Thursday, February 03, 2005

II-6 Mishpatim The Value of Life

II-6 Mishpatim Laws 3 February 2005

Torah: Ex 21-24:18
Haftorah: 1 Sam 20:18-42


1. Ex 21:1-19
2. Ex 21:20-22:3
3. Ex 22:4-26
4. Ex 22:27-23:5
5. Ex 23:6-19
6. Ex 23:20-25
7. Ex 23:26-24:18


The Ten Commandments are concerned with man's relationship with God and man's relationship with fellow man. Mishpatim contains social laws regarding compensation for loss: inflicted loss on personal properties, damages caused by public hazards and neglect; damages inflicted by the person himself and failure to contain or restrict potential damage. Mishpatim includes social, religious, financial, criminal and family laws. Interpretation of Mishpatim is in the Talmud Tractate, Nizikin, divided into Bava Kamma, Bava Metzria and Bava Batra. The heart of the law is to live in harmony with one's fellow man.

In Focus:

"When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years; in the seventh year he shall go free, without payment .. But if the slave declares, "I love my master, and my wife and my children: I do not wish to go free," his master shall take him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl, and he shall remain his slave for life."
Exodus 21:2, 5

"If however, that an ox has been in the habit of goring, and its owner, though warned, has failed to guard it, and it kills a man or a woman—the ox shall be stoned and its owner, too, shall be put to death."
Ex 21:29

"When a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or an ass falls into it, the one responsible for the pit must make restitution; he shall pay the price to the owner, but shall keep the dead animal."
Ex 21:33

The value of life:

Mishpatim is an extension of Yisro through the explication and application of the Ten Commandments. The relationship between the two parasha is comparable to that of constitutional law, providing the concept of government and ethical overview of law and the practical application found in specific statutes.

Mishpatim contains laws governing the relationships of man. The interpretation of Mishpatim is in the Talmudic tractate, Nizikin, divided into three sections:

1. Bava Kamma: man at his lowest level—his violent nature and criminal behavior. It considers damages inflicted on personal properties: an ox goring an ox; damages caused by hazards in public domain: an open pit or neglected property; damage inflicted by the person himself: assault or brawling; and damage caused by failure to contain or prevent potentially dangerous hazards: wildfires, oil spills, environmental contamination.

2. Bava Metzia: the groundwork for greater social cooperation and deeper unity of mankind, pertaining to the return of lost items, the settlement of loan and contract amicably or peacefully. It involves negotiation to avoid violence or conflict destructive to society.

3. Bava Batra: the highest level of mankind as he seeks to institute ideal solutions for society to establish harmonious relationships, involving conceptual law for the betterment of greater society, civil rights, commerce, inheritance and charity, bringing unity in the brotherhood of mankind.

Man's relationship to God can be defined in three terms: as a slave; as an employee or as a partner with God. Our relationship with God is dependent on our own terms.

Mishpatim opens with Eved Ivrit, the law of the bondsman or slave, which is closely related to the First Commandment Exodus 20:1-3. Camped beneath the smoking mountain, each person heard the voice of God. A person is bound first to serve God, then his fellow man. In serving God first, by necessity one must also serve his fellow man. When a person chooses serve another man first, he commits idolatry. He loses his own freedom, contradicting the giving of Torah at Mt Sinai. They left the slavery of Egypt, renouncing idolatry and Egyptian culture, but before they enter into a new land, they are reminded of their past. Do not do to others, what you have yourselves endured. Don't become involved in slave trade or accustomed to exploiting others for your benefit.

