Weekly Portion: Mishpatim (Exodus 21-24)

Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1 – 24:18

One of the most mitzvah-filled Torah portions, containing 23 positive commandments and 30 negative commandments. Included are laws regarding: the Hebrew manservant and maidservant, manslaughter, murder, injuring a parent, kidnapping, cursing a parent, personal injury, penalty for killing a slave, personal damages, injury to slaves, categories of damages and compensatory restitution, culpability for personal property damage, seduction, occult practices, idolatry, oppression of widows, children and orphans.

The portion continues with the laws of: lending money, not cursing judges or leaders, tithes, first-born sons, justice, returning strayed animals, assisting the unloading of an animal fallen under its load, Sabbatical year, Shabbat, the Three Festivals (Pesach, Shavuot & Succot).

Mishpatim concludes with the promise from the Almighty to lead us into the land of Israel, safeguard our journey, ensure the demise of our enemies and guarantee our safety in the land — if we uphold the Torah and do the mitzvot. Moses makes preparations for himself and for the people and then ascends Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments.

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Dvar Torah
from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

The Torah states:

“One who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:15).

Two verses after, the Torah states:

“One who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:17).

Ramban (Nachmonides) says that cursing one’s parents is even more grievous a transgression than striking them. Hostile words may be worse than hostile deeds!

King Solomon says, “The words of a contentious person are like self-justification; and they penetrate into the innermost recesses” (Proverbs 18:8). Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch comments, “A habitually irascible man is as if possessed by a passion for quarreling. His agitation carries him away to irresponsible utterances. His words seem to sound like self-justification, like defense. However, instead of fending off the insult, instead of confining himself to refuting unjustified aggression, he offends his adversary with insults which penetrate into the depths of his being. Instead of protecting himself, he destroys the other” (Wisdom of Mishlei, p. 106).

The Gaon of Vilna, in his commentary on Mishlei, states that insulting words may be more harmful than physical blows. Insults “penetrate into the innermost recesses.” Physical injuries may heal. The wounds inflicted by verbal abuse may never heal.

Injuring another person, whether physically or emotionally, is a Biblical prohibition. There is no exception if the other person is one’s spouse. To the contrary, Jewish law (halacha) requires that husband and wife be most respectful to each other. Lack of respectful communication, especially in the family, is a form of abuse. Because “familiarity breeds contempt,” we should be especially cautious to be respectful to those with whom we are familiar.


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