January 28, 2023 |

Parshat Mishpatim: Walkthrough

Loyalty to the literal text, with a modern voice [All editorializing in brackets]

[Almost this whole parsha is a divine soliloquy. Start God quotes now:]

Here are the laws that you should establish:

When you buy a Hebrew slave, he works for six years, and then goes free in the seventh. He leaves with whatever he came in with, and if he was married his wife goes free as well. If his master got him married and they had children, he goes free but the wife and kids stay.

Now if the slave says, “You know, I like my master, my wife, my kids – I refuse to accept freedom” – in that case, his master should take the matter before a judge, and then [assuming this was allowed by the court] perform the following ceremony: Stand the slave next to the door (or doorframe), and staple his ear to the door, after which he can remain indefinitely.

If a man sells his daughter to be a maidservant, things go differently. It’s understood that he should take her as a wife; if he does not, he cannot betray her by selling her off to a foreigner. If he gives her instead to his son, he must treat her as a full daughter. And if he takes her but then takes other wives, she must get her fair share. Otherwise she goes free, with no strings attached.

Someone who inflicts a mortal wound will be put to death.

If it was an accident and “God made him do it”, there will be a place set up for him to escape to.

If someone premeditates a murder, his punishment should be carried out far from the altar.

Someone who inflicts a wound on his parents will be put to death

A kidnapper who kidnaps with intent to sell will be put to death.

Someone who curses his parents will be put to death.

If two guys are fighting, and the first guy hits the other guy, with a rock, or even with his fist, and the second guy doesn’t die but falls ill – if he gets better, even if he’s not 100%, the hitter is off the hook, he just has to pay disability for his missed work as well as his medical bills.

Someone who hits his slave with a stick such that the slave dies will be avenged [presumably by his slave’s family]. But if a day or two go by before the slave dies, this doesn’t apply, because the slave is after all his property.

If two guys are fighting and they crash into a pregnant woman such that she delivers early, but the baby is OK, the guy who crashed into her will be liable to the extent that the woman’s husband sees fit. If the baby doesn’t survive, the court should judge his life compared to the life of the lost child. [Similarly,] the eye of an attacker should be considered compared to the eye of his victim, a tooth compared to a tooth, a hand to a hand, a foot to a foot, a burn to a burn, a wound to a wound, and any injury to a like injury.

If someone pokes out his slave’s eye, the slave should be freed as payment for the eye. Similarly for a tooth.

If an ox gores a man or woman, who then dies, the ox will be stoned, and the meat should not be eaten, but the ox’s owner is not liable. But if this ox was well known for this kind of behavior, and the owner had been warned but ignored the warnings, and then the ox went on to kill someone, the ox and the owner will both be put to death. However, the owner can pay a fine instead.

Same deal for a child – but if it gores a slave, the owner will pay the slave’s master 30 shekels, and the ox will be put to death.

If someone digs a pit and then doesn’t cover it up, and a domesticated animal falls in, the guy who dug the pit owed the animal’s owner for the animal, but he gets to keep the animal.

If two oxen get in a fight and the first ox kills the second ox, they will sell the live ox and split the money, and split the dead ox as well. But if the attacking ox was known to be violent and his owner didn’t take any precautions, he must replace the ox that was killed, but he gets to keep the dead ox.

If someone steals an ox or sheep and then kills it or sells it, his penalty is 5x for the ox and 4x for the sheep. If the animal’s owner finds the thief at night and kills him, he is not liable. But if it was daylight, he is – but he can pay a fine instead, or be sold into slavery if he can’t afford the fine. If they find the animal before he kills or sells it, he owes 2x.

If someone sends his animals to eat in someone else’s field, he must repay with the best of his own field.

If a fire catches and causes damage, the person who set the fire is liable.

If person A gives person B money or property to watch, and it gets stolen, if the thief is found he owes 2x. Otherwise, B needs to testify in court that he had nothing to do with it. Actually, for any such conflict between two people, the court will decide who the guilty party is, and that person will then owe 2x.

Same situation, but this time it breaks or dies or is taken captive when no one is around. B needs to testify that his hands are clean, and then he is not liable. But if it was stolen from him, he needs to pay. If a wild animal destroyed it and there is a witness, he does not.

If A borrows something from B and then it breaks or dies while he has it, he needs to replace it. But if B was around when it happened, he does not. And if he was a hired servant, it comes out of his wages.

If a man seduces an unmarried woman and they have relations, he must pay her dowry and marry her. If her father refuses to let her marry him, he must still pay the dowry.

