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Parshat Mishpatim - Shemot (Exodus) 21:1 -24:18

Updated: Feb 21, 2021


As the name of this section of Torah clearly states it is about rules, laws, statutes and ordinances.

However, it is so much more than a list of do’s and don’t(s) to govern the people to live by. These short three chapters list laws that seem both foreign and strange to those living in the mostly “modern” world of the 21st Century CE; laws dealing with slavery, which most (not all) throughout the world have come to abhor. They touch on ox goring, donkeys falling into open pits, as well as, damages and restitution for crimes of negligence that seem very strange to us today.

Some of these laws are not so weird sounding to those living today. Rules about murder, kidnapping, manslaughter, embezzlement and thievery. Humans have been engaging in these kinds of loathsome behaviors since Cain killed Abel.

Yet, there is more to Mishpatim than the enumeration of the statues of Civil Law for a newly formed nation. There is also a narrative given, a story told, in the setting of a flashback to just a short time earlier in Israel’s sojourning when HaShem appeared on Mount Horeb (Sinai) to Moshe and the peoples. It is here we are given a bit more detail as to what the folks of Israel, the Chieftains, some handpicked leaders such as Aaron and his two sons Nadab and Abihu, as well as Joshua son of Nun — saw and experienced on that day when the Creator of the universe visited them, gave them His Law and they all said with one voice: “All that Adonai has spoken we will do!”

It is in Mishpatim that we are introduced to a more detailed listing of all that HaShem had spoken. Not only the very familiar Ten Commandments — the foundation of the Law — but other matters concerning the everyday life as a nation of peoples set apart for HaShem.

[1] Civil and Tort Laws

[2] Laws for Damages

[3] Laws of Servitude and the Bondsman

[4] Treatment of Strangers, Widows and Orphans in Israel

[5] Responsibility of Husband and Wives to One Another

[6] One’s Treatment Toward Parents

[7] As stated earlier; Laws for Murder, Manslaughter and Kidnapping

[8] Damages Resulting from Injuring or Death from a Domesticated Animal to Person or Property

[9] Laws Governing Assault and Battery

[10] Self Defense Rules and Sanctuary Cities

[11] Laws of Shomrim (one’s legal responsibility when charged with the care of another’s property or processions.

[12] Laws Regarding Rape

[13] Rules Governing the Issuance of Loans and Interest on a Loan

[14] Rules against Libel, Slander and Bearing False Witness (Testimony)

[15] Directions for Judges on Issuing Just Rulings

[16] A More Elaborate Recitation of the Law To Keep the Shabbat Holy and a Rest Day

[17] Laws for Offering Acceptable Sacrifices on the Altar for the Three Pilgrimage Festivals — Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkoth — for Remembrance of Freedom from Egypt

[18] Finally, the Prohibition of Boiling a Kid in Its Mother’s Milk

”…You shall not boil a kid in its Mother’s milk.” Exodus 23:19

This prohibition is so important it is repeated two other times in the Torah. [SEE: Exodus 36:26 and Devarim (Deuteronomy) 14:21]

Since this law was repeated three times we must take a closer look. Our Sages of Blessed Memory saw this statue as so important that they concluded the prohibition extends beyond just a goat and its offspring but also includes sheep, cattle and all Kosher meats that produce milk. Later Rabbis added fowl to the list.

Why does HaShem forbid the cooking of milk and meat together?

Many have come to believe that its first introduction was to give HaShem’s people a level of concern for animals not shared by the rest of humanity. Helping them realize that even animals have a certain level of conscience awareness of emotional pain beyond just the physical discomfort and a mother goat seeing her own offspring being boiled in her own milk would induce undue suffering on the mother. That is also why it is forbidden to slaughter a kid or calf or lamb in front of its mother.

While this interpretation may be true — and I personally hold to that assertion — there is also a much deeper meaning for us because the commandment was issued to us; not goats, sheep or cattle.

What do meat and milk represent in the natural world? Meat is the animal or fleshly aspect of life. Milk is the reproductive and nourishment capacity of the natural life. They both represent the animalistic drive to eat and reproduce, and; while it is true that human beings have these two instinctive drives due to the fact that we are housed in bodies of dust like the animals — we have, however, a much higher obligation to fulfill because we are created in the image and likeness of HaShem. We are not mere mortals governed by the drives of our meaty bodies, but are spirit beings temporarily housed in flesh (the dust of the earth).

HaShem is teaching us a much deeper meaning of our existence, our lives, by the prohibition of the mixing of meat and milk products. He is allowing us, His people Israel, to see for the first time since Gan Eden that our purpose and calling is firstly holiness because He of which we are in the image and likeness of is Holy; and the mundane will always be subservient to that higher calling.

After giving these ordinances HaShem promises that He will send His messenger before them to protect them along their way to the Promised Land. Their only obligation concerning this Heavenly messenger is to heed him and obey his voice for he speaks the words of HaShem.

Now we get to the kind of weird part of the narrative. It is flashback time to just a little earlier when Moshe and the peoples are given the revelation at Sinai. I won’t go into any length about when this took place, as to this day, our sages and rabbis can’t come to an agreement. Suffice it to say, when it occurred is not of importance — the fact that it did happen is. My opinion is it is a flashback in the narrative.

For me at least, is the details given that were omitted in the earlier telling of these same events. What happened is so strange that one must admit it was a life-changing spiritual, mystical and sublime experience. Each participant had their own unique encounter with the G-d of Creation and their response was also uniquely strange.

Suffice it to say what each saw, heard and felt was beyond adequate description using the words of men — although they tried:

”…they saw the G-d of Israel: under His feet there was the likeness of a pavement of (clear) sapphire, like the very sky for purity.” Exodus 24:10-11

Until next week — Shabbat Shalom.

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