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

It is February and I am irritable.  That is a redundancy.  Yes, I’m glad I’m not buried in Boston under 5 feet of snow (“Buried in Boston” sounds like either the title of a murder mystery or a headline about a failed Broadway tryout), but it’s not exactly balmy here (14°F, wind chill -1°F).  At least the furnace works now.

This is Shabbat Shekalim (yes, Sabbath of shekels), the first of four special Shabbatot leading up to Passover, the others being Shabbat Zachor, Shabbat Parah, and Shabbat HaChodesh.  We read a special section from a second scroll, Exodus 30:11-16, about the census that was taken by means of a half-shekel head tax.   The special haftarah is II Kings 11:17-12:17 (Ashkenazim, only 12:1-17), concerning the money donated to the priests for Temple maintenance.   

Mishpatim , the name of this week’s Torah portion, means “laws” or “statutes” and contains dozens of them.  The previous portion, Yitro, ended with instructions for the altar.  From that proximity, rabbinic commentators such as R. Moshe Feinstein derive the meaning that all judges should remember when they judge that they do so in the presence and service of the Lord.  While everyone makes a fuss over the Ten Commandments, they are only a skeletal foundation that in practice require much more specificity.  That is how laws give rise to commentaries which lead to more laws which lead to more commentaries which lead to still more laws.  And, indeed, many laws given here in one terse line will be expanded upon further in the Torah.  

The first part of Mishpatim, 21:2-22:16, is basically criminal and civil laws and penalties (mainly fines and restitution, sometimes death) concerning societal issues such as assault, homicide, kidnapping, treatment of Hebrew slaves and responsibility for damaged caused to a borrowed item or by one’s livestock.  The general tenor is one of fairness.  Appropriately, this (21:24-27) is the first of three times in the Torah we read the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” formula, which prescribes appropriate (monetary) compensation.

This is followed by a group of laws (22:17-23:19) expanding on moral values, not necessarily things you would find in a typical legal code, e.g.,  take care of the poor and the widow and orphan, return lost property to its owner, and do not wrong a stranger, since you know what it was like to be oppressed in Egypt.  Dedicating the firstborn is reiterated and the three harvest festivals are briefly mentioned, as is the sabbatical year (“shmitta”) – this year is a shmitta year, by the way – and these are revisited in detail later in the Torah.

Then (23:20-33), we read again of divine promises and warnings against absorbing Canaanite ways.  The portion ends (24:1-18) optimistically, with the Israelites’ enthusiastic acceptance of the laws. 

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).  Then Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s sons Nadav and Abihu, and the 70 elders see “10 the God of Israel: under His feet there was the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity.11  Yet He did not raise His hand against the leaders of the Israelites; they beheld God, and they ate and drank.”  And then Moses goes up on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and nights to get some divinely inscribed stone tablets down the Law, confident that Aaron and Hur will be able to keep them in line.  We’ll see.

Shabbat shalom,



On Head (and Headgear) Taxes

England introduced a tax on hats in 1784. To avoid the tax, hat-makers stopped calling their creations “hats”, leading to a tax on any headgear by 1804. The tax was repealed in 1811.

In 1795, England put a tax on the aromatic powders that men and women put on their wigs. This led to a dramatic decline in the popularity of wigs.

In 1885 Canada created the Chinese Head Tax, which taxed the entry of Chinese immigrants into Canada. The tax lasted until 1923 when a law was passed banning Chinese people from entering Canada altogether with a few exceptions.



Funny Legal Headlines (selections)

  • Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
  • Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
  • Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons
  • Statistics Show That Teen Pregnancy Drops Off Significantly After Age 25
  • Marijuana Issue Sent to a Joint Committee(Toronto Star, June 14, 1996)
  • Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
  • Homicide Victims Rarely Talk to Police(Express-Times, February 2004)
  • One-Armed Man Applauds the Kindness of Strangers
  • State Prison To Replace Easy-Open Locks
  • City Council Runs Out of Time to Discuss Shorter Meetings
  • Midget Sues Grocer, Cites Belittling Remarks
  • Bar Trying to Help Alcoholic Lawyers
  • Two Convicts Evade Noose, Jury Hung

REFERENCES:  PlainLanguage.gov [http://www.plainlanguage.gov/examples/humor/headlines.cfm]
Published: Saturday, September 29, 2012  By: Lloyd Duhaime   Permalink


Fun and Funny Quotations about Lawsuits, Litigation, and the American Legal System:

“Litigation is the basic legal right which guarantees every corporation its decade in court.
David Porter – Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Retail Sales

“Where there is a will there is a lawsuit.” – Addison Mizner, American Architect

“Avoid lawsuits beyond all things; they pervert your conscience, impair your health, and dissipate your property.” – Jean de la Bruyere, French Philosopher & Essayist

“Things aren’t right. If a burglar breaks into your home and you shoot him, he can sue you. For what, restraint of trade?” – Bill Maher, American Political Commentator, TV Personality, Comedian

“The legal system is often a mystery, and we, its priests, preside over rituals baffling to everyday citizens.” – Henry Miller



Great Question      December 30, 2008

A physician, an engineer, and an attorney were discussing who among them belonged to the oldest of the three professions represented. The physician said, “Remember, on the sixth day God took a rib from Adam and fashioned Eve, making him the first surgeon. Therefore, medicine is the oldest profession.”

The engineer replied, “But, before that, God created the heavens and earth from chaos and confusion, and thus he was the first engineer. Therefore, engineering is an older profession than medicine.”

Then, the lawyer spoke up. “Yes,” he said, “But who do you think created all of the chaos and confusion?”



tph eye exam



tph forgot to floss

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s