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[Dvar Torah] Mishpatim

In this week’s parsha, Parshat Mishpatim, we delve into the intricate civil laws or “mishpatim” that are foundational to Israelite society. These rules, which span from property damage to theft, come directly after the revelation of the Ten Commandments, underscoring their Divine origin and underpinning of any society. 

However, Parashat Mishpatim isn’t just a collection of laws; it unfolds as a narrative of divine communication and commitment. G-d conveys these laws to Moses, who in turn, translates them to the Israelites. Their response is one of collective affirmation as they pledge twice “We will do” and “We will obey”.  After the Torah is accepted, Moses along with Aaron, his sons and 70 elders ascend the mountain. At the top there is a glimpse of G-d - what they see exactly is left to the reader to imagine. 

One might question the necessity of such basic commands as “do not steal” and “do not murder.” Are these not self-evident moral principles? Rashi offers insight, emphasizing that these laws, like the Ten Commandments, were delivered at Sinai signifying their equal divine authority. There is a connection between legal obligation and spiritual service. The placement of the Sanhedrin - the highest court - close to the Beit Hamikdash, symbolizes the inseparability of Justice and Holiness.

Within this context, we find a powerful directive regarding loans. The Torah instructs “if you lend money to my people, to the poor among you…” This phrasing is significant. While “if” typically suggests a conditional choice, in this instance, it is interpreted as “when” indicating an expected and moral action rather than an option. This is one of the three instances in the Torah where “if” is understood as “when” underscoring the obligation to support those in need. Rather than viewing the offer of helping as a choice we must view it as an obligation which can take the form of offering our time volunteering, educating and donating.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks OBM echoed this sentiment, teaching that morality without spiritual devotion is blind. This lesson extends beyond the religious sphere and into our personal lives and our education. Education is not just about obeying rules or achieving grades. Like the Israelites at Sinai, we must commit with intention - we will do and we will understand. Lessons become our story. Tests measure not just knowledge but character. In aligning our daily lives with spirituality, we create a narrative for ourselves that is rich with meaning and aligned with a moral compass that guides us toward justice and righteousness. 

Wishing everyone a restful break. Kung Hei Fat Choi and Shabbat Shalom!

Alex, Grade 11