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Mishpatim – A thought for the week by Mike Lewis

After the spectacular events we read last week, with thunder, lightning and the voice of God we come crashing down to earth with the Parasha this week. It is the setting out of the day to day pattern we are being asked to follow including 23 commandments and 30 prohibitions.

In Egypt, law was made by the Pharaoh. Now we were to engage with the book of the Covenant, the “Sefer Ha Brit” to which the people respond:

כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה וְנִשְׁמָֽע:
All that the Lord spoke we will do and we will hear.

In the previous Parasha, Yitro, we had responded:

כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָֹ֖ה נַֽעֲשֶׂ֑ה
All that the Lord has spoken we shall do!

We had previously agreed to accept the Covenant but now we want to hear the detail and detail is what we got. It was to be the basis of civil law. What makes it stand out from the law in Egypt is that human rights, the slave, the poor, the disadvantaged and the stranger were all to be treated with dignity. A moral society has to be concerned with its most vulnerable members.

Over the centuries and wherever we have lived we have survived and flourished with a balance between being true to our own identity and living in a non-Jewish world. We had agreed to not just do what God had told us but also to hear. That also means to understand; interpreting the laws of the Covenant and applying them is an ongoing project.

At the end of the Parasha, Moses, Aaron, his sons and 70 elders ascend the mountain and see the God of Israel. We cannot know God in this way, but we can try to know what God wants of us. Understand the mishpatim and mitzvot; try to live a life marked by justice and compassion, and you will, at the very least, know you are spending your days wisely.

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