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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Skorka

Mishpatim - The covenant

The end of this parashah describes the ritual by which God covenanted with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. In the preceding passage, the first body of Torah commands appears, so that the covenant now being established is essentially an agreement by Israel to fulfill them. These commands (mitzvoth) regulate all kinds of topics: legal damages, offerings, social assistance, festivities, etc. Unlike other ancient codes, such as that of Hammurabi, the Israelite law is the same for everyone. As stated in Leviticus 23:22, no one gets preferential treatment, whether rich or poor, powerful or weak. Justice and mercy are the values on which these commands from God are based.

The covenant with God refers to the commitment of the people to form a society in which the actions of the individuals and groups within it are regulated by a judicial system whose ethical norms were revealed by the Creator at Mount Sinai. According to the sages of the Talmud, the Torah does not present exhaustive legal codes, but general principles which the wise people of each generation must legally implement in the ever-changing and innumerable specific circumstances that arise in daily life (Talmud of Jerusalem, Sanhedrin, chapter 4, page 22, column 1, halajah 2). According to another Talmudic teaching, even God cannot interfere in the deliberations of the wise in interpreting the commands (Baba Metzia 59, b). The Torah is heavenly, but its interpretation was conferred by God on those who study it, are deeply committed to it, and live according to its principles.

The psalmist (89:15) says: "Justice and equity are the foundation of Your throne." According to the Hebrew Bible, faith in God is manifested through living the values of justice and kindness. The sacrifices that were offered of old in the Temple of Jerusalem, like all prayers up to the present day, only have genuine worth when accompanied by behaving according to these values (Isaiah 1: 11-17). Every time Justice and Mercy are wounded in human life, it is as if God were expelled from it.

Shabbat shalom!


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