See,’ Menachem retorted, ‘I told you marrying a non-Jew would cause problems.’

*Shiksa – a pejorative term, used mainly in North America, to describe a non-Jewish woman
*Shul – synagogue
*Shabbos – Jewish day of rest



Courtroom Humor

By the Court:  You may call your next witness.

By Defendant’s Attorney:  Your Honor, at this time I would like to swat [opposing counsel] on the head with his client’s deposition.

The Court:  You mean read it?

Defendant’s Attorney:  No, Sir. I mean to swat him on the head with it. Pursuant to Rule 32, I may use the deposition “for any purpose” and that’s the purpose I want to use it for.

The Court:  Well, it does say that.

Quiet pause.

The Court:  There being no objection, you may proceed.
Defendant’s Attorney:  Thank you, Judge.

Thereafter, Defendant’s attorney swatted plaintiff’s attorney on the head with the deposition.


Eye Test

A short Polish immigrant went to the DVLA to apply for a driver’s license.
First, of course, he had to take an eye sight test.
The optician showed him a card with the letters.  On the bottom row were these letters: ‘C Z W I X N O S T A C Z.’
‘Can you read this?’ the optician asked.
‘Read it?’ the Polish guy replied – ‘I know the fellow.’

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

  1. Pingback: Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:8), Shabbat Shekalim (Exodus 30:11-16) | Torah Portion Humor Weekly

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