The Parasha this week, Mishpatim, is named for the “ordinances” or “laws” that will govern our lives. They deal with not just civil matters but also ethical matters; covering the way we are being asked to live. They are laws about restoring the balance of justice when it’s been broken. The word “mishpat” actually means “justice”. If you break someone’s property, this is what you owe them. If you injure or harm someone, this is how you must repay them.
Mishpatim ("laws") includes commandments that are considered to be self-evident; not to murder and not to steal. Edot ("testimonies") come to commemorate important events in Jewish history. Chukim ("decrees") come to be seen as commandments with no known rationale, perceived as pure manifestations of the Divine will.
The Sedra sets out the three pilgrim festivals, the Shloshim Regalim.
Three times a year, you shall have a feast for Me. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), to remember how God delivered you from Egypt out of the house of bondage. The Feast of Harvest (Sukkot), to honour Me with the first and choicest of fruits, and the Feast of Ingathering (Shavuot), at the end of the year, when you reap the results of your work
Last week we responded
All that the Lord has spoken we shall do
This week we declare
All that the Lord spoke we will do and we will hear
There is a subtle way to look at that last response. Undertake commandments and laws but hear them and understand them.
New laws arise in societies and can be driven by political or religious forces but there are times when laws can be pernicious. In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws were promulgated in Germany. They paved the way to the Holocaust which we recalled within the past week in what has become known as Holocaust Memorial Day. It was not the first time we faced laws that sought our destruction but, somehow, whilst holding on to the “mishpatim” that we recognised as our heritage, we survived.
Remembrance of those who perished and the celebration of the survivors of the Shoah is a powerful message for all of us.