Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #18: Mishpatim (Rulings) Sh’mot (Exodus) 21:1-24:18
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 34:22; 33:25-26
B’rit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:38-42
Although there are no doubt questions about the rulings of G-d delineated in this week’s parashah, I am going to specifically address those in Chapter 21:17; 20;22, and Chapter 22: 1. These four rulings seem as though they contradict G-d’s justice and the value of human life. Therefore, it is imperative to explain these specific rulings to dispel our misconceptions of their meanings.
The first reads: “Whoever curses his father or mother must be put to death.” This definitely seems to be a harsh punishment, especially in our current day understanding of what it means to curse someone. So, the first place to start is how cursing is understood according to G-d.
Cursing is considered a sin and a reflection or indication of a carnal-minded person. Cursing is in fact a general term for taking the L-rd’s name in vain, using offensive words and to invoke an oath of harm on the subject. The damage cursing causes is not limited to the two individuals involved. In James 3:10 what is described is having the same mouth to bless and curse is dishonorable to the L-rd. When you are or profess to be a true believer, you are a living testimony for G-d in all thought, speech, and deed. For anyone who witnesses an individual who professes to be a lover and follower of G-d praising one minute and cursing the next demonstrates inconsistency and weakness in faith. The observer is led to think G-d allows such speech and behavior without consequence.
The ruling against cursing ones’ parents also goes back to the commandment concerning not taking the L-rd’s Name in vain for “ the L-rd will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Ex. 20:7).
Cursing does not uplift the individual or others. Have you ever been involved in a conversation where a joke is told that includes profanity and the individual telling it becomes quieter in speech as they use the profanity included in the joke or story? To take part in listening or telling such a story or joke tells those who are listening that there is a proper time and place for profanity. Sha’ul (Paul) encouraged the assembly of believers at Ephesus to refrain from corrupt talk in favor of “ what is good and necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearer” 9Eph. 4;29). Cursing someone may make us feel better at the moment psychologically, but it affects our biology in many ways. Blood pressure and pulse become elevated; blood sugar increases, and other sympathetic nervous system functions “kick in.” Furthermore, a curse from our lips may be the last thing someone hears from us. If there are children present, they may have to try and explain such foul speech, which is difficult at best.
Cursing opens the door to more sin. If we feel we can “rightfully” curse our parents, we may feel that we need not honor them. This may lead to bad behavior beyond speech. If we believe it is ok to curse our parents, then we can curse anyone. We can disregard their authority or anyone else’s authority. If we believe we can curse our parents, by extension, we may believe we can curse G-d, which in essence is exactly what we are doing. King Solomon speaks of this subject in Proverbs 18:21 where he states that “ death and life are in the power of the tongue and those who love it will wat its fruit.” Sha’ul discussed this subject with Timothy in 2 Tim:2, prompting him to tell those he is serving about the negative effects of cursing including leading to more ungodliness.
Deuteronomy 5:16 states “ honor they father and thy mother, as the L-rd thy G-d hath commanded thee.” Just as G-d established who He is in the 10 Commands; that the people are not to worship any other gods, He also mandates that we honor our father and mother in the same 10 Commands. We are to honor them out of love and obedience, just as we are to love G-d out of love and obedience. The human mother may be likened to the “female” which may be described as the “grace: attribute of G-d. The human father may be compared to the “male” attribute of G-d which is justice or the “law.” Between the godly lifestyle of the parents in raising a child, is the parallel of how G-d “raises” His children with grace and justice, by His laws with compassion. This is the perfect balance. Therefore, by honoring our parents, we honor G-d. Conversely, cursing our parents by extension is cursing G-d.
The question may arise about how to honor disrespectful parents, especially if they are not true believers and mistreat their children? The answer is to turn over anger, resentment, and sadness to G-d. Do not fight with them or cause them physical harm. Honoring parents does not mean putting up with abuse or other illegal acts. There are still ways to honor them although you will need to tell someone about what you are going through. Setting boundaries on what you are able to tolerate is actually one kind of love just as G-d sets boundaries out of love for His children. By telling someone about any abuse and putting boundaries in place to be sure you are not victimized again, may force a parent to get help. Although this is not always the outcome, all things are possible with G-d. We cannot foresee G-d’s plan in such a scenario, but we can rest assured that G-d will neither leave nor forsake us. In fact, He may use us to reach parents who have either lost their way or never discovered it in the first place.
Continue to treat them with respect. Talk kindly about them if you can, even if they do not respect you or treat you fairly. If you cannot find anything kind to say. Refrain from talking about them entirely. Children and adults must keep G-d as the true North on the compass of life. No one deserves to be physically or mentally abused. But G-d is in control of the universe, and nothing happens without His knowledge (Matt. 10:29-31).
The second scripture which may be difficult to understand is Chapter 21:20 “ If a person beats his male or female slave with a stick so severely that he dies, he is to be punished; except that if the slave lives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his property.” Looking at this scripture literally, it would seem that G-d places little value on a slave. Again, we need look deeper for the correct interpretation of the verse.
