I for an I: Taking the Commandments Personally – Parshat Mishpatim 5772

Treat others as you wish to be treated.  It’s the golden rule and something we strive to teach our children to live by.  As part of our pledge to be a “No Place for Hate” school, we believe every person is created equal and in God’s image.  We remind our students about good manners and how to work together as a team.  We remind them of the 10 Commandments, which we read in last week’s Torah portion.  It’s the 10 ways in which we aim to create a society balanced between our relationship with God and our relationship with others.  This list of commandments is the central 10; however, the Torah is made up of 603 other mitzvot that we are to follow. 
When we see the number 613, it can be overwhelming.  As a general rule, teachers try to keep classroom rules to only five to seven.  Procedures and instructions for various activities might be numerous, but rules are to be a smaller number.  I can only imagine the look on my students’ faces if I put 613 rules up on the board and expected them to follow each one.  Perhaps this feeling of being overwhelmed with rules is why the Torah breaks down the mitzvot among all the weekly readings. 
This week we read parshat Mishpatim, which focuses on the mitzvot from human to human and how we treat one another.  The text centers on the basic human rights to which each individual is entitled.  The narrative also reminds us that at the core of our actions we are responsible for the welfare of others under our care, whether that’s our family, our workers or our neighbors.  We learn that there are basic human necessities that we are expected to help provide for others.  Food, clothing and companionship should be provided for any person who is left alone in our society.  We are also cued into the idea of “eye for an eye” and taught that the consequence must match the action. 
Specifically, in chapter 22 verses 20-23, the text teaches, “You shall not wrong a stranger, nor oppress him; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  You shall not afflict any widow, or orphaned child.  If you afflict them in any ways and they cry to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My anger shall burn hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows and your children orphans.”  God reminds us that all mitzvot are about the relationship with ourselves, with God and with others.  By respecting ourselves we gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a human being.  By respecting others, especially those who have nothing (the widow, stranger and orphan) we make sure that we protect God’s creation.  In doing both of these, we bring respect, dignity and honor to God. 
The punishment that God gives for those who oppress the stranger and the orphan is that they too shall know this pain.  This is where we get the concept of “an eye for an eye,” and it begs us to put ourselves into the shoes of those around us and act in a way that treats each human being with dignity and respect.  The mitzvot of the Torah are the 613 rules to live by, but they all point to one basic principle: treat others as you want to be treated.  When it comes down to it, this week’s parshah asks us to take a look at ourselves and our lives and make sure that the same dignities that we expect are those that we help provide to others.  Each of us is created betzelem Elohim, in God’s image.  There is no place for hate, only for love when we cherish these mitzvot. 
ללמוד  To Learn: ללמד  To Teach: לשמור  To Keep:  לעשות  To Do:  the Torah speaks about Shabbat and the necessity of taking Shabbat as a time of reflection and relaxation on multiple occasions.  In chapter 23, verse 12, the Torah teaches “six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor, in order that your ox and your ass may rest, and that your bondman and the stranger may be refreshed.”  This teaches that we have an obligation to make sure that our family, other works and animals are also given the opportunity to rest.   We are again reminded that our actions impact others and that we must always ensure that taking care of our own needs does not force others to lose their own rest.  This week, take the time to sit together with your family and just chill out.  You might be surprised by the results. 

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