Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mishpatim- Before its time

While the Aseret Dibrot, in parashat Yitro, are the beginning of revelation to the Israelites at Sinai, and proclaim the basic tenets of society, parashat Mishpatim seeks to declare the details- proclaiming equality, fairness, derekh eretz, and g’milut hasadim. These are the ideals that made, and continue to make, the Jewish community unique in its time.

“…nefesh tachat nefesh. Ayin tachat ayin shein tchat shein yad tachat yad regel tachat regel…. V’chi yakeh ish et ayin avdo o-et ain amato v’shichatah lachafshi y’shalchenu tachat aino.”
“…a life for a life. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, hand for a hand, leg for a leg…. And if a man hits the eye of his male slave or female slave, and he destroys it, he [the master] shall let him [or her- the slave] go for his eye’s sake.” (Shemot 21:23-26)

Equality in the Torah is not based upon wealth or stature, as in the Code of Hammurabi (Babylonia c. 1772). Humans, all humans- male or female, rich or poor, free or enslaved have worth. While slavery is an accepted fact in society at the time of the Torah, human beings are not property to be beaten without care to damage. They have the right to protection and safety.

“Ki tifga shor oyivcha o chamoro to’eh hasheiv t’shivenu lo. Ki tireh chamor sona’acha roveitz tachat masa’o v’chadalta mei’a’zov lo azov ta’azov imo.”
“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his ass wandering, you must surely return it to him. If you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden, and would refrain from helping it up, you must nevertheless raise it with him.” (Shemot 23:4-5)

A fair and equal society cannot just be based upon alliances, but on this sense of equality and fair play. We are expected to act with derekh eretz not only for friends and neighbours, but also for our enemies. Often when our Sages spoke about our actions towards others the reason for these norms of behaviour  was tikkun olam. This is the true meaning of tikkun olam, of fixing the world. These are the norms by which we must live if we are to create a world in which individuals rights and equality are guaranteed to all.  These are the ideals declared in Mishpatim, and throughout the Torah.

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