Mishpatim & Shabbat Shekalim – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

Updated: Mar 19, 2021

This week, when we read the Sedra Mishpatim, is also Shabbat Shekalim, one of the special Shabbatot before Pesach. It records a form of census; the giving of the half shekel. It is why we leap forward to Ki Tisa in our reading. The census was to be of:

The sum of the children of Israel
Everyone who goes through the counting, from the age of twenty and upward, shall give an offering to the Lord

The body of the Sedra this week is concerned with the ordinances, the “mishpatim” that are being set out. The three pilgrim festivals, the Shloshim Regalim are also set down.

Last week we said:

All that the Lord has spoken we shall do

We were being told how we were to behave and how to relate to one another; to our neighbours and those who dwell amongst us. This is now set out in detail to guide the nitty gritty of our lives.

We go on to declare:

All that the Lord spoke we will do and we will hear

Hearing implies understanding. How do we understand these laws and relate them to our own lives? The enlightenment viewed society as based upon something natural and intrinsically universal. That failed.

Within the Torah we were given laws representing justice and a sense of morality. Some of the laws are obvious and fundamental; others offer us a tantalising hint of what is being taught. Hearing the laws implies that they ask the question of how to understand them; to apply them in our own time and in our own surroundings.

Different times and different societies would come to differing decisions. The prohibition of mixing milk and meat would remain but there would be differing interpretations of the time span proposed between such meals.

Each of our experiences would require continuing re-reading of the Law. Maimonides, Nachmanides, Joseph Caro guided us in the past but the process is never ending. We are asked to enquire of the Judge in our day.

What we brought with us was a blueprint to support us and act as a guide for the future. It is still valid.

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