Commentary on Parashat Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1 - 24:18
“He who smites a man and [the man] dies shall surely be put to death.”
A Houston, Texas newspaper published the story of a young Eastern lawyer who complained to an old Texas Judge about the Texas way with crime. “I don’t understand Texas justice,” said the lawyer. “You will suspend the sentence of a convicted murderer, but you will hang a horse thief.”
The old judge rang a spittoon with a stream of tobacco juice. “Sorry,” he replied, “I reckon that’s cause we got men that need killin’, but we ain’t got no horses that need stealin’.”
A Gruesome Crime
Murder is a gruesome crime. From time immemorial, when Cain first murdered his brother Abel, great cynicism has been embedded in the warped minds of those who would kill.
A cynicism stemming from atheism. If these murderers could not create life, they would flourish on destroying it. Feeling hapless to the power of the Almighty, they would rob Him of his image. If they could not conquer the King, they would overpower his children.
One cannot separate the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” from the second commandment, “Thou shalt not have any other gods before Me.” Undermining God through murder is tantamount to worshipping those gods that others have created.
The Talmud speaks disparagingly of a court that brings hands down a death sentence but once in seventy years. It is considered a “killer court.” Even once in seventy years, is far too frequent for moral men to dispense such judgment. The Torah finds it exceedingly difficult to delegate authority for capital punishment to an array of righteous and learned scholars and judges because, in the final analysis, they, too, are flesh and blood.
Just as no horse needs stealing, practically no man needs killing at the hands of mortal man. Only the Almighty can bring a deluge, a plague, a famine.
The Power of Humans
Man has been entrusted with ominous power by his Creator. It is his great test: what will he do with this power? How will he treat the children of God, the innocent people of the world who know not the machinations of politicians and warmongers? Man must learn the lesson that Yiddishkeit (Judaism) has been teaching for thousands of years. Only Hashem, who created life and knows its breadth, can control it.
Only through knowledge of the Ribbono Shel Olam (Sovereign of the Universe) will the Ruach Elokim (Divine Spirit) bring mankind to his Utopia. If, however, mankind chooses to destroy the “image of God” in man, then the Ruach Elokim will return the world to its original chaos, for then there is no purpose in creation. If we are to live to see the great advances of mankind, only faith and the divine law of God will sustain us to realize our dreams.
Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.