Jewish authorities appear to be correct in referring this law to foreign slaves as in Exodus 21:26-7; 21:32. The protection afforded to the life of a slave may seem minimal to us. However, it is the very earliest example of such protection in legislation, and it stands in strong contrast with the old laws of Greece, Rome, and other nations. If the slave survived a day or two, the master did not become amenable to the law, because the loss of the slave was accounted, under the circumstances as a punishment. Note that the weapon used against the slave was a rod which was the usual implement of punishment 9 Prov. 10:13; 13:24). Had a sword or other implement been used, one could deduce that death was intended, the slave would be killed, and the master would then be punished/killed. If the slave was killed unintentionally, the master would go to one of the cities of refuge.
The third scripture that begs deeper investigation is Chapter 21:22 “ If people are fighting with each other and happen to hurt a pregnant woman so badly that her unborn child dies, then even if no other harm follows, he must be fined. He must pay the amount set by the woman’s husband and confirmed by judges.”
A uniquely personal injury to a woman which would be a miscarriage is considered in this passage. If the miscarriage cost the woman her life, the man who caused it would be put to death. Otherwise, a fine was to be paid if there was no harm to the woman past the death of the unborn child. That a pregnant wife is included in the law concerning the quarreling of two men implies the wife became involved to break up the fight or interfered otherwise. But how was the worth of the unborn determined? The health of the woman before she delivered the miscarried child and her health afterward. The judges’ involvement in approving the fine was type of check and balance for the one who accidentally injured the woman or her unborn child because the father may require a sum that was excessive in his grieving state.
Haftarah: Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26.
In this week’s haftarah, Jeremiah describes the punishment that would befall the Jews because they continued enslaving their Hebrew slaves after six years of service–transgressing the commandment discussed in the beginning of this week’s Torah reading. Keep in mind this punishment does not only apply to this particular time and the biological Jews. It has great import for anyone having knowledge of G-d’s commands from the time they were given to the time of the end, Jew, and Gentile alike.
King Zedekiah made a pact with the people according to which they would all release their Jewish slaves after six years of service–as commanded in the Torah. Shortly thereafter, the Jews reneged on this pact and forced their freed slaves to re-enter into service. G d then dispatched Jeremiah with a message of rebuke: “Therefore, so says the Lord: You have not hearkened to Me to proclaim freedom, everyone to his brother and everyone to his neighbor; behold I proclaim freedom to you, says the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine, and I will make you an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” The haftarah then vividly depicts the destruction and devastation that the Jews would experience.
The haftarah concludes with words of reassurance: “Just as I would not cancel My covenant with the day and night and I would not cancel the laws of heaven and earth, so too I will not cast away the descendants of Jacob . . . for I will return their captivity [to their land] and have mercy on them.” Again, we see the inextricable connection between G-d’s justice and mercy applied as He sees fit.
B’rit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:38-42.
“You have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you not to stand up against someone who does you wrong. On the contrary, if someone hits you on the right cheek, let him hit you on the left cheek too! If someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well! And if a soldier forces you to carry his pack for one mile, carry it for two! When someone asks you for something, give it to him; when someone wants to borrow something from you, lend it to him.”
This is another of the most frequently misunderstood passages in the Bible. People are often taught that we are to lay down and roll over for anyone who assaults us, steals from us, or makes other demands that are not just. However, this is NOT what Yahshua is telling us. Recall if you will, how He never got upset or vindictive towards those who attacked his character. However, when someone attacked the Torah, He did not tolerate it.
Yahshua takes G-d’s commands to a stricter/higher level by explaining the concepts behind the particular. For example, He takes the written law of “an eye for an eye” and expands the concept beyond monetary compensation for property or personal injury. Yahshua was more concerned about the “concept” underlying the principles than about the particulars. In other words, in our scriptures we see that He cites the principles and then illustrates the concept underlying each of the six areas He addresses during the Sermon on the Mount. Many believers have this tendency to allow their misunderstandings of biblical concepts to interfere with their ability to expand their understanding of G-d’s Torah when the subject matter becomes personal. I submit that all of G-d’s Torah should be taken personally; the connections that sooner or later become clear through the teachings of Torah teachers who have received credible training.
Let us place ourselves back to the time that Yahshua was addressing these statements to the people. In the formula Yahshua uses, He does not say “what you have read in the ‘Law of Moshe’ or “It was written, and you have read it.” Rather, He says “You have heard it was said by them of old time.” It’s important to understand this because the same conditions exist today. We seem to leave the interpretation to others, neglecting to seek understanding ourselves because we fail to understand the concept. In Yahshua’s time, the Jews had returned from Babylon where they generally forgot Hebrew and now spoke Aramaic. They depended upon the Rabbis to interpret scripture for them. Judaism then and now is like the Catholic Church when they had the Latin Mass and read the scriptures in Latin, a language most parishioners did not understand. In a sense, the Protestant reformation gave the Bible back to the people. But true to form, most people do not want to read the Scriptures for themselves or actively seek to understand G-d’s Torah. They choose instead to depend on friends, people who look like they know what they’re talking about, or others, blindly accepting what that individual says without verifying the information.
