What is Biblical Justice? – 5782 Mishpatim Aliyah by Aliyah

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There is a commandment given to Israel that once every 7 years, during the Festival of Sukkot, they should assemble ALL the people to hear the Torah read to them. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12). Chazal (a Hebrew acronym that means, “our sages of blessed memory”) instituted a continuous cycle of reading the Torah. They defined weekly sections so that Jews would be reading and hearing Torah every single week and complete the 5 Books of Moses in a set time. The teachers I learned under taught me to follow the yearly Torah cycle and I discovered that Chabad divides their Torah study into daily aliyot. When the Torah portion is read in its entirety on Shabbat in the synagogue, there are seven sections, seven aliyot. The Chabad tradition is to study one aliyah each day, starting Sunday and going through to Shabbat. One who does this can get a double dose of the same Torah Portion each week.

Additionally, the Ashkenazic and Sepharidc, that is Eastern European and Spanish or Iberian Peninsula communities sometime differ on how they divide the Torah Portions.

It’s time to explore Torah Portion Mishpatim, aliyah by aliyah.

Mishpatim Exodus 21:1–24:18

Aliyah 1 – Exodus 21:1-19

Exodus 21:1 “These are the rulings you are to present to them:

EXO 21:1

Why no context? Are they still at Sinai? The text abruptly ends the last parshah and then picks up here as if time has passed or the people have changed location and they are receiving more instruction.

Exodus 21:2 “If you purchase a Hebrew slave, he is to work six years; but in the seventh, he is to be given his freedom without having to pay anything.

EXO 21:2

It isn’t a mitzvah to take or have slaves and slavery isn’t an invention of the Torah. HaShem creates boundaries on slavery to mitigate its harm.

Exodus 21:3 If he came single, he is to leave single; if he was married when he came, his wife is to go with him when he leaves.

EXO 21:3

This is good. It is simple, good and fair.

Exodus 21:4 But if his master gave him a wife, and she bore him sons or daughters, then the wife and her children will belong to her master, and he will leave by himself.

EXO 21:4

This gets weird. This guy can make slave children with a slave woman who won’t go free, but then he goes free. So this slave man would abandon his wife and kids. That’s definitely off-putting.

Exodus 21:5 Nevertheless, if the slave declares, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children, so I don’t want to go free,’

EXO 21:5

That seems like a fairly natural response to the situation. Is this somehow a trap by the slave master to trap this slave into staying? Why would a nice Jewish boy want to abandon his family?

Exodus 21:6 then his master is to bring him before G-d; and there at the door or doorpost, his master is to pierce his ear with an awl; and the man will be his slave for life.

EXO 21:6

This doesn’t feel like it is supposed to be a good thing. This seems like a thing HaShem tolerates and dislikes.

Exodus 21:7 “If a man sells his daughter as a slave, she is not to go free like the men-slaves.

EXO 21:7

Is this how the slave-master is able to give a wife to a male slave?

Exodus 21:8 If her master married her but decides she no longer pleases him, then he is to allow her to be redeemed. He is not allowed to sell her to a foreign people, because he has treated her unfairly.

EXO 21:8

So a slave woman isn’t expected to be given to a male slave, she can be married to the man who bought her. That’s interesting. Then she has to stay within Israel if he wants to divorce her. Is this woman an Israelite? Of course she is, the passage starts off talking about a Hebrew slave. First the man, then the woman.

Exodus 21:9 If he has her marry his son, then he is to treat her like a daughter.

EXO 21:9

I would think that is how a standard daughter-in-law is to be treated. Is this a order to treat her no differently because she was sold by her father? It is easy for people to make ugly and hurtful divisions between themselves and others over things which stir compassion and understanding.

Exodus 21:10 If he marries another wife, he is not to reduce her food, clothing or marital rights.

EXO 21:10

Much as slavery is mitigated in Torah, so too is polygamy. Also, a wife is guaranteed certain things within a marriage. A Jewish man is only to take one an additional wife if he can to keep his first wife and latest wife living at the same standard.

Exodus 21:11 If he fails to provide her with these three things, she is to be given her freedom without having to pay anything.

EXO 21:11

I don’t think this Hebrew slave woman was alone. It sounds to me as if she would have had advocates to help her exercise her Rights. Also, she seems to be able to go free more easily than a man.

Exodus 21:12 “Whoever attacks a person and causes his death must be put to death.

EXO 21:12

That is a powerful deterrent to rampant violence.

Exodus 21:13 If it was not premeditated but an act of G-d, then I will designate for you a place to which he can flee.

EXO 21:13

Here is some nuance: a death can come accidentally in a fight. That’s Justice and Mercy for you, HaShem leaves room for grace.

Exodus 21:14 But if someone willfully kills another after deliberate planning, you are to take him even from my altar and put him to death.

EXO 21:14

Justice is vital and must apply to everyone equally or it is not justice. This sounds to me like a murderer, maybe even a Cohen (Heaven forbid) is trying to use the priestly service of HaShem as a shield to escape from his sin by claiming sanctuary in the Tabernacle or Temple.

Exodus 21:15 “Whoever attacks his father or mother must be put to death.

