18 Mishpatim

וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם׃

Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them





Brit Chadasha

February 18 2023


Exodus 21:1-24:18

II Kings 12:1-17

Mat. 5:38-42
Hebrews 9:15-22


The Torah recognizes that each of us is an independent actor and that the fabric of society depends on each of us, singly and individually, to do the right thing. We are enjoined to do the right thing not only when it will make a difference, but even when it will not. Most interesting in this passage is how at the same time the text calls on each of us to take individual responsibility and do the right thing, it also pushes back against our inclination to be rogue actors in the name of justice, which instructs us not to hold up the poverty of a poor or underprivileged person as a legitimate factor in his favor in his dispute.

The collection of the teaching and instruction of God is known as Sefer Ha-Brit, the “Book of the Covenant,” Parasha Mishpatim concludes on a pessimistic note—a warning to the Israelites. Once they enter the Land of Israel, they are not to tolerate the practices of idolatrous nations. More than that, the Israelites are told to be on guard. God will not displace the native nations suddenly, but over an extended period of time. Ultimately a promise is made: Exod. 23:33 They must not dwell in your land and cause you to sin against Me, for if you worship their gods, they will be a snare to you.
The writing in the Torah could have been cautious because of the weakened state of the people. Having only been recently freed from the bonds of slavery, these same people could easily be seduced into servitude once again. Only through a process of acclimating themselves to freedom and maturing in that sense of identity, sovereignty, and power could the Israelites gain their place of honor and security in the world.

The Parasha sets out a series of laws, which some scholars call the Covenant Code, and reports the people's acceptance of the covenant with God, and goes from description to detailed instructions for every teaching, law and judgment they need to follow.