Mishpatim picture

Parashat Mishpatim

General Overview: This week’s reading, Mishpatim, details many laws, including laws related to slaves, personal injury, loans, usury, and property damage. The end of the portion speaks of the preparations the Israelites made before receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai.

First Aliyah: This section discusses laws pertaining to the Israelite servant, his mandatory release after six years of service, and the procedure followed when a servant expresses his desire to remain in his master’s service. The Torah continues with the laws of the Israelite maidservant, and her terms of release. Other laws contained in this section: a husband’s obligations towards his wife; punishments for murder, manslaughter, kidnapping and abusing parents; and the penalties accrued by a person who injures another.

Second Aliyah: This section continues with laws of personal injury: the punishment for one who kills or injures his servant and for one who causes a woman to miscarry. The Torah then shifts its focus to a person’s liabilities for damages caused by his possessions, such as an ox that gores; or his actions, such as leaving an open pit uncovered. A person who steals is liable to pay the capital plus punitive damages. The section concludes with a person’s right to self-defense when facing a marauding thief.

Third Aliyah: An arsonist is liable for damages caused by fires he ignites. The Torah then details the potential liabilities of an individual who undertakes to be a guardian of another’s possessions, a borrower, and a renter. More laws: the punishment for seducing a young woman, sorcery, bestiality and offering an idolatrous sacrifice; prohibitions against harassing a foreigner, widow, or orphan; the mitzvah of lending money to the poor and the prohibition against lending with interest.

Fourth Aliyah: This section, too, introduces us to many new mitzvot: the prohibitions against cursing a judge or leader, consuming meat that was not ritually slaughtered, offering a sacrifice before the animal is eight days old, perjury, and judicial corruption; the commandments to separate all agricultural tithes in their proper order, sanctify the first-born son, return a lost animal to its owner, and help unload an overburdened animal.

Fifth Aliyah: We are commanded not to lie or take a bribe. The mitzvah of the Shemitah (Sabbatical year) is introduced: six years we work and harvest the land, and on the seventh year we allow the land to rest. Similarly, on a weekly basis, six days we work and on the seventh day we – and our cattle and servants – must rest. We are forbidden to mention the name of other gods. We are commanded to celebrate the three festivals — Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot – and to make pilgrimages to the Holy Temple on these occasions. Finally, we are told not to cook meat in (its mother’s) milk.

Sixth Aliyah: G‑d informed the Israelites that He would dispatch an angel to lead them into Canaan. This angel would not tolerate disobedience. If, however, the Israelites would hearken to the angel, and eradicate idolatry from the Promised Land, then they will be greatly rewarded. Their Canaanite enemies will fall before them and G‑d “will bless your food and your drink, and will remove illness from your midst.”

Seventh Aliyah: This section continues describing the blessings the Israelites will receive if they faithfully serve G‑d: no miscarriages or barren women, longevity, wide spacious borders and supernatural assistance in their quest to conquer the Holy Land. G‑d warns the Israelites against entering into treaties with the Canaanite natives or allowing them to remain in the land after the Israelite invasion. The Torah now relates some of the events that occurred in the days immediately prior to the giving of the Torah. Moses went up the mountain and received a message from G‑d which he communicated to the people. The Israelites enthusiastically committed themselves to following all of G‑d’s laws. Moses transcribed the “Book of the Covenant” and read it to the people. Then, together with the Israelite firstborn, Moses offered sacrifices and sprinkled the blood on the people, bringing them into a covenant with G‑d. This section concludes with G‑d summoning Moses – after the giving of the Torah – to ascend the mountain where he would remain for forty days and nights, and would then be given the Tablets.

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