In Yahshua’s time, the Pharisees and Scribes added their own interpretations to Scripture. It was nearly impossible to tell G-d’s Torah from Oral Torah. Many young and seasoned believers alike do not know the difference as they may not have been brought up with a background in Hebrew or the concepts of Torah. Furthermore, they may not actively study or pray for wisdom from above in learning G-d’s instructions. The reality is that the people thought the interpretation was the Law when in reality it was not the Law itself, but a representation of it given by the Scribes and Pharisees. We should check out all teaching and ask questions of the rabbi at the appropriate time.
During the Sermon on the Mount, Yahshua was saying “I am interpreting the Law of Moshe and it is My interpretation that is true and not that of the Pharisees and Scribes or that of those today who misuse Scripture.” In fact, He is saying “ I, who am speaking to you, am the very One who was responsible for the Law of Moshe; it was I who gave it to Moshe, and it is I alone, therefore who can truly interpret it for you.” After all, Yahshua is G-d.
It’s a characteristic of human nature that we prefer to have everything cut and dry rather than to seek understanding underlying concepts. This explains why certain forms of religion are popular. The natural man likes to be given a list; then he feels as long as he conforms to the things stated in the list, all is well. Or, like Christianity, simply throw the Old Testament and G-d’s Law away and live happily ever after thinking that Yahshua /G-d no longer holds us responsible for our actions, since there exists a “believe and receive” sort of program. The Bible simply does not teach that all is forgiven no matter what you do and that you are already saved no matter how many times you sin and no matter what type of sin you commit. Those who teach this ideology must not have read about the unforgivable sin and all the accounts of people who were once on their way to salvation falling from grace and perishing. Examples of this are found in the Old and “New” Testaments, or the plethora of other scripture that repeats the commands and designated times.
Yahshua does not present the Torah in this way. He presents it as a living well of thought yet, we tend to prefer a check-off “to do” behaviors in G-d’s Torah. It is much easier to think of holiness in terms of a list of things to do than it is to apply a concept or principle to every situation that occurs and requires a course of action or other response on a daily basis. The particular addresses one situation, but a concept addresses all the situations we may encounter. For example, if you take one of the six detailed statements in the Sermon on the Mount and say, “As long as I do not shoot someone, I have not committed murder,” then you have missed Yahshua’s point entirely. As He points out, to speak evil against someone (lashon hara) is a serious sin and constitutes murder. How? When we speak ill of someone else, we are murdering their character. This is just one example of the importance of learning the concept beyond the literal English terminology. If we are concerned only with the particular and do not understand the concept upon which it is based, we fail to see Yahshua’s point. Yahshua is not giving a code of ethics here. He describes a certain way of life, and He says in effect, “Look, I am describing and living this kind of life I want you to emulate.” It means a behavioral paradigm that permeates all aspects of living. So, we must hold to the concept instead of the particular, lest we go on sinning, thinking we are safe because of our adherence to a particular instead of a concept or principle.
Yahshua’s chief desire is to show us the true meaning and intent of the Torah. To correct the erroneous conclusions, which had been drawn from it by the Pharisees, the scribes as well as today’s modern commentators, and to correct the false notions they have overlaid upon the Torah.
The first principle Yahshua is showing us is that the spirit of the Law (Torah) must be applied when executing the letter of the law. The Law was not meant to be mechanical but rather living. The trouble with the Pharisees and Scribes and their modern counterparts is that they concentrated only on the letter of the law without considering the spirit or intent. It is like the relationship between form and content. Spirit is something that must always be embodied in form, and that is where the difficulty arises. Man will ever concentrate on the form rather than on the content, upon the letter rather than upon the spirit. Sha’ul stresses this in 2 Corinthians where he says: “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” The purpose of the letter is to give body to the spirit. There is also a biblical concept of kal va Chomer meaning from the “lesser to the greater.” This is where we learn that as a community of believers, we should consider what is the most accurate interpretation of G-d’s laws applying the letter of the law with compassion/spirit. Indeed, Yahshua demonstrated this as he provided guidance on such situations as saving healing on Shabbat.
We must realize the Law of G-d is concerned as much with what leads to the action as it is with the action itself. We cannot recognize this unless we recognize the concept. Again, it does not mean that the action does not matter, our action is an expression of our belief. However, thought and action complete the equation.
The next principle is that the Law (Torah) must not only be thought of in the negative form. The ultimate purpose of the Torah is not merely to prevent our doing certain things that are wrong. Its real object is to lead us positively, not only to do that which is right, but also to love doing it. We should be hungering and thirsting for righteousness, not merely avoiding evil things. As we study G-d’s Torah, we must come to understand there is much more beyond the particular and ask that the Ruach HaKodesh reveal the concepts taught by YHVH/Yahshua through our Torah teachers, prayerful study, and an open mind and heart.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart