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Parshat Mishpatim

By: Amanda Klatt

Parshat Mishpatim comes on the heels of one of the most pivotal moments in Jewish history: Matan Torah. In fact, some commentators include the content of Parshat Misphatim as part of what was given to Moshe during Matan Torah. This view is supported by the end of the parsha, which recounts the festivities of the day, including the famous response of Bnei Yisrael, "na'aseh v'nishma," "all that the Lord has spoken, we will do and obey" (chapter 24, verse 7). This being the case, one might expect the content of this week's parsha to focus on laws pertaining to the God-man relationship, mitzvot bein adam l'makom. However, with rare exception, after Matan Torah we are immediately introduced to a set of civil laws, laws that govern the daily contact between men. To name a few, these laws include laws about servitude, property and personal damages, theft, and murder. One can't help but wonder: why are these laws among the first introduced to the Children of Israel?

One possibility is that these laws were the ones to which Bnei Yisrael could most easily relate. After having their property (even their children!) confiscated at will for hundreds of years, property law would have been seen as a breath of fresh air. Similarly, after having been unethically enslaved, laws regarding how to properly treat a servant would have been easily understandable and desirable. In fact, this connection is made explicit through the repetition of the command not to oppress a stranger. Chapter 22 verse 20 reads, " You shall not wrong a stranger, nor shall you oppress him; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." In Chapter 23 verse 9, this command is restated even more emphatically: "You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, as you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

When viewed within the framework of Matan Torah, the ethical commonality between the laws presented in this week's parsha bear a much deeper meaning. God begins the Ten Commandments by reminding Bnei Yisrael that He took them out of Egypt, out of the house of slaves. Here, God is portraying Himself as an ethical God. His statement serves not only as a preamble to the Ten Commandments, but as a reason for observing them, and all of the other mitzvot. When we practice the laws in this week's parsha, we are doing so not only because we perceive them as ethical, but because they come from an ethical source. While this is easier to see when it comes to commandments between men, it is also true of commandments between man and God. When we observe God's mitzvot, we are aligning ourselves with and demonstrating our subservience to the most ethical power, God. While this connection is harder to see in our daily observance, it is vital to our understanding of our purpose in relation to Judaism and to God.

When asked what is her favorite part of working at Midreshet AMIT, Amanda answered, "I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to learn b'chevruta and in small groups with many of the girls at Amit. They are fun, thoughtful, and eager to learn and grow. I always come away from my time with them having learned something new myself!"