EXO 21:15

That’s another severe deterrent. How old does the attacker need to be? How serious is the attack? Does a 3 year-old injuring a parent while flailing in a tantrum count? How about a 5 year old choosing to hit you because you said “no” to something? Where is the line? How do we know what the boundary is when the Torah doesn’t give it here? Is it somewhere else? What’s the address?

Exodus 21:16 “Whoever kidnaps someone must be put to death, regardless of whether he has already sold him or the person is found still in his possession.

EXO 21:16

Another severe deterrent.

Exodus 21:17 “Whoever curses his father or mother must be put to death.

EXO 21:17 MUST be? Lots of people are in big trouble. Again, where are the definitions? If there are none there should’ve been a lot of blood in the streets of ancient Israel.

Exodus 21:18-19

18 If two people fight, and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist, and the injured party doesn’t die but is confined to his bed; 19 then, if he recovers enough to be able to walk around outside, even if with a cane, the attacker will be free of liability, except to compensate him for his loss of time and take responsibility for his care until his recovery is complete.

EXO 21:18

This feels like an expansion and explanation of 21:12-14. It’s beautiful that Torah teaches restoration, healing and generating wholesome in a situation like this. What do we do today? If someone injures someone else in a fight, they get police involved, the attacker is jailed and the injured party is not specifically aided. Punishing the attacker does nothing to help the injured party.

Aliyah 2 – Exodus 21:20-22:3

Exodus 21:26-27

26 “If a person hits his male or female slave’s eye and destroys it, he must let him go free in compensation for his eye. 27 If he knocks out his male or female slave’s tooth, he must let him go free in compensation for his tooth.

EXO 21:26-27

Biblical slavery does not give license to abuse slaves.

Aliyah 3 – Exodus 22:4-26

Exodus 22:4 “If a person causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over or lets his animal loose to graze in someone else’s field, he is to make restitution from the best produce of his own field and vineyard.

EXO 22:4

The solution to theft or destruction of someone’s property is for the criminal to make it right by giving of their own property.

Aliyah 4 – Exodus 22:27-23:5

Exodus 22:27 “You are not to curse G-d, and you are not to curse a leader of your people.

EXO 22:27

Where are the lines on this one? The Bible shows us righteous people questioning and challenging HaShem and he doesn’t seem to object to it. If we can question and challenge the Almighty, surely mortal men who fail are not to be treated better than the Most High. Again what is and isn’t a curse against a leader?

Aliyah 5 – Exodus 23:6-19

Exodus 23:6 Do not deny anyone justice in his lawsuit simply because he is poor.

EXO 23:6

HaShem is looking out for the little guy, He didn’t side with Egypt because they were so big and strong compared to Israel. That isn’t how He worked and Torah leads Man to be more godlike.

Aliyah 6 – Exodus 23:20-25

Exodus 23:25 You are to serve HaShem your G-d; and he will bless your food and water. I will take sickness away from among you.

EXO 23:25

I want to say something about health and nutrition, but the real point here is that HaShem wants to bless his people as part of a relationship of mutual love and care.

Aliyah 7 – Exodus 23:26-24:18

Exodus 23:33 They are not to live in your land; otherwise they will make you sin against me by ensnaring you to serve their gods.”

EXO 23:33

Israel had to actively choose to be dedicated to HaShem and rid themselves of outside influences that would lead them astray from Him. It’s the same for you and me today.

Closing Questions

Before I go, I want to answer questions raised at the beginning of this session. These are my opinions, based on my time studying under various teachers and while I try to set aside any commentaries while examining each aliyah, I will allow myself to bring some back in for this section. I will disclose where I am getting these ideas where relevant.

1. Is the Torah giving vague guidance? Is there missing context?

2. Does the Torah promote slavery?

3. What is Biblical Justice?

1. Is the Torah giving vague guidance? Is there missing context?

Yes, there is context missing. I won’t say how much I trust the Oral Torah because I have not made an exhaustive study of it, but I accept with good faith a lot of what chazal declares. Why? The Torah was entrusted to Israel over 3,500 years ago and I refuse to rely on my own understanding alone to know what the Bible says. I will defer to the people who have lived and suffered and died and thrived with the Book for so long. More importantly, Messiah incorporates and therefore sanctions practices that come from the Oral and not the Written Torah. One example is praying before eating. The Torah says to pray after.

2. Does the Torah promote slavery?

No. The Torah mitigates the practice of slavery. Slavery has been a worldwide practice for most of world history. The Torah set limits and boundaries on what a slave-master can do and positions the Hebrew slaves in particular to be restored to a good standing in society at the end of their term.

3. What is Biblical Justice?

Biblical justice is about restoring the injured party. Offenders are killed if their sins warrant it, but most crimes do not warrant death. Instead, fines are set as deterrents and solutions to the problem of death and injury causing harm to a person. I didn’t talk about it this year, but the whole “eye for an eye” concept is about compensating someone for their injury, not barbarically having the State or society injure someone who injured someone else, instead they were made to “pay back” or “give an eye for an eye,” to help compensate for the damage done.

That concludes my journey through Mishpatim for the year 5782.

I hope these words have been a blessing to you.

May our Heavenly Father give you peace and joy.

This is Matthew and I am Walking In Liberty.

Published by MJ Muñoz

Husband. Father. Believer. Writing a children's books series inspired by tokusatsu. Weekly Toku Analysis - https://mjmunoz.com/category/analyzer/

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