How does one become a slave? For legal violations: theft or destruction to property require compensation and restitution. Unable to make compensation, a person could indenture himself. However, indenturement could last a maximum of six years. Why? In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and all therein in six days, but rested on the seventh. The relationship between man and man is dependent on man's relationship to God since each is created in the image of God. The commandment of Shabbat extends beyond the observant to all within the land, including animals. Moreover, even the land is commanded to rest on the seventh year. (III- 9 Behar, Lv 25 )

Why nail the ear to the doorpost? Rabbi Spira-Savett explains when a servant rejects his freedom, he violates the purpose of Exodus. All the Israelites were brought out of Egypt: the old, the young, the sons, the daughters, to enter into a new relationship with God, but someone choosing to be a slave, remains behind in Egypt. He contradicts the will of God. Therefore, the ear is nailed to the doorpost, symbolic of the night of Exodus when the Israelites painted the lintels with the paschal lamb. A person who indentures himself for life to another man is psychologically a slave, forever trapped within his own mind and life by his anxiety of freedom and refusal to accept responsibility for himself.

Slavery is not merely ownership of another human being, but exploiting others or acting superior to them -- the exploitation of poor who struggle at minimum wage, unable to pay for basic medical, food or housing. They are as much slaves as those who were bought and traded for their very existence is dependent on the whims of others and any small calamity can break them. They are overburdened with the sorrows of each day. Slavery is found in the office where the boss makes arbitrary demands with unreasonable expectations and schedules. The workers struggle in the daily scramble, singing the lyrics of the Lobster Quadrille in unison. They live in the the world beyond the Looking-Glass where Alice makes haste to keep pace:

"Alice looked round her in great surprise. "Why, I do believe we've been under this tree the whole time! Everything's just as it was!"

"Of course it is," said the Queen. "What would you have it?"

"Well in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place."

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass.

The laws extend from the lowest level of society, the concerns of a slave or bondsman to those endangered by our deliberate or passive actions, whether damage is inflicted through hostile actions or by neglect to protect against potential damage. All life, human or animal, comes from God; therefore compensation must be given for any loss of life. All the earth belongs to God; therefore, compensation is given for the loss or destruction of property. The laws reveal the Supremacy of God. Each person is responsible for his actions. "An eye for eye" is a warning that for every injury inflicted, there must be financial restitution, even if injury is caused by neglect: the refusal to restrain a dangerous animal or cover a pothole. The sinkhole does nothing, but is a potential danger for the unwary. A rabid or dangerous dog is a threat to those around it. The dog is not held responsible, but the owner is held accountable for not providing adequate restraints or encouraging or training the animal to be dangerous.

Freedom is not freedom from responsibility or accountability, but the acceptance of ethical and social standards that provide for personal security to have a place to live, food to eat, work with adequate compensation and education to make enlightened decisions for all people, even the strangers that dwell in the land.


"I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bandage. You shall have no other gods besides me."
II-5 Yisro Ex 20:1-2

"Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is within them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
II-5 Yisro Ex 20:8-11

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos: Taking the Children Along

Rabbi Avraham Fischer, Bo:Defining the Service of God

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger, Bo: Body and Soul Religion

Rabbi Shimon Felix, Bo: Equal before God

David Frankel, Yitro: How We Hear


Pinchas Winston, Perceptions, Yitro: The Giving and Living of Torah

Yanki Tauber, Mishpatim: The Criminal, the Litigant, and the Partner

Yanki Tauber, Mishpatim: Whose Life is it Anyway?
chabad the Four Guardians: the different contractual arrangements with God

Rabbi Eliezer Chrysler, The Ear that Heard 5764

Rabbi Eliezer Chrysler, An Eved Ivri 5763

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Mitzvot of the Third Kind

An Eye for $100, A Tooth for About Ten Bucks: The Monetary Meaning of Mishpatim
My Jewish Learning- regarding compensation

Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett, Letting our People Go: Bringing us all out of Egypt
My Jewish Learning


Yanki Tauber, The Cigarette Beggar

Nissan Mindel, The First Rothschild

Yrachmiel Tilles, The Loan

Yrachmiel Tilles, Fifty Year Old Honey
Chabad. org A case of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev on the compensation of widows and orphans and lost things

In Suite:

Shemot / Exodus

II-5 Yisro Ex 18-20:23

II-4 Beshelach Ex:13:17-17:16

II-3 Bo Ex 10-13:16


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