Torah Comment Parashat Mishpatim
Exodus 21:1 – 24:18 (Reading Ex. 23:26–24:18 Plaut p.522; Hertz p.319)
Haftarah Shabbat Shekalim 2 Kings 12:5-16 (Plaut p.1451; Hertz p.993)
After last weeks Revelation at Sinai, and the giving of the Ten Commandments, after the thunder and lightning and the mountain covered in a cloud of smoke—what could possibly come next? Indeed what could follow that spectacular event? This week’s Torah portion talks about rules and regulations: ordinary everyday rules, about how to live in a society. Moses details many of God’s laws to the Israelites. These include laws about worshiping other gods, kashrut, business ethics, as well as the treatment of animals. God outlines the details of three holidays: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Moses goes up to Mount Sinai to meet with God for 40 days and 40 nights, leaving Aaron and Hur in charge.
I think it is interesting to note that the traditional division of the texts into weekly portions splits this covenantal material into two parts, with the matters relating to belief and religious cult attached to the end of the last week portion Yitro. And on the other hand we learn about more mundane matters of relationships between people in this weekly section of Mishpatim. In order to have a meaningful society we have to have a social order. Some laws from this weekly portion have been kept until our days. Every modern society should feel obliged by the core idea of the Torah, and it has to be interested in equality, justice, and welcoming a stranger into our midst.
-Rabbi Julia Margolis
Shabbat Shekalim („Sabbath [of] shekels“) takes place on the Shabbat before the 1st of the Hebrew calendar month of Adar, and is one of the four 4 special Shabbatot surrounding Purim and Passover to help us prepare physically and spiritually for those holidays. Traditionally every adult Jew was requested to contribute a half of a Biblical shekel for the upkeep of the Tabernacle. This tax was due by the 1st of Nisan, meaning in a month from now. In later times – as we can understand it from our Haftarah – the donation was used for maintenance of the temple. Today we can understand it as a contribution to the infrastructure of a community. The building and maintenance of a Synagogue for example. As the Israelites contributed to the building of the Mishkan, the tabernacle, we are still today asked to support our communities.
But we shouldn’t make the mistake to understand it only as a donation of money. This is one way of support, but Silver and Gold are only placeholder/symbols for other things we can give. It can be a cake for a Bracha, help when something needs to be prepared or done in the Synagogue or the visit of people who are sick. Sometimes, “just coming to the prayer services” can be a big contribution. Today, I think, the giving of TIME is one of the most valuable offerings we can give to our community.
Thank you all. – Rabbi Adrian M Schell