Do not allow a witch to live.

Someone having relations with an animal will be put to death.

Someone sacrificing to gods will be excommunicated (except to God Himself).

Do not oppress the stranger, as you were strangers in Egypt.

Do not torture widows and orphans.

If you torture a widow or an orphan, he might cry out to me. If he cries out to me, I would probably hear his cry. If I heard his cry, I’d get angry. If I got angry, I would kill you by the sword. And IF you were killed by the sword, then your wives would probably be widows and your children orphans.

When lending money: Do not charge interest. If you take something important as collateral, give it back to him by the time he needs it. If he cries out to me, I’ll hear him, since I am Merciful.

Do not curse judges or other highly ranking officials. Pay your taxes on time. Give Me your firstborn. Firstborn animals you keep for seven days, and give to Me on the eighth.

Don’t eat roadkill, leave it for the dogs.

Don’t perpetuate false rumors or collaborate on false testimony. Don’t follow a mob. And don’t favor a poor person in court [though you might want to].

If you find your enemy’s animal wandering around, return it to him.

If the donkey belonging to the guy who really dislikes you is struggling with its burden and you are tempted to stay out of it, you should help out along with the guy whose donkey it is.

Don’t skew justice in favor of a poor person. Stay far away from falsehood so that the innocent aren’t punished.

Do not take bribes, because even under the best circumstances, bribes color judgment.

Don’t oppress a stranger, especially since you know what it feels like, having been strangers in Egypt.

Work the land for six years, but in the seventh you should abandon it for the poor and the wild animals.

Do your thing for six days, and on the seventh you should rest, so that your animals and servants can rest as well.

Keep everything I’ve told you; I don’t want to even hear you say the name of another god.

Make three holidays for me every year. The Matzah Festival: Eat matzah for 7 days (as I’ve already told you) in the spring, the season when you left Egypt. The Harvest Festival: Bring the first fruits that you bring in from the fields. The Gathering Festival: At the end of the year, celebrate when you bring your stuff in from the fields. Three times a year, the men will be seen by the Lord God.

Do not make sacrifices with leavened bread, and don’t leave the fats until morning. Bring the first fruits to God’s house; Don’t cook a kid in its mother’s milk.

I’m about to send an angel before you, to bring you to the place I prepared. Watch out for him, and do as he says, because he will not take kindly to disobedience. If you listen, things will go well.

When this angel goes before you and brings you to the land and wipes out the locals, do not worship their gods; instead, you must destroy their altars. Worship God, and he will make things good for you. There will be no barren among you, you will live full lives. I will make your enemies terrified of you. I won’t chase them out in one year, however, because the land would become overrun with wild animals. Things will go little by little, until your numbers grow and you can fill the land. The borders will be from the Red Sea until the Philistine Sea, and from the desert to the river. Don’t make any treaties with the local people or with their gods, and they shouldn’t live in the lands where you settle, since they will lure you into worshipping their gods.

[End divine soliloquy, the longest by far in the Torah so far.]

Then God told Moses to take Aaron, Nadav, and Avihu [Aaron’s sons], and the 70 elders of Israel, to ascend the mountain, but Moses alone would enter the dark cloud.

(When Moses had returned, he told the people all of these laws, and the people unanimously agreed to do what God had commanded. Then Moses wrote down everything God had said, built an altar, and organized sacrifices. Moses took the book of the covenant and read it to the people, who again accepted what God had spoken. He threw some of the blood from the sacrifice on the people to make it official.)

Anyway, Moses, Aaron, Nadav, Avihu, and the elders go up to the mountain, where they behold the God of Israel, where there was sapphire and a pure sky blue at His feet. But they were not harmed – they had a vision of God and then had a bite to eat.

God told Moses to ascend the mountain, where He would give him the stone tablets and the Torah and commandments to teach them. So Moses and Joshua went up to God’s mountain. But they told the elders to stay where they were, along with Aaron and Hur, to manage the people in the meantime. With this, Moses ascended, and the mountain covered with a cloud.

God’s presence stayed on Mount Sinai for 6 days, and on the seventh He called to Moses. To the Israelites, God’s presence looked like a consuming fire at the top of the mountain. And Moses entered the cloud and ascended the mountain, where he stayed for 40 days and 40 nights.


Jack Kustanowitz

Joined: July 15, 2007

Jack is an Internet professional living in Silver Spring, MD. He is a proud alum of the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ as well as Boston University, where he was active at BU Hillel.

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