Commentary on Parashat Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1 - 24:18
God has just given The Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. The people fell back and stood at a distance.
Moses then tells the people many detailed rules:
When you have a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years and in the seventh be freed.
Anyone who murders intentionally shall be put to death. If this murder occurs without intention, there is a place for this murderer to flee.
Honor your parents and do not strike them.
When there is a quarrel and one strikes another, the one who strikes shall go unpunished except he must pay for the sufferer’s cure.
When someone strikes a slave with a rod and he dies, the striker must be punished.
If two men fight and a pregnant woman is hit and miscarries, the husband shall fine the one responsible. But if the pregnant woman dies, then you must compensate a life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burns, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
When anyone strikes a slave’s eye or tooth, the slave shall be set free.
When an ox gores someone, it shall be put to death and not eaten. If the ox is known to gore people and does so, then the ox and the owner shall be put to death.
When anyone opens a pit or leaves one uncovered and an animal falls into it, the person leaving the pit uncovered is responsible for the harm done to the animal. He must make fair payment for the loss but may keep the dead animal.
If a thief is caught with stolen goods, the thief shall pay double the value of what is stolen.
If a person permits his animal to graze on another person’s field, then the restitution shall be based on the field when it is most plentiful.
The person who starts a fire must pay for the property lost by the fire.
When a man gives money or goods to another for safekeeping and they are stolen, then the thief shall pay double when caught.
When a man gives another livestock to guard and the livestock dies or is missing without an eyewitness, then an oath must be given before God in court. Guilt will then be decided and fair payment given.
When a man borrows an animal and it dies of injuries without the owner present, then fair payment is due to the owner. If the owner is present, no payment is necessary.
If a man seduces an unmarried, sexually untouched woman, then he must make her his wife. If the father refuses to give her to him, he must still pay a fair rate for untouched brides.
You shall not tolerate a sorceress.
Whoever lies with a beast sexually shall be put to death.
Whoever sacrifices to a god other than the Lord alone shall be utterly destroyed.
You shall not oppress nor do any wrong to strangers, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
You shall bring no harm to any widow or orphan, lest in God’s anger you become a widow and your children become orphans.
If you lend money to My people, especially the poor, do not act as a creditor nor take interest. Return to your neighbor what it is you borrow before the sun sets.
You shall not offend God, nor put a curse upon the leaders of your people.
You shall not delay in offering to God the first bounty of your harvest and the first born among your sons and your animals.
Do not eat flesh torn by beasts in the field. Instead cast it to the dogs.
You must not utter any falsehood, nor follow others to evil. Neither shall you favor a poor man.
When you see a wandering animal, return it to its owner. Help all animals, even if they are the animals of your enemy.
Keep far from any false matter and do not hurt the innocent and righteous, for I will not free one who is guilty.
You shall accept no bribes, for bribery blinds the clear-sighted and turns the words of the righteous to falsehood.
Six years shall you plant and reap the harvest, but the seventh year you shall let it be for the poor and the animals to graze.
Six days you shall do all your tasks, and on the seventh day you shall cease from work, so that you and your animals, your servers and stranger may recover.
Make no mention of any other god.
Three New Holidays
Three times a year, you shall have a feast for Me. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) to remember how God delivered you from Egypt out of the house of bondage. The Feast of Harvest (Sukkot), to honor Me with the first and choicest of fruits, and the Feast of Ingathering (Shavuot), at the end of the year, when you reap the results of your work.
You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.
I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have made ready. If that which is Mine is heeded, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes.
When My angel brings you in contact with other peoples, you shall not bow down to their gods in worship, nor follow their practices, but shall tear them down. You shall serve the Lord your God and God will bless your bread and water and there shall be health and healing in the land.
Early in the morning, Moses set up an altar at the foot of the mountain, with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He made an animal offering to the Lord, saying aloud, “This blood seals the covenant which the Lord now makes with you.”
Then God said to Moses “Come up to Me on the mountain and I will give you the tables of stone with My commandments so that you can teach them.”
God told Moses to leave Aaron and Hur in charge of the Israelites. Then the glory of God rested upon Mount Sinai and the appearance of God was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain before the eyes of the sons of Israel. Moses entered into the midst of the cloud and ascended the mountain, and Moses remained upon the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
Parashat Mishpatim Discussion Questions
1) In the last portion, God gives us the Ten Commandments. How do the detailed rules in this portion compare to The Ten Commandments?
2) What are some of the concerns of these rules within this portion? Are they relevant today? Which is your favorite rule?
3) God commands Moses to come up Mount Sinai and write down The Ten Commandments on stone tablets so they can be taught. Why is it important to teach the Ten Commandments? Are the Ten Commandments strictly for Jews or for all people?
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!