Monthly Services

In February our Shabbat Service will be held at the UUCOB at
831 Herbert Perry Rd, Kitty Hawk, NC 27949

831 Herbert Perry Rd

Please join us!

Upcoming Service:
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Time: 10:00 AM

Parsha Mishpatim
Exodus 21 – 24

            This portion from the Book of Exodus, Mishpatim – laws and ordinances – is a significant let down from last week’s portion dealing with the Ten Commandments.  We go from awe and the presence of God to a bland recitation of laws, even though they may be as important as those first 10 commandments.  Scholars refer to these laws as the Covenant Code, and their goal was to define and unite the Israelites.  There are 53 mitzvot: 23 positive and 30 negative.  While many of these rules seem obvious in our current civilization, I can assure you that they were unique during the 13th century BC when the Israelites left Egypt.  This was part of God’s Master Plan for the Jewish people.
            I think of Judaism as a civilization, one that has both a religious and a non-religious component.  The lesson here is that to God there is no "separate" aspect of "religious life" in a person's existence. Every manner of our lives is to be holy. There is no division (in the sense of separation and/or picking and choosing) in Torah between moral, civil and ceremonial commandments. God's Torah is one as God is one.  To be properly Jewish, one must follow both the religious rules as well as the rules that seem to be non-religious.  Hence, the Chassidim are properly Jewish, while the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews are not.
            A final aspect to the rules is that we are to be "doers of the Word" and not just "hearers of the Word."  This week's Parsha begins with the words; "Aileh hamishpatim asher tasim lefneyhem" - which can be translated, "These are the laws which you should place INSIDE of them (meaning the Children of Israel)."  Hebraic writings speak of "internalizing" and "absorbing" the commands of Torah into our very bones.
            The purpose of these laws is to assure justice for all men, whether they are strong or weak, rich or poor.  Justice (mishpat) is achieved by carrying out the laws (mishpatim).  The Torah is the first text of its kind to lay out a series of rules to live by.  Hence the Torah is considered the Written Law.  The Talmud, or Oral Law, expounds on the Torah and both form the basis for the Jewish way of life as practiced by the Orthodox Jew. Let us look at the Covenant Code in detail.

  1. Laws regarding slaves: Slavery defined by the Torah was different than slavery defined by the Greeks and Romans.  A slave was a human being.  The Hebrew word for slave and servant is the same.  If a man was forced to become a slave to work off a theft which he had committed, he had to be set free upon completion of six years of work for his master.  Slaves who married while in servitude were not permitted to take their wife and children with them at the time of their freedom, but could stay with them if he chose to remain a servant forever.
  2. Laws regarding murder: A distinction is made between deliberate murder and accidental killing.  The Torah first describes cities of refuge, where accidental murderers could go to escape death by revenge.  Such places continue to be mentioned in Deuteronomy.
  3. Crimes against parents: Killing or kidnapping a parent incurs the death penalty, as does cursing a parent in the name of God.
  4. Personal injuries: If a death does not result immediately, then the proper response is monetary compensation.  So although we may think that actual retribution was practiced – life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe – that is NOT the case.  The key to this reading is that fair compensation was the order of the day as long as the injury was not a fatal one.
  5. Laws concerning injury to others: Punishment is deemed necessary for the hurting of others by neglect.  As examples, not watching your animal which then runs off and injures another person, or digging a well and failing to put a cover over it, thereby injuring someone who may fall in.
  6. Laws concerning theft: Heavy punishment is handed out for stealing.  The thief must pay multiple penalties for the wrongdoing.
  7. Moral offenses: Seduction, sodomy, witchcraft and polytheism are discussed.  A reminder that “you cannot wrong nor oppress the stranger, for you were a stranger in the Land of Egypt”, is noted for the first time.  Bribes are illegal.  It is better to acquit a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one to death.
  8. Laws concerning loans: These laws are for the protection of the poor who must borrow money to live.  One must never take advantage of them; hence, charging interest on such loans was forbidden.

            A very important concept now appears – Love of your Enemy.  Just because your neighbor may have injured you in some way does not mean that you cannot continue to love him as he still is a child of God.  You may have just cause against him for what he has done, but you cannot consider vengeance against him.  Hatred of your enemy, as stated in the New Testament, is found nowhere in the Torah.  There are proper ways to be reimbursed by a neighbor who has done you wrong, but hating him is never an option.
            A discussion follows concerning the Sabbath Year, during which the land must lie fallow, and the three Pilgrimage festivals – Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot – in which all males were required to appear before the Lord.  The command “that shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk” is presented, which is used as the reason for not eating milk and meat products at the same meal.
            God promises that he will bring the Children of Israel into the Promised Land, and warns them of the dangers of assimilation.  The portion concludes with Moses ascending Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights, leaving Aaron and Hur in charge, and it is not until several chapters later that his tardiness in returning results in the Golden Calf. 

            The Haftarah is from the Book of Jeremiah.  Jeremiah, who was born about 650 BCE, brought his message to the people as a young man of 24, and continued his mission for the next 40 years.  Jeremiah criticizes Zekediah, the last king of Judea, who had promised to free all the Hebrew slaves.  He reneged on this promise, and Jeremiah warned that God would punish him for his actions.  He suggested that Zekediah and his princes would be taken prisoner by the Babylo-nians.  Jeremiah ends the Haftarah with a message of hope that the people would eventually return to Israel from their exile in Babylonia.  As we know, the peoples of the Southern Kingdom of Judea were exiled to Babylonia from 593 BC to 586 BC, but they were allowed to return in 530 BC to begin rebuilding of the Temple.  Jeremiah probably lived into the time of this exile.
            The connection between the Torah and Haftarah concerns the freeing of slaves.