Posted by: mosesfromsinai | February 8, 2010

Mishpateem – Civil Laws

This week’s Parsha begins with a strange series of laws centered around a Jewish male slave.  At first glance, this is a very unusual way to begin a section on Civil Law or Mishpateem.  One response is that we see how careful and proper we are to treat a Jewish slave, how much more so for a Jew who is not relegated to a slave level.   This Jewish slave, in particular, was sold into slavery because he was a thief who was not able to repay his theft.  Certainly a person not on the higher end of society and yet the Torah is concerned about him.

However, we are dealing with a population that has just experienced freedom and do we really want to rub it in with beginning the Civil Laws, Mishpateem, with the Laws of Jewish Slaves?  There are a great deal of other areas to begin with as the Torah goes on later to discuss, such as damages done by the individual and compensation or damages done by his animal and proper compensation etc.  Why stress the painful, sensitive slavery angle first thing?

Perhaps, precisely because the Jewish nation was still very sensitive to the concept of slavery that Torah addresses it first.  This is a reminder, that civil damages affect others in a very strong way.  We need to be sensitive to the pain and loss we may inflict on another person.  This sensitivity may be the first step in avoiding civil damages in the first place.

The goal should be not to have to call upon the Civil Laws, Mishpateem.  They are a back up once we have created a problem.  The goal should be not to cause a problem to someone else that would require civil litigation. The best method to convey this concept may very well be to pick a situation that we would not like to be in ourselves.  For the Jewish nation, that would be slavery in Egypt.   We should look at every problem we create as a connection to slavery in Egypt.  The Torah was given when the entire Jewish nation felt a sense of unity with one another.  This was learned from the Hebrew word, VaYichan, (And They Camped), which is written in the singular form.  They were all of one heart when they camped at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah.  When we are all camped and united, with a sensitivity toward our fellow-man, the Civil Laws, Mishpateem will be simple.  There will be no harm done to require litigation


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