Parashah #18: Mishpatim (Rulings) Sh’mot (Exodus) 21:1-24:18

Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #18: Mishpatim (Rulings) Sh’mot (Exodus) 21:1-24:18
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 34:8-22; 33:25-6
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 9:15-22; 10:28-39

Mishpatim (Rulings) describes the focus of this parashah which extensively covers the laws G-d expects His people to follow as a civilized and “set apart” nation. Laws were given because everything we think, say, and do has consequences. According to Chaos theory, everything, including even the smallest action whether mental or physical, can cause strikingly great consequences. It is critical to think before we act and to consider the possible effects of our choices. I submit this is one reason that the Sh’ma is the focal point or crux of G-d’s Torah. It includes loving G-d with every part of our being, which by default means loving Him and teaching our children to do the same. Why do you think the Chinese Communist Party and other communist nations are so diligently and effectively attacking our country by starting with the churches and our children? It is because the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world and unfortunately, the “hand” is no longer the mother in the majority of cases. With efforts to emasculate the male gender and secular humanistic teaching right under the noses of parents, the children are easy targets. Just think of the difference between the focus on the sanctity of life contained within these rulings given by G-d and what we are witnessing today. Without law total chaos with confusion, panic, and the fall of societies results.
The Israelites had been slaves themselves who had been treated harshly by the Egyptians, so they understood what it was to be a slave. A person could become a slave because of poverty, debt, or crime. But Hebrew slaves were treated as humans unlike what we tend to think of as a slave-master relationship that existed in America. Hebrew slaves were allowed to work their way to freedom and all Hebrew slaves had to be set free in the jubilee year no matter how long they had worked.
Teaching laws to an entire people was almost unheard of in the ancient world. Just as we are witnessing today, laws that should be universal are applied differently for different classes of people depending on which attorney or judge is chosen for the case. But G-d’s laws are universal for all mankind. Hebrew slaves also lived in the homes of their masters and were not relegated to slave gangs working plantations. I submit it was G-d ordained that the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt to acquaint them with what it was like to be a slave so that they would really understand the fears, concerns, hopes, etc. of their slaves and treat them as fellow human beings as G-d commands.
Addressing verse 17 we learn that obedience toward the parents is considered the cornerstone of all authority and order. Again, we can go back to the strategy used by the Communists to undermine American society that is proving to be successful. That is, infiltrating the minds of children through social media, video games and other external stimuli against any existence of authority including that of parents and (G-d). In the laws of Hammurabi, a son who strikes his father is punished by cutting off his hand. The biblical law applies to both parents. The death penalty suggests that G-d regards this crime as posing a severe danger to society as I previously mentioned. Today in America, a child can strike a parent and the parent may be taken to jail and the child placed in the care of a foster home or other family members if all the child need do is call the Department of Children and Families or the police and report abuse by their parent/s and the convoluted cascade of events is launched.
Looking at the Hebrew translation of verse 17, we notice some differentiation in the details. For example, Insults : the Hebrew verb translates as “treat lightly” which has a wide variety of meanings including “disrespect” to “revile, treat contemptuously, curse.” The death penalty may be met rhetorically as a deterrent (Deut. 21:18-21). But if the translation means “curse” it may be meant literally because of the potentially serious consequences that results from cursing. According to G-d’s Torah, cursing is not only speaking evil of someone, but bringing evil upon someone. A perfect example is found in Numbers 22:6 where Balak sought Bil’am to curse the Israelites so that he could defeat them.
Responsibility for our property/pets is clearly addressed in 21:28-32. Here we have a situation in which an ox gores a man or woman to death. The ox is stoned because it has taken a human life. The flesh cannot be eaten for the same reason, but the owner is not to be punished. However, the owner has previous knowledge of his ox goring people, the ox and the owner are put to death. Imagine how fewer incidents of ill- tempered dogs attacking children and adults there would be if their owners knew that would be punished and their animals put to death! Because there is little or no accountability in such situations today, we hear of continued attacks that could have been prevented. Differing from Babylonian law at the time, there was nothing done to the ox and the owner simply had to pay damages. Comparing G-d’s law on this issue to Babylonian law, we can easily see how far our social system of laws has fallen from the “plumb line” of G-d’s Torah.
