Parsha Mishpatim: Shemoth/Exodus 21 - 24
Mishpatim: Well, That Makes Sense!
Parsha Mishpatim is packed chock-full of -- you guessed it -- mishpatim!
A mishpat is a type of law or command that YAHUAH gave within His Torah. These types of laws are understandable and rational.
In other words, when we read them, they just make sense (unlike other laws such as the red heifer).
A mishpat (pl. mishpatim) is usually translated as "judgment" or "right-ruling."
Reading through this Torah portion, you can see why it’s translated as such. Mishpatim often involve cases in which a judgment, or a “right” ruling, is made between two parties.
This Torah portion is often referred to as our "civil code" because they form the basis of a civil, peaceful society.
These mishpatim guide us in how to interact with one another and how to handle everyday situations of daily living. They cover everything from employer-employee relations to property rights to theft and restitution to assault and damages.
Think of all the things a person would go to civil court for (or just about anything you could get in a disagreement with someone about), and it’s in there. It may be hidden, but it’s in there.
Did your friend borrow your laptop, and it broke?
Did you do some work for a neighbor?
Have you ever been in an accident?
How all of these situations should be handled is right there in this week’s Parsha.
Sweat the “Small” Stuff
It’s funny how this section of normal, everyday laws is sandwiched right between the big, miraculous revelation at Sinai when YAHUAH descended on the mountain (ch. 19-20) and the highly spiritual event of entering the Covenant with Elohim when Moshe, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the 70 elders saw YAH's esteem with paved sapphire stone beneath His feet (ch. 24).
It's like a spiritual roller coaster:
Heavenly Spiritual event ==> normal, everyday stuff ==> Heavenly Spiritual event
What does this tell us?
It tells us that YAHUAH cares about our day-to-day activities just as much as He cares about the lofty, spiritual events of our lives.
Sure, He wants us to worship Him on Shabbat, but He also cares about how we interact with our coworkers during the week.
Yes, He wants us to pray and praise Him everyday, but He also cares about how we treat our parents and our spouse, our friends and our neighbors, our supervisor or employees, and all the random people in the grocery store or post office.
YAHUAH cares about how we interact with every person we encounter on a daily basis and how we handle the many different situations that arise out of these normal, everyday occurrences.
How do we deal with the guy down the street and his annoying or aggressive dog?
How do we deal with the stranger whose car we bumped in traffic?
What about our friend who accidentally broke our tablet?
Our neighbor who let us borrow his drill?
Our cousin whose earring we lost?
Our sister who needs a little help making ends meet?
The new guy at work who's still learning the ropes?
Our teachers at school or in the congregation? Our kids' teachers?
Or even the thief who stole our package off our front porch?!
These are just a few examples of the many varied situations we encounter all the time in our day-to-day interactions with people, and every single one of them is addressed in this week’s readings.
(Explaining all of these will make this post far longer than what you want to read right now...but I challenge you: review the parsha & find out what verses would apply in these cases.)
The Ultimate Judge & Lawgiver
YAHUAH gave these mishpatim right after His great revelation at Sinai not only to show us that He cares about our everyday activities just as much as the highly spiritual ones, but also to show that He is the Author of right and wrong. Not us.
With matters like these, it’s easy for us to just decide on our own what’s the right thing to do. And most of the time, we’ll probably be right. After all, mishpatim are “rational” laws, things that make sense to us.
These are laws that mankind probably would have developed on its own. (In fact, many pagan societies did have a few similar laws.)
However, what man comes up with, man can also change. Ethical and moral codes developed by man frequently change based on the desires of the population.
Just think: Some things considered “acceptable” today were unheard of 50 years ago. Things that were “acceptable” 50 years ago were unheard of 100 years ago. Such is the issue with having man determine right and wrong.
YAHUAH is the Ultimate Judge and Lawgiver.
"for יהוה is our Judge, יהוה is our Lawgiver, יהוה is our Sovereign, He saves us – "
He showed us this when He - in all His thunderous and magnificent esteem - came down on Mount Sinai and spoke the Ten Commandments. YAHUAH then went on to give us all these mishpatim to guide us in everyday matters of right and wrong.
YAHUAH alone determines right and wrong. He decides what’s morally and ethically acceptable. Not us. Not society.
YAHUAH is the Judge. So, we have to turn to Him in all matters of judgment and lean not on our own understanding nor be wise in our own eyes (Mishle/Prov. 3:5-7).
Doing what is right in our own eyes can have serious consequences (Deb/Deut. 12:8; Shoph/Jud. 17:6, 21:25).
So, though it may be easy to gloss over this section, I encourage you: Go back over these readings and study them.
Find out how they apply today, in your own life. Think about them, and discuss them with someone to get the full understanding.
When we do this, then we’ll really know how to do the right thing in all our dealings and interactions with others.
Then, we’ll truly be living a set-apart life. Not just on Shabbat. Not just on the festivals. Not just around other set-apart ones.
But all the time, everywhere, and with all people, we’ll be living set-apart.
This is what it means to be a light to the nations (Is. 49:6). For the peoples don’t care about what we do in our private homes or in our own assemblies and congregations.
What they care about is how we treat them and whether or not we deal rightly with them. This is our light that shines brightly.
So, in all situations, judge rightly.