Parashat Mishpatim

We Are The Narrative

In the shift from narrative to law, we become the actors performing the narrative of liberation.

Print this page Print this page

Indeed, the narrative that frames and shapes these laws, the narrative that gives these legal details coherence, is the narrative of liberation.

Consider for example the following verses:

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20) and “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

This is what happened to the narrative. It didn’t disappear. Rather, shifting from narrative to law shifts the very nature of the text’s address. Beforehand we were reading a story that happened to others in history. Now I read the text, and I am commanded to become an actor and to act in a certain way. A way that liberates.

If I become the subject of these laws, the story doesn’t end at all. It’s just that I, the reader, I, the one addressed by this sacred text, am now at the very center of the story. It’s supremely personal. For much of the rest of the Bible we can no longer escape into a good story, because that story has become all about us. There is no escape, only exodus. Exodus and liberation. And the endless multiplying of story.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Dianne Cohler-Esses is the first Syrian Jewish woman to be ordained as a rabbi. She was ordained in 1995 at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She is currently a freelance educator and writer, teaching and writing about a wide range of Jewish subjects. She lives in New York City with her journalist husband and their three children.