Recoupling – Parshat Mishpatim 5778


Maintaining intimacy in a marriage after having children can be challenging, and we’re not the first couple to face that challenge. It isn’t for lack of trying, but with two kids (one of whom slept in a Pack ‘N Play in our room for 12 months) plus my own early bedtime to try to compensate for the kids’ early wake-ups, it can be very difficult to find adult time to reconnect with one another. We often find that if we can steal away for a midweek lunch or happy hour on a Friday that we’re much more likely to be better partners in parenting and in life.

When we build relationships, whether with a life partner or with friends and family, we arrive at a mutually agreed upon set of guidelines. These “guidelines” may remain unspoken, but in a healthy relationship there’s at least a presumed give and take. No one likes to feel as though they are being taken advantage of or giving more than they are receiving in a relationship.

The Torah we read this week comes from Parshat Mishpatim. Parshat Mishpatim is based on the notion that actions inspire other actions. The text begins with laws dealing with Hebrew workers and the if/then sequence determining how long a worker stays with his or her owner and what obligations the owner has to the workers based on their own family status. The text continues to discuss laws dealing with accidental versus intentional harm caused to others, followed by the repercussions of stealing, and then ending with the covenant that God makes with the children of Israel at Mount Sinai. Each of these laws is based on a reaction for an initial act, a balance in the relationship.

Chapter 21, verses 10-11 teach “If he marries another, he must not withhold from this one her food, her clothing or her conjugal rights. If he fails her in these three ways, she shall go free, without payment.” In other words, in a partnership, both partners are entitled to food (nourishment), clothing (comfort and warmth) and intimacy. These three building blocks maintain a relationship by encouraging growth, trust, and commitment.

The Torah this week reminds us that when we don’t take time to connect with each other, we “go free” from that partnership. We unbind ourselves from one another, which is the opposite of what a relationship should do. Whether it means taking time for a lunch date or even just a phone call where you don’t try to multi-task, the important relationships in our lives demand that we dedicate time to them to make them – and us – stronger.


To the Best of My Ability – Parshat Mishpatim 5777


My whole life people have thought of me as a “hard worker.” I’m generally the kind of person who shows up early, gets the work done ahead of time, and is on the next project. It sounds like a helpful trait to possess, and for the most part it is. However, it often means that I end up taking on quite a bit because I have the organizational skills to manage tasks and the drive to complete them in a timely fashion. This wasn’t an issue before I had children. Before Shiri was born, it meant I would work 15-hour days, come home, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day. A 70-hour workweek? No sweat! Unfortunately, what ended up happening was that eventually this breakneck pace left me tired, overworked, and resentful. It’s not easy learning how to set clear boundaries, and even though I have different limits these days, it’s still something I struggle with.

Parshat Mishpatim, which we read this week, entails laws of labor. We learn about the laws for having a Hebrew slave and maidservant and the laws of what to do with a murderer or one who injures others. The text continues with the various damages that other people might have claims against, the ways in which we work together to protect ourselves, and some laws about marriage. The text ends with the commandments regarding sacred times and spaces and the notion that we need to set aside time and space for sacred reflection.

At a time in our history when there’s a great deal of focus on minimum wage, unionization, who is eligible to work, and workers’ rights, it’s interesting to examine what the Torah’s laws have to say regarding the rights of workers.

At the beginning of the parshah we learn about the different ways one might acquire a worker. Specifically, we learn that the status in which one comes into his job (single, married, parent) is also the manner in which he should leave. In other words, someone who comes in single should be allowed to remain single. Interestingly, the word for single that the text uses is b’gapo, which literally means unmarried, but can be loosely interpreted as vigorous. If the slave was strong and able-bodied when he came to work, he was to be worked an appropriate amount so that he was still as vigorous when he left.

I think we can relate this idea well beyond the archaic practice of slave labor, meaning we’re not to work ourselves to the bone. The Torah reminds us that we must be aware of the breaking points of others and of ourselves. If you see a coworker struggling to keep up, you have an obligation to step up and offer help. If you find yourself overtired or overworked, take a step back to reexamine your own boundaries. It’s important to realize that when our abilities change, our goals and the ways we challenge ourselves can too.

Stole My Heart – Parshat Mishpatim 5776

Stole My Heart

The holiday of roses and candy hearts is a week away, and though Valentine’s Day got its start as a Christian liturgical celebration, this week’s Torah portion coincidently contains some interesting points about intimate relationships. Specifically, the Torah discusses how proper relationships should be formed and provides a literal explanation of a “stolen heart.”

In last week’s parshah, among the laws the Israelites received to govern their society were the Ten Commandments. A handful of those ten, including the prohibition against stealing, are applicable beyond the religious setting and have a place in our secular laws as well, but how far does the definition of “stealing” actually reach? Does is have any application in relationships?

This week we read parshat Mishpatim, the middle section of text in Sefer Shemot, the book of Exodus. The Israelites are on their way out of Egypt and to Israel. As we read last week, they have begun to set up their own system of laws and rules, and interpersonal relationships make up the core of the laws set forth in this section of text. After first establishing a basic framework to guide our lives, the Torah then turns toward how we treat one another personally and professionally.

In particular, chapter 22, verse 15 turns to the ways in which intimate relationships might be formed. The Torah teaches, “If a man seduces a virgin for whom the bride-price has not been paid, and lies with her, he must make her his wife by payment of a bride-price.” That is to say that the Torah views this form of seduction as monetary theft, not just emotional theft. For our modern sensibilities, we might extend this to mean we shouldn’t deceive our potential partners. By not sharing who you truly are or being honest about your intentions and expectations, you have “stolen” the opportunity for others to make their own informed decisions. In fact, this concept is referred to in our tradition as gneivat da’at, or stealing someone’s opinion.

What better time than in a nation’s infancy to establish laws requiring the Israelites to be open, honest, and true to who they are? A society built on deception (like a relationship built on seduction alone) doesn’t adhere to the standards set in our parshah and cannot thrive. Instead, God creates a guide for us to build our community on mutual respect. Unfortunately, “We mutually respect each other” doesn’t quite fit on a candy heart.

Put On Your Mask First – Parshat Mishpatim 5775


Whenever Duncan and I fly we have an ongoing bit about whose oxygen mask you put on first. I contend that “in the event of loss of cabin pressure” I will be freaking out, so he must help me with mine and then put his own on. However, the flight attendants tell us that we first have the responsibility of putting on our own mask before assisting others. The basic premise is if you’re not ok yourself, then you can’t help others. This safety message from the airlines does makes sense; it teaches us simply that it is our responsibility to help ourselves, and, after we know we’re taken care of, to turn our efforts to helping those around us.

This week we read parshat Mishpatim, the middle section of text in Sefer Shemot, the book of Exodus. The Israelites are on their way out of Egypt and to Israel. They have begun to set up their own system of laws and rules, beginning last week with the 10 Commandments and continuing with this theme for the future. Parshat Mishpatim focuses on interpersonal laws with regard to business. The main idea of this section of text is that we have the obligation of treating each other in business and in relationships as complete human beings.

Given that the Israelites have just come out of slavery in Egypt, it is fitting that the text feels the need to give an alternate model to the Israelites as to how they should treat one another. Further, the Torah recognizes that in a new society there is also a need to establish laws of business. For example, in this parshah, the Torah clarifies how interest can be charged, and how, even as a businessperson or member of society, we must care for one another.

Chapter 22, verse 24 teaches: “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them as a creditor; exact no interest from them.” The Torah is clear here, that all people are God’s people, both those with money and those without. Furthermore, according to the Shulchan Aruch, the code of law, we are to understand this phrase as “The poor among your relatives take precedence over other poor; the poor of your own town take precedence over the poor of other towns.”

As a community, we must put on our collective community oxygen mask before helping other communities with theirs because only when we are strong can we strengthen others.