This Week in Torah
Shabbat Mishpatim 5774
Exodus 21:1-24:18, Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:25-26
Ashkenazi and Sephardic nusach (liturgical tradition) for this week’s Haftarah (Prophets) reading is Jeremiah 34:8-22 after which we go backward adding the last two verses of chapter 33. This unusual way to select the verses of a haftarah should attract our attention. Why did our ancestors ‘gerrymander’ Jeremiah 33:25 & 26 into the Haftarah?
The text connects the “covenant of day and night” and “laws of heaven and earth” stating that if they do not exist then neither does the place of Jacob and David’s descendants – us! This refers to bringing the Messianic Era by allowing God’s laws to govern our conduct both day and night, when engaged in heavenly, spiritual matters or earthly, material pursuits. That is, in all aspects of our lives.
Mishpatim concentrates on ‘earthly’ pursuits and business dealings. For the mainly agrarian society of the Tanach, these laws constitute the regulation of business, the collection of debts and indentured servitude (the biblical equivalent of bankruptcy). There are all sorts of mishpatim (laws) protecting the dignity and humanity of anyone who may come under our economic sway. As early as the Mishnah (c. 220CE), our rabbis were struggling to actualize the principles of the Torah in a radically changing environment.
Regardless of the challenges, when it comes to earthly matters, beginning in Mishpatim, we learn the core values of the Jewish response, to preserve human dignity, promote responsibility and position the disadvantaged for an economic recovery. As you might imagine, we are to do this without taking advantage or realizing an inordinate economic gain from someone else’s t’zuris (troubles).
Most of us understand the rudimentary requirements of ethical business. Studying and practicing stricter, Jewish business ethics is necessary to bring holiness from the synagogue and study houses into the world. On a more personal level, Cleveland is blessed with a well-established Hebrew Free Loan Association (HFLA) which allows us to communally help anyone, Jew or non-Jew, get back on his or her feet by observing the commandment to lend, without interest, when a fellow Jew, or any neighbor, is in straits.
Parshat Mishpatim and its Haftarah invite us to participate in repairing our earthly world by including the practices of our Covenant at all times, day and night, whether in heavenly spiritual endeavors or in the affairs of the earth.
Rabbi Steve Denker
This week Rabbi Denker’s message was also printed in the Cleveland Jewish News.