Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:8)

I just had lunch with a scientist who wants to be a patent agent (or thinks he wants to be), and I was reminded how boring it can be to read a patent straight through from start to finish.  Reading sections is OK, say, if you’re hunting for something specific.  But it’s not meant to be literature.  It is supposed to teach how to use the claimed invention.

I felt my eyes similarly start to glaze over as I looked at this week’s Torah portion, MishpatimYou thought there were only ten commandments?  This portion contains 53, distributed among 118 verses.  However, the great teacher Nechama Leibowitz appreciatively sums up Mishpatim in New Studies in Shemot, Part 2, page 379 as “…governing every facet of human existence.  This comprehensive legislation covers relations between man and society, between members of the same community and between peoples, between man and man, man and his enemy, between man and plant and animal.  The Torah herein regulates the life of the Jew at work and at leisure, at Sabbath and festivals and relations between man and his Maker.”

First, in 21:2-22:16, we read laws concerning slaves; penalties for assault, homicide, and kidnapping; theft; and restitution for stolen, damaged, or lost property.  There follows a section (22:17-23:19) that codifies general moral behavior: provide for the poor and the widow and the orphan, return lost property, do not mistreat strangers (you should know better, having been strangers in Egypt).  There is some text concerning the laws of the firstborn, the three harvest festivals, and the sabbatical (shmitta) year, with details to follow later.  The final group of laws (23:20-33) reiterates what the Lord has promised and strong warnings against adopting Canaanite ways.

What is law for?  It is a means of organizing a group of people into a stable society.  Laws define what is good and what is bad.  They are tools of behavior modification and control.  Laws beget laws for many reasons.  A situation may arise that doesn’t fall under existing laws.  An existing law may generate an undesirable unforeseen consequence.  A system of law, like a tree, is a living entity and needs judicious (pun intended) pruning, lest it collapse. 

The overall aims of the laws in Mishpatim are fairness and honesty.  One example is 21:23-25:   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 always interpreted in the Talmud and later writings, not literally, but as “just compensation,” usually financial.  The very next two verses prescribe that if a master strikes a slave resulting in the loss of an eye or tooth, the slave goes free.  Many centuries later, in early medieval Anglo-Saxon England, a system of financial compensation for damage done to a person (including homicide) or property existed at least as early as the 6th century.  According to Anthony Musson in “Crime and the Compensation Culture in Medieval England,”   “The compensation or ‘bot’ for injuries to different parts of the body depended upon their importance and the degree of injury itself: 50s was payable for a severed foot, but 10s for a big toe, piercing of the nose was 9s, mutilation of an ear 6s, striking out an eye, a hefty 50s; the level of payment for bruising depended upon whether the spot hit had been clothed or not, while there were also special provisions for teeth, fingers and the level of damage to one’s genitals. Compensation for killing a person or ‘wer’ was available in what some historians term ‘bloodmoney’ (weregild), and represented the price or worth of the man slain depending upon his social status.”

By the 12th century or so, capital punishment had replaced the system for serious crimes.  We’ll see later in the Torah how valuation of individuals was made based on age and sex, but not social status.

In the last section of the portion (24:1-18), the Israelites enthusiastically accept of all these (uh huh).  And Moses goes up on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and nights to get the divinely inscribed stone tablets of the Law (the hard copy, heh heh), leaving Aaron and Hur in charge.  Not that anything is going to happen while Moses is away, of course…

Shabbat shalom,



Funny Legal Headlines (selections)

  • Miners Refuse to Work after Death
  • War Dims Hope for Peace
  • If Strike Isn’t Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile
  • Blind Man Denied Minnesota Gun Permit [However, he’d be able to get one in at least Iowa, Utah and North Dakota IGP]
  • Volunteers Needed to Help Torture Survivors
  • Man Robs Then Kills Himself
  • Mayor Says D.C. is Safe Except for Murders
  • Multiple Personality Rapist Sentenced to Two Life Terms
  • Man Found Dead in Cemetery
  • Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
  • Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
  • Teacher Strikes Idle Kids

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

This is supposedly a TRUE news story. I have my doubts, but you decide….

        A lawyer in Charlotte, NC purchased a box of very rare and expensive cigars, then insured them against fire among other things. Within a month, having smoked his entire stockpile of these great cigars and without yet having made even his first premium payment on the policy, the lawyer filed a claim with the insurance company.
        In his claim, the lawyer stated the cigars were lost “in a series of small fires.” The insurance company refused to pay, citing the obvious reason: that the man had consumed the cigars in the normal fashion. The lawyer sued….and won! In delivering the ruling the judge agreed with the insurance company that the claim was frivolous. The judge stated nevertheless, that the lawyer held a policy from the company in which it had warranted that the cigars were insurable and also guaranteed that it would insure them against fire, without defining what is considered to be “unacceptable fire,” and was obligated to pay the claim. Rather than endure lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company accepted the ruling and paid $15,000.00 to the lawyer for his loss of the rare cigars lost in the “fires.”
        But… After the lawyer cashed the check, the insurance company had him arrested on 24 counts of ARSON! With his own insurance claim and testimony from the previous case used against him, the lawyer was convicted of intentionally burning his insured property and was sentenced to 24 months in jail and a $24,000.00 fine.

tph guilty








tph Lawyer-Halve












Quotes about Crime

“Once I pulled a job, I was so stupid. I picked a guy’s pocket on an airplane and made a run for it.”
― Rodney Dangerfield

“Don’t compromise yourself – you’re all you have.”
― John GrishamThe Rainmaker

“Good. Illegal is always faster.”
― Eoin Colfer

“For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.”
― Noam ChomskyImperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World

“The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic.”
― G.K. ChestertonThe Blue Cross: A Father Brown Mystery

“The larger crimes are apt to be the simpler, for the bigger the crime, the more obvious, as a rule, is the motive.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle



tph lol-funny-dentist-joke



Optometry Jokes (selected)

What was the lens’s excuse to the policeman?
-I’ve been framed officer

Doctor: Read the bottom line
Patient: Copyright 1995 Made in Japan

Where is the eye located?
-between the H and the J.

Patient: I always have spots before my eyes.
Optom: Didn’t the new glasses help?
Patient: Sure, now I see the spots much clearer.

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