Finally, I want to address two of the laws that may be some of the most difficult for us to obey. Nevertheless, we are commanded to do so. Chapter 23:1-5. The chapter starts with the prohibition against lashon hara( evil tongue/gossip). This is a serious sin, and we are to learn to avoid it as much as possible. This goes back to the profound effects a small action/speech/though can cause on our testimony for our G-d. We are also commanded to be neutral in our testimony and not favor the poor or the rich.
In verse 4 we are told that we must return the property of our enemies if we see it. In the Torah, an ox and/or ass is used. But this applies to anything. For example, we may see our enemy’s bike or lawn chair, or other items where they do not belong. If we see them out of place, we are to return them without a second thought. In verse 5 we are told that when we see our enemy’s animal lying under its burden, we are to help raise it even though our first thought may be to ignore him. This is a perfect example of overcoming our human nature in favor of Torah nature. We must learn to replace our human nature with the mindset G-d wants us to acquire to the point we live our lives according to G-d’s laws and commands automatically. A beginning point is where we may first think of a thought or action that is not consistent with G-d’s Torah because it is “instinctive” of our humanity, then mentally and physically translate the end result to a behavior that is pleasing to G-d. This is a life-long process that gets easier with hearing, internalizing, and acting on the Word (G-d’s Torah.)
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26
In this week’s haftorah, 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.
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 every one 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 haftorah then vividly depicts the destruction and devastation that the Jews would experience.
The haftorah 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.”
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 9:15-22; 10:28-39
Although in this scenario and time G-d is talking to Ananias about Paul (Sha’ul), we can apply the mission of Paul to Yahshua’s reason for coming to earth as G-d incarnate. “But the L-rd said to him [Ananias]. ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” We must examine this passage in the context of our parashah to make this connection. Through YHVH/Yahshua’s plan, Sha’ul was destined for a radical change in his life from one of human aristocracy to one of ultimate servant hood. Similarly, Yahshua left the very presence of G-d in heaven to assume the role of ultimate servant to G-d/YHVH (Isaiah 53). Paul’s role was to expose YHVH as Yahshua to the lost sheep of Israel first (Matt. 15:24) and not to the Gentiles at that time (Matt. 10:5). Then they were to go to the Gentiles and kings and teach the truth of the resurrection and what it means for humankind (Matt. 28:19). We read in this passage “Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim, immersing them into the reality of the Name, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age.” Perhaps G-d as Adonai gave the 74 witnesses at Sinai a glimpse of Yahshua by allowing them to see His feet and the clear-blue base signifying deity while connecting with earth (man).
Going to the second passage, we read in Acts 10:28-29 another possible connection to the parashah “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But G-d has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore, I came without objection as soon as I was sent for…” We must put this passage in context to understand it correctly. Peter had just been shown by G-d that men of other nations are not unclean in and of themselves. It is their behavior from which we are to remain separated. Moving to verse 34-37 “Then Peter opened his mouth and said ‘In truth I perceive that G-d shown no partiality. But in every action whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which G-d sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Yahshua-He is the L-rd of all-that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached.”
The issue of impartiality is specifically mentioned in our parashah. However, G-d may have provided a demonstration of this concept by allowing mere humans to see the feet of G-d/Yahshua to illustrate G-d reaching down to verify His presence on the mountain and His reality. Although the blue base separated His feet from the earth, a connection was made as evidenced by the viewing of the 74 witnesses. These men could clearly understand that which was “not normal” (heavenly) in association with the “normal” (humanity) Similarly, Peter was shown this connection through a different illustration in a context that he could understand, through a vision of clean and unclean animals. Unfortunately, many Christian clergy teach this passage means we can eat anything we want. This is erroneous to say the least and indicates these Bible teachers are ignorant of the fact that G-d is teaching Peter about our relationship with non-Jews and has nothing to do with food.
Perhaps G-d allowed these elders, Moshe, Aaron, Nadav, and Avihu a glimpse of a symbol of G-d’s/Yahshua’s deity before they could fully understand its significance. Later, when G-d would articulate the intricate instructions for the priestly garments; colors, significance, and types of the stones to be used for each tribe in the breastplate, and instructions for building the Tabernacle, these individuals would experience a tremendous “aha!” moment. G-d allows these exhilarating “sparks” of insight for those who continue to ask, seek, and knock (Luke 11:9-13). These sparks are well worth the effort of continued prayer, thanksgiving, supplication, meditation, and study. May we continually seek these sparks of Torah knowledge and insight to enhance our ability to shine for the glory of G-d before a lost world (Matt. 5